Small Wars Journal

Mexico’s Two Major Crime Cartels Now at War

Mexico’s Two Major Crime Cartels Now at War by William Booth, Washington Post. BLUF:

The two most important criminal organizations in Mexico are engaged in all-out war, and the most spectacular battles are being fought for the cameras as the combatants pursue a strategy of intimidation and propaganda by dumping ever greater numbers of headless bodies in public view - some of the victims most likely innocents…

Categories: Mexico - El Centro



Tue, 05/29/2012 - 3:31am

In reply to by carl…

It's a Civil War and the question is, what do we do if the Zetas win and establish a defacto dictatorship in Northern Mexico? Sure, there will be the fascade of a government, but it will be controlled by the cartel. And, yes, I know the whole scenario of possible US involvement plays out exactly like Harold Coyle's book "Trial By Fire" from 20 years ago. But our specops capabilities have expanded significantly in the past ten years. There's no reason we can't insert them into Mexico to do what they were originally set up to do: train local villages how to defend themselves and use the local populations to fight back.

TTU: If you want the various Mexican criminal gangs and the Mexican government to immediately resolve their differences and pursue a common goal, the best way to do it is for the US to intervene in Mexico without being invited. And if you want to insure that any Mexican government fall or immediately lose all political legitimacy, have it invite us to intervene militarily in Mexico. Aside from the small things Bill M. suggests there is nothing, nothing we can do in Mexico to much affect what is happening. It is for the Mexicans to sort out. All we can do is watch.

Now there is a lot we can do here in the US to change things. But we won't do them because our Puritan streak is too strong to be overcome soon.

I don't know what a PRT would do in Mexico. Any set of skills they would possess the Mexicans already have. The country isn't backward, poorer than us, more corrupt and a whole lot more violent but they ain't Afghanistan.

If we start with the question, when should we intervene? Doesn’t that assume we have already decided to intervene, but we haven’t determined when to do so? Assumptions like that limit our options, so I’m suggested we take a step back and really try to understand the problem before we recommend deploying U.S. forces. It is not unreasonable to assume that a large U.S. presence on the ground in Mexico would offend the vast majority of Mexicans who are proud to be Mexicans (the same nationalistic beliefs we have about being Americans), and overt involvement could easily evolve into something other than a “war on drugs.” That would be a much greater threat to U.S. interests than a couple of powerful Cartels slugging it out. That is why the comment about sending PRTs concerned me, why would we? What good would come out of it?
We already provide intelligence and training support, and I suspect other nations provide support also. If specific individuals or groups become threats to the U.S., we probably have the ability to conduct covert operations to eliminate specific threats if we’re willing to assume the risk (do we have the political will?) and can make a case that such extreme measures are justified. In my opinion the risk of this type of operation, only if needed, seems to be much less than an overt deployment of U.S. forces.
The narco-related violence is not restricted to Mexico, the level of violence is actually worse in several Central American countries, yet we rarely hear about it. Their governments are at greater risk of failure than Mexico’s, and even if we could effectively put more pressure on the Cartels in Mexico what would the second order effects be for the region? Would states to the south of Mexico pick up the extra business? Would their governments fail or facilitate the narco-trade?
If we just squeeze the balloon the problem will pop up somewhere else. To date the drug war has been a failure with far more negative secondary effects than positive ones. I think tactically we demonstrate excellence again and again, but we fall short when it comes to developing an effective strategy (we allow tactical efforts to substitute in lieu of a strategy), and I think the we fail at the strategic level because we don’t understand the nature of the problem (social, political, economic, etc.) beyond looking at it as an enemy order of battle (Cartel structure, we need to target X, B, and D).
First gain understanding, and then develop a holistic strategy. Until we have a strategy based on understanding the problem I recommend limiting our tactical operations to neutralizing specific targets that are near terms to the homeland when needed.


Sat, 05/26/2012 - 11:41am

Bill M But do we wait until Mexico is a shell of it,s former self or do we intervene soon? Why is it the world clamors to intervene in Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and everz other conflict around the world, but is expected to sit on the sidelines while tens of thousands of people are dying a year in Mexico´s Civil War? Why are we content to let this slaughter continue?

Outlaw 09

Sat, 05/26/2012 - 5:27am

Bill M---the problem has gotten worse over the last three years and we are now in the US just awakening to the problem?

If one saw a photo of a recent capture of DTO weapons with the high number of M16s--- one really does have to ask---when do we get involved---after the Mexican govt falls apart (ie how many military Generals are on the take) or after the violence has bled over to the border states ie beheadings. Heck even AQI did not do as much beheading as is ongoing in Mexico and we had how many US troops in Iraq?

ATF still has not found the missing/stolen 24 M4s from Fort Irwin.

The ongoing war and it is a war will be settled between the DTOs with the Mexican government playing a much smaller role---basically they are currently trying to survive as an exisiting government.

Bill M.

Sat, 05/26/2012 - 12:09am

In reply to by TTURaiders

TTU, who in Mexico invited the U.S. to participate in "their" fight? What the heck is a PRT going supposed to accomplish that will reduce the violence? It seems you believe that the U.S. intervention was successful in Afghanistan and Iraq, but to the tens of thousands of locals displaced by the fighting they probably have a different opinion. Despite our spin the wars the Iraq and Afghanistan, as all wars do, created untold suffering. While the situation in Mexico is bad we need to think at least three times, and think hard, before intervening, because it is more probable than not that our intervention would just make the situation worse. We can continue to provide intelligence support, training, advise, etc., but neither they or we need send gringos to run around in their cities and villages trying to save the world with our missionary COIN doctrine. COIN doctrine doesn't work when we don't understand the context of the conflict, and we don't. I believe any overt intervention where it is perceived we're taking the lead (PRTs would create that perception) will only make the problem worse, as recently demonstrated in at least two countries (more if we consider the impact of our actions in other countries since 9/11). Is it a serious problem? Yes Is it, or will it be a threat to our national interests? I believe it will, but that doesn't mean we should jump in both feet and tell Mexico how to deal with this conflict.


Fri, 05/25/2012 - 2:05pm

I think civil war is more accurate because the country is rapidly dividing into three distinct powers - the central government, the Zetas and Chapo's. Unfortunately, the election is going to result in the central government aligning itself with one of the other two and the war is going to intensify. The big question is if the US has the stomach to sit back and watch the wholesale slaughter that is coming or intervene militarily?


Fri, 05/25/2012 - 1:25am

The Washington Post's woefully slow realization not withstanding, the question is how long does the US sit out the Mexican Civil War and if we don't intervene, will we at least help with the reconstruction? There's a lot of PRT experience coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan that could be used in Mexico.