Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #33: Terrorist TTP Firebreak Crossed - Criminal Group Utilizes Women and Children as Human Shields in Palmarito, Puebla

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #33: Terrorist TTP Firebreak Crossed - Criminal Group Utilizes Women and Children as Human Shields in Palmarito, Puebla

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan

Key Information: Alberto Melchor, “Ataque en Palmarito deja dos militares y tres civiles muertos.” Periódico e-consulta. 3 May 2017, http://www.e-consulta.com/nota/2017-05-03/seguridad/ataque-en-palmarito-deja-dos-militares-y-tres-civiles-muertos:

Un saldo preliminar de dos militares y tres presuntos huachicoleros muertos dejó una refriega ocurrida la noche de este miércoles en la junta auxiliar de Palmarito Tochapan, en el municipio de Quecholac.

De acuerdo con los primeros reportes, el enfrentamiento se suscitó poco después de las 21 horas cuando elementos de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional(Sedena)  recorrían la comunidad. En ese momento fueron agredidos por los pobladores.

La violencia creció cuando los presuntos ladrones de combustible comenzaron a disparar en contra de los elementos del Ejército y de la Policía Estatal, quienes intentaron repeler la agresión.

En medio de la afrenta se reportó el fallecimiento de dos soldados, así como de tres presuntos huachicoleros, sin embargo, otras versiones arrojan que podrían ser hasta tres militares los que perdieron la vida.

Además se reportó que un elemento de la Secretaría de Seguridad Pública (SSP) de Puebla, identificado como Juan Carlos Valencia, de 27 años de edad, resultó lesionado de un tiro en la espalda y tuvo que ser trasladado a bordo de una patrulla de la corporación hasta el Hospital General de Tepeaca.

Sin embargo, tras ser estabilizado, elementos de la Policía Estatal lo llevaron de urgencia a un nosocomio en la ciudad de Puebla.

El operativo de las fuerzas de seguridad en la zona al parecer formaba parte de un plan de búsqueda de dos militares y un civil que fueron reportados como desaparecidos desde el pasado viernes por la noche.

Confirma SEDENA dos soldados muertos y un herido

La Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (SEDENA) confirmó el deceso de dos de sus elementos y un tercero con lesiones por arma de fuego luego del enfrentamiento contra presuntos huachicoleros que de dio la noche de este miércoles en el municipio de Quecholac.

A través de un comunicado, la SEDENA aseguró que fue a las 20:15 horas cuando personal militar jurisdiccionado en la XXV Zona Militar recibió un alertamiento de una toma clandestina de combustible en el poblado Palmarito Tochapan.

Al arribar al lugar con el objeto de confirmar la información, fueron agredidos a distancia por un grupo de individuos que se ocultaban atrás de un grupo de mujeres y niños.

Ante este hecho, el personal militar decidió no responder la agresión, en virtud de que las mujeres y los menores fueron empleados como escudo por los agresores.

Derivado del incidente, fallecieron dos soldados y uno más resultó herido, mismo que fue evacuado al Hospital Militar Regional de Puebla para recibir la atención médica correspondiente.

De este modo personal de Generales, Jefes, Oficiales y Tropa del Ejército y Fuerza Aérea Mexicanos, expresó sus condolencias a los familiares de los soldados quienes fallecieron en el cumplimiento de su deber.

Key Information: “Ataque a Ejército en Puebla déjà 10 muertos; 4 son militares.” Milenio. 4 May 2017, http://www.milenio.com/policia/militares_muertos-puebla-huachicoleros-enfrentamiento-tomas_clandestinas-milenio_0_950305151.html:

La Sedena informó que anoche se dieron dos ataques en el mismo lugar.

El promero sucedió alrededor de la 20:14 horas, cuando elementos del ejército acudieron a un llamado de emergencia sobre una toma clandestina de combustable y fueron recibidos a balazos, ataque el que no pudieron responder pues los presuntos criminals se ocultaban detrás de un grupo de mujeres y niños.  En este primer ataque murieron dos sodados.

La segunda agresión sucedió alrededor de las 22:00 horas, cuando personel del Ejército volvió al lugar.  En esta occasion, los soldados sí respondieron al ataque pues no habia menores ni mujares presentes.

En la segunda agresión murieron dos soldados.

Key Information:  “Gunmen use human shields to kill four Mexican soldiers probing pipeline theft.” Japan Times (Associated Press). 4 May 2017, http://www.japantimes.co.jp.linkis.com/bdtZU:

Gunmen using local residents as human shields opened fire on a Mexican army patrol investigating fuel pipeline thefts, killing two soldiers and wounding a third, the military said Thursday.

Hours later, the gunmen again attacked the patrol with armored cars and high-powered rifles, killing two more soldiers and wounding nine, while three attackers were killed, the army said.

The confrontation late Wednesday in the central state of Puebla marked an escalation of recent conflicts in which fuel thieves have largely taken control of some towns in the so-called Red Triangle area east of Mexico City.

The Defense Department said the patrol was dispatched to the town of Palmarito to investigate reports of an illegal pipeline tap. When soldiers arrived, they came under fire from assailants who took cover behind a group of women and children.

“In light of this situation, the soldiers decided not to return fire because the attackers were using women and children as a human shield,” the department said in a statement.

Key Information: Gabriel Stargardter, “Mexico oil theft clash leaves at least 10 dead, including four soldiers.” Reuters. 4 May 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-violence-idUSKBN1802KY:

At least four soldiers and six suspected oil thieves died in a battle in the central Mexican state of Puebla, authorities said on Thursday, as the army launched a major operation against organized criminals who siphon fuel from pipelines.

Some 600 soldiers were involved in the initial operation, the state government said, with another 400 backed by helicopters and truck-mounted weapons joining them.

The troops were called in to investigate a report of an oil pipeline theft at around 8:15 p.m. local time (0115 GMT) on Wednesday, near the village of Palmarito, when they were shot at by a group using women and children as human shields, the army said in a statement.

The soldiers decided not to return fire, but two of them died in the attack and another was wounded.

A few hours later in the same location, armed men in five sport-utility vehicles opened fire on a different group of soldiers, the army said in a statement on Thursday.

Two more soldiers died in the ensuing firefight and nine were wounded, the army said. Six suspected fuel thieves were killed, while one was wounded, it added. The army said soldiers also arrested at least 12 people, including two minors….

Who: Mexican Army (SEDENA) forces, armed huachicoleros (gasoline thieves), and unarmed women and children.

What: Two soldiers were killed and one wounded by the armed gang of gasoline thieves who were not fired upon by the Army forces over concern of injuring or killing the unarmed human shields.   

When: Wednesday night, following the PEMEX fuel pipeline theft reported at 8:15 PM.

Where: Palmarito Tochapan, Puebla state, about 180 km East of Mexico City.

Why: The human shields were utilized for the tactical advantage that they provided the armed huachicoleros (gasoline thieves) against the responding Mexican Army (SEDENA) forces.

Analysis: This appears to be the first known incident in the Mexican criminal insurgency in which the TTP (tactic, technique and procedure) of utilizing women and children as human shields has taken place. While allegations that a former Mexican beauty queen was used as a human shield in a November 2012 firefight between cartel members and Army forces exists, she was holding an assault rifle and appears to have been a willing participant in the tactical action.[1] While cartel blockades (bloqueos) (also known as narcoblqueos)[2] are a common cartel tactic, deliberate use of human shields is a new feature.  

The use of human shields is a TTP by irregular forces that has occurred worldwide (e.g., in the Rwandan Genocide) and is commonplace in the Middle East and in other regions of the world in which radical Islamist terrorist groups—such as Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, Al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram—are active.  The huachicoleros (gasoline thieves) fired upon the Army personnel knowing that, if the authorities returned fire and injured or killed the unarmed women and children, they could be considered engaging in a homicide (under domestic law) and/or a war crime (under international humanitarian law—IHL).[3] Not only would this subject them to possible prosecution but it would also result in immense negative media coverage for SEDENA and the current presidential administration. Of concern is that this TTP may be utilized by other gangs and cartels active in the Mexican criminal insurgency now that this firebreak has been crossed.

Significance: Blockades (Bloqueos), Human Shields, Insurgent & Terrorist Tactics, Oil Theft (Tomas Clandestinas), PEMEX, Petro-targeting, SEDENA

Notes:

[1]. “Killed Mexican Beauty Queen Had Gun, Used as Human Shield by Drug Gang.” Fox News. 28 November 2012, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/11/28/soldiers-mexico-beauty-queen-had-gun-in-her-hands.html.

[2] See, for example, recent reportage of bloqueos (blockades) deployed by criminal groups against police and military forces in Tamaulipas: “Reportan bloqueos en Matamoros.” El Mañana. 5 May 2017, http://www.elmanana.com/reportanbloqueosenmatamoros-3727942.html and “Enfrentamientos y bloqueos en Reynosa dejan 12 muertos.” El Economista. 5 May 2017, http://elconomista.com.mx/seguridad-publica/2017/05/05/enfrentamientos-bloqueos-reynosa-dejan-12-muertos.

[3] Use of humans shield by irregular forces is considered a violation of Customary IHL.  See Robert Black, “Shields,” in Roy Gutman, David Rieff, and Anthony Dworkin (Eds.), Crimes of War 2.0, New York: Norton, 2007, http://www.crimesofwar.org/a-z-guide/shields/ and Rule 97, Human Shields, Customary IHL, Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross; found at https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule97.

For Additional Reading:

John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “Open Veins of Mexico: The Strategic Logic of Cartel Resource Extraction and Petro-Targeting.” Small Wars Journal. 3 November 2011, http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/open-veins-of-mexico.

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