Small Wars Journal

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note # 2

Mexican Cartel Tactical Notes: No 2. Ambush/Targeted Killing of US Law Enforcement Officer (San Antonio, Texas)

 

Mexican cartel linkages to this incident are currently being investigated but have not been confirmed by US Law Enforcement

Who: Sergeant Kenneth Vann, 48, Bexar County Sheriff's, Texas.

What: Ambush-Targeted Killing of US Law Enforcement Officer.

When: About 2:00 AM Saturday 28 May 2011.

Where: While in uniform, sitting in his marked patrol car at a traffic light at Loop 410 and Rigsby Road (on San Antonio's southeast side) on his way to a call.

Why: Unknown. Initial speculation via Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz is that the officer was randomly targeted because he was a governmental representative/symbol of authority. No motive has been established and no one has claimed credit.

Synopsis: Hasty overview; The officer was waiting at a traffic light. The flashing lights/siren were not turned on in the patrol car and the officer was obeying traffic laws. A small white car is thought to have pulled up next to Sgt. Vann's vehicle. A gunman then fired an estimated 28 rounds via a semi-automatic weapon— possibly an AK-47 assault rifle—at the officer in two bursts. Sgt. Vann was pronounced dead at the scene. Suspect(s) are still at large.

Update: On Tuesday, a sheriff's spokesman said investigators were looking for a royal blue Ford F-150 pickup truck that left the intersection where the incident took place. The small white car has been found and is being processed by forensics. Reward of $127,000.00 now offered for the arrest of those responsible; More than 300 officers from 10 law enforcement agencies—armed with about 1,300 warrants— were deployed to the streets of San Antonio on Tuesday, May 31 in order to get leads concerning this incident.

Tactical Analysis: Derived from news photos of the crime scene and satellite imagery. Kill zone was established at a traffic signal going forward toward I-410 bridges underpass; channeled avenue of approach/confined terrain on Rigsby Road going forward. Location is also well suited for E&E (escape and evasion) of engaging forces (I-410 and 87). The targeted killing appears to have occurred via shots entering the passenger side of the patrol vehicle that struck the officer on the right side of his body. This places the law enforcement officer at an immediate tactical disadvantage in his response since he would be required to shoot through the passenger side of his vehicle to return fire. The targeted killing appears to have been conducted in a tactically proficient manner. TTPs/Weaponry/ Ford F-150 pickup truck (of interest) appears consistent with cartel operations in Northern Mexico.

Significance: Officer Safety Issues; Reward Amount/Mass Warrant Approach; Psychological Warfare/Insurgent Tactics (If determined to have cartel linkages); Cartel Violence Spillover (If determined to have cartel linkages).

Source(s):

"Search Continues For Sergeant's Killer - Investigators Working Full-Time To Find Sgt. Kenneth Vann's Killer" - Tim Gerber, KSAT 12 News, Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Officers Hope Warrant Roundup Leads To Info In Sergeant's Death: 10 Agencies Join Efforts In Warrant Roundup" - David Sears, KSAT 12 News, Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Reward For Info On Vann's Death Raised To $127K: FBI Offering $50,000, In Addition To $77,000 Already Raised" - KSAT 12 News, Tuesday, May 31, 2011 (UPDATED: June 1, 2011)

"Mexican Drug Link Probed in Ambush Murder of Texas Lawman" - Borderland Beat, Tuesday, May 31, 2011 | Borderland Beat Reporter Ovemex. Original Reuters Link

"Slain Sergeant's Widow Speaks Out: Yvonne Vann Asks For Public's Help Solving Husband's Slaying" - Jessie Degollado, KSAT 12 News, Monday, May 30, 2011

"Suspect Who Gunned Down Deputy Remains At-Large: Sgt. Kenneth Vann Shot, Killed Early Saturday Morning" - Simon Gutierrez, KSAT 12 News, Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Bexar County Deputy Slain in 'Senseless' Ambush" (See crime scene photos/video) - Associated Press, WFAA.com, May 28, 2011

Mexican cartel linkages to this incident are currently being investigated but have not been confirmed by US Law Enforcement

Dr. Robert J. Bunker

Comments

NY2TX (not verified)

Mon, 06/06/2011 - 10:38pm

Yes, a case of believing what I felt before I knew. Motive still TBD

Dr. Robert J. Bunker (not verified)

Mon, 06/06/2011 - 8:11pm

Update:

Appears to be a 'lone wolf' ambush/targeted killing. No formal gang/cartel links mentioned--
suspect was said to be on medication for depression. Unknown if affinity links to organized groups exist. Retain Officer Safety Issues; Reward Amount/Mass Warrant Approach significance; Remove Psychological Warfare/Insurgent Tactics, Cartel Violence Spillover significance. TTPs/Weaponry/Ford F-150 pickup truck provided initial cartel linkage concerns.

See:
Drug Cartels Ruled Out As Involved In Ambush Killing Of Deputy
POSTED: 2:24 pm CDT June 6, 2011
http://www.ktxs.com/texas_news/28146986/detail.html

Dr. Robert J. Bunker (not verified)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 8:31pm

"Law enforcement officers arrested a man on a capital murder charge Sunday afternoon in connection with the ambush slaying of Bexar County Sheriff's Sgt. Kenneth Vann last month.
Federal and local officials arrested Mark Anthony Gonzales, 41, at his home in the 19700 block of Pleasanton Road, about one mile north of Loop 1604, around 4 p.m. Sunday." ... "According to Bexar County officials, a blue truck owned by Gonzales that matches the description of a vehicle that was seen fleeing the intersection where Vann, 48, was fatally shot was found at a local body shop. Ortiz said an automatic weapon similar to the one believed to have been used in Vann's slaying was found at Gonzales' home"

Suspect held in slaying of Bexar sheriff's sergeant
By Michelle Mondo
mmondo@express-news.net
Updated 06:11 p.m., Sunday, June 5, 2011
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Suspect-held-in-sla…

Note- Article includes 7 photos. No further information on Mark Anthony Gonzales's affiliations.

Also:

"They also said they found a blue truck at a local repair shop.Gonzales reportedly only had a handful of misdemeanors to his name."

BREAKING: Suspect arrested in murder of Bexar County deputy
by KENS 5 Staff
kens5.com
Posted on June 5, 2011 at 4:15 PM
Updated today at 6:05 PM
http://www.kens5.com/news/local/Suspect-in-brutal-murder-of-Bexar-Co-de…

Note-- See short video.

NY2TX (not verified)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 4:10pm

Gov't corruption wasn't raised? It has been an on-going element of the problem...police corruption is rampant as well. But Tom raised a point that "No leader of a Cartel has been arrested..." For example, Osiel Cárdenas of the Gulf Cartel was arrested in 2003.

Tom

You are right. Government corruption and incompetence is one element that has not been raised. While I am very interested in this disastrous situation, I dont know enough yet.

It must been so deep and extensive to have allowed the situation to escalate to such a level.

Tequilla - thanks for setting the record straight. I appreciate these engagements will never be perfect and will many who we are trying to eliminate will escape. I could have perhaps made the point better, but it is blows like this that can have a decisive effect and change the direction of the fight. It might not be ulimate but it means the postive side sets the agenda.

Thanks

Jason

Tom

You are right. Government corruption and incompetence is one element that has not been raised. While I am very interested in this disastrous situation, I dont know enough yet.

It must been so deep and extensive to have allowed the situation to escalate to such a level.

Tequilla - thanks for setting the record straight. I appreciate these engagements will never be perfect and will many who we are trying to eliminate will escape. I could have perhaps made the point better, but it is blows like this that can have a decisive effect and change the direction of the fight. It might not be ulimate but it means the postive side sets the agenda.

Thanks

Jason

Tom, El Paso (not verified)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 1:29am

RE. Jason et al.
Clearly, any good Ranger SFC could write a plan to stop the drug cartel viloence in Mexico. The problem is total, utter corruption of all governmental entities. The violence in Juarez did not begin until someone in the Calderon administration gave the "plaza=franchise" for Juarez to Chapo Guzman of the Sinaloa Cartel. The Juarez cartel, La Linea hooked up with the barrio aztecas to do their dirty work and these two cartels have killed approx 4k ther. Most of the arrests and weapons captured are minor. No leader of a Cartel has been arrested. There are reports of soldiers looking the other way when mass murders are happening two blocks away. There only two solutions: 1.Demand for drugs is reduced or eliminated and/or 2. The Mexican people arm themselves and solve the problem ala Columbia.

Drugs/drug money might not be the root cause but I do consider access to drug market/drug money the key source of strength for the cartels. Without that much money the cartels aren't powerful enough to take on the Mexican gov't / security forces. My thought was that if you could reduce access and reduce cartel ability to make money you reduce their ability to challenge the Mexican government. If that occurs Mexico can take care of the problem to a manageable level. IRT to ability to depoloy the military on the border I made the assumption that the military was available. IRT to legal / political obstacles those do exist and would certainly have to be addressed.

NY2TX (not verified)

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 7:25am

Two questions: a) premise that the root cause is drugs/drug money - and - b) ability to deploy military on the border.

Fascinating subject. I just completed a paper for the advanced planning course I attend where I propose a solution to the problem on the border. The problem as I see it is that drugs / drug money has led to the rise of Mexican drug cartels which are weakening the Mexican state and creating parallel states within Mexico. The violence / corruption in Mexico is out of control and slowly spreading to the US. My proposed solution is to use the US military to control the border, interdict drugs and money to deny the cartels their COG ($$$) which would reduce their power to corrupt, arm/equip, challenge the state. Reduced cartel funds/power makes them a problem the Mexican government can handle. In my amateur opinion interdiction can work if enough resources are dedicated to the mission. It worked to some extent in the Gulf can we do it over land? I try to make the argument that its doable.

NY2TX (not verified)

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 10:52pm

I wish this discussion was "inside" and not outside.

That said, @Jason, I will try to dig up the map links (most are not up to date though)...there are at least 6 different cartels vying for position (Juarez, Sinoloa, Tijuana, La Familia, Gulf and Los Zetas and most recently, the Knights Templar) and Calderone's anti-cartel efforts have not yet worked. Merida Initiative has not worked. Project Gunwalker is in the news...and will not go away.

As for this being an insurgency...the Mexican gov't cannot control the internal violence (there are multiple enemies in addition to corruption)...the gov't definitely cannot control the cartels. Personally, while I do not "study" Afghanistan beyond the belief that tribal cultures transcend any need or desire for a central gov't, Mexico is not Afghanistan.

tequila (not verified)

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 10:05pm

[quote]How did the US forces succeed in the second battle of Fallujah? By systematically removing all civilian families, shutting off the city from logistically support, isolating the insurgents, then entering with force. Are there parts of Mexico that reflect the Fallujah Scenario and could some what worked be applied in Mexico areas where the cartels "own" towns etc?[/quote]

The second battle of Fallujah did not end the insurgency. A large number of insurgents fled the town prior to the offensive and a serious insurgency continued within Fallujah until early 2008. Mosul, a far larger city, came apart while Phantom Fury was going on with the entire police force either being killed or deserting under a sustained insurgent offensive.

JMO

You might well be right over the OODA thought. I guess despite the seemingly chaotic nature of the violence it is still organisationed based with objectives determined by a stucture that need to evolve and adapt.

I would certainly appreciate studying the maps if you have any links to these.

thanks

Jason

Apologies, but I don't think that there is a "traditional" OODA to interrupt. Tactics are random and evolving. Plus there is the issue of multiple cartels fighting both each other and attacking outward (if it follows in the US as it has gone in Mexico, law enforcement targets will be interspersed with civilian targets for different motives). It may become difficult to decern the difference between inter-cartel fighting and turf taking violence.

The Mexican state has not control over this growing war, and IMO, has already lost its legitmacy. Have you seen any of the recent maps showing areas of cartel influence in Mexico? Problem is the ebb and flow of the geogrpahy controlled by each...and then there is the problem of "contested areas."

JMO.

This is an excellent topic because it forces us to confront another complex, powerful paradigm in irregular warfare.

Commenting more broadly:

1. The OODA Loop and Cartels

We should definately assess how these organisations will adapt and evolve...what are the future scenarios and work back from there to determine the resources, strategy, tactics etc to get inside their OODAloop.

The trend in violence and power in such volume could begin to challenge the legitimacy of the State. If we work back from that scenario what needs to be done to undermine that concept? Mexico¸s drug war is a prime example of the challenges faced by states from one variety of globalization: transnational organized crime. But this appears more organised, focused and executed than other insurgencies.

However, the objective of most insurgencies is to over throw a government (legitimate or otherwise) these cartels to appear to be aimed at securing a form of "dual sovereignty" (Grayson, 2010) where the cartels can operate without interference and with impunity i.e. they dont want to run the country just run their operations with no interference from the State.

2. The Hedgehog idea

How did the US forces succeed in the second battle of Fallujah? By systematically removing all civilian families, shutting off the city from logistically support, isolating the insurgents, then entering with force. Are there parts of Mexico that reflect the Fallujah Scenario and could some what worked be applied in Mexico areas where the cartels "own" towns etc?

This is an abandonment policy of towns but a broad, deep plan to eradicate, root and branch, major strong holds.

3. Who does it?

Problem is once again we rely on the US to apply the resources to implement the right plan. Im surprised (but could be wrong) that other multi-national institutions havent stepped in.

Cheers

Jason

NY2TX (not verified)

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 8:03am

This situation has been building and brewing for a few years. Until now, you'd never hear local LEOs talk about it in the open and you wouldn't read or hear about it in the media. But the argument of whether there was cross over violence was constant.

Add the many Mexican national families moving here to avoid cartel violence, and the formula leads to an obvious end. What is real (at least from my view) is that between actual cartel violence, cartel/youth gang interaction and the overall growth of gang activity, the Lt. was correct, but I seriously question saying it in the open on the nighttime news.

Anymouse (not verified)

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 3:27am

I like the tactical notes. Good addition to this site, the big picture stuff often leaves one with "no sense of urgency" in regards to what is creeping across the border.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker (not verified)

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 12:44am

Thank you for the local HUMINT. We should approach via network analysis like this. Other readers may be able to contribute updates/links and additional insights.

NY2TX (not verified)

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 12:01am

I've been watching the cartels and Mexican violence for over 5 years. IMO, the interview was a generally odd thing to do -

http://publisher.grabnetworks.com/video/watch?grabnetworks_video_id=470…

Allof the debate over drug violence cross over has been alot of PC. No one wants to admit it. Gang cross over also happening.

BTW, the intersection of Rigsby and 410 (assuming Sgt. Vance was headed south across the interchange is pretty slow (long light). Across the intersection are 2 gas stations (Valero and Exxon), each with video surveillance. One traffic light about 1/2 mile south. They are supposedly checking the tapes. Egress from that intersection is actually pretty rural going S on 87 (extension of Rigsby - they didn't go that way, I'm pretty sure - there's nothing down there but farms and a few thousand people). Real exit on I-410 either way (and they knew it)...maybe 15-20 minutes from downtown.

Gotta call it as I see it (and have believed it since 2005/6 when the first cross border incursions by Los Zetas happened). It is going to be a long Summer here on the border (150 miles from the border is very close).

PS: sorry for the typos in my first comment.

Excellent post and I certainly would like to know if this was a Sicario from the cartels, or if it is an isolated incident.

Boy, you guys should keep this particular series on cartels a mainstay of the site? I really like this kind of thing, and the cartels definitely deserve closer study. Know the enemy.....

OK< I live in SA. Part of the story lies in the question of why on May 25th, a Lt. in the Bexar County Sheriff's office was interviewed on the late news and was quoted as "expecting drug violence anytime." Was it connected to this "false guantlet" being thrown? Can't say. But considering that federal, state and local law enforcement was in on the investigation from the outset, the suspect vehicle is now described as a truck similar to those found in the south of town (ripped out to enable stashing) and alot of other "connecting the dots," personally I have no suspicions.

Unfortunately, this link has an ad in front: http://tinyurl.com/3mt9wjs

There is a better link but I think its copyrighted.

This interview aired on May 25th.