Small Wars Journal

Mexico Deploys Troops to Outskirts of Mexico City

Note— This deployment may represent another “firebreak” crossed concerning the criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico. In the past Mexico City has been immune to much of the violence taking place in the other regions of that country.

Mexico Deploys Troops to Outskirts of Mexico City


MEXICO CITY, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Mexico has sent soldiers to patrol a suburb of Mexico City for the first time to combat a rise in drug-related violence that is beginning to encroach on the capital.

From late Wednesday, a combined force of around 1,000 soldiers, federal police and local police took to the streets of Nezahualcoyotl on the capital's eastern flank, which has suffered from a dispute between two rival drug cartels.

Categories: El Centro



Sun, 09/23/2012 - 2:46pm

NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Stegal (international banking) have helped to create a new monster for which there is no name. We might do better to look at the Mexico situation as a violent economic cult or a really bad Crime Family that you can join but the old definitions and solutions are not going to work IMO.

Bill M.

Sun, 09/23/2012 - 1:27pm

In reply to by Surferbeetle

I believe I misunderstood your original point about understanding the economy. I agree that revolution/resistance and economics are connected, and instead of the chicken and egg I would just say they interact with each other and force adaptions in both systems (economic and the resistance). My previous point where I said the conflict defines the economy not the other way around conflicts with my previous sentence but it was intended to be provocative to drive a needed debate/discussion.

WWII our economy adapted to the global conflict long before 7 DEC based on the demand for military related equipment, food, etc. in Europe. Conflict defined the economy. After our initial invasion into Iraq segments of the economy, largely black and gray market, emerged to sustain the resistance or simply exploit the complete lack of any legal system in place to regulate the economy. Conflict defined the economy. Pakistan's economy is largely based aid, which in turn is focused on (wink) their efforts to defeat terrorists and maintain stability. Conflict defines the economy. The above examples are over simplified to quickly make points. In Mexico, since the conflict(s) seem to be largely profit motivated that implies understanding the economics is central to understanding the nature of the problem, which I agree I don't understand.

In regards to your comments about integrating economies as justification for war (I believe we both morally disagree with this argument), seems not much has changed from the European mercantile era, the principles are the same, the ways have morphed.

Quote "Mercantilism fueled the imperialism of this era, as many nations expended significant effort to build new colonies that would be sources of gold (as in Mexico) or sugar (as in the West Indies), as well as becoming exclusive markets. European power spread around the globe, often under the aegis of companies with government-guaranteed monopolies in certain defined geographical regions, such as the Dutch East India Company or the British Hudson's Bay Company (operating in present-day Canada). End Quote


Sun, 09/23/2012 - 12:00pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Fair enough on the doctrine point. Roman, Ottoman, Spanish, British, and US are some of the ones I mentally compare and contrast on COIN writ large (COIN and Doctrine), and with that exercise I do see some qualified successes in among the failures. Although very different, in particular if we focus upon the shape of the resistance to US efforts, WWII (Germany, Japan, Italy) and Iraq are noteworthy. Although none of the countries I have mentioned here 'perfectly fit the American economic model' (and that might be bad or good depending upon one's viewpoint) pre and post war economic participation in the global economy by each of these countries is worth reflecting upon. Because of our recent experiences consider Iraqi oil production from 1968 to 2012. The Ba'ath party took over in '68, Sadaam took power in '79 and Iraqi oil production recently surpassed 3 million barrels of oil per day ( Iraq Could Delay Peak Oil a Decade Posted by Gail the Actuary on January 6, 2010, written by Stuart Staniford - 10:22am, The Oil Drum, ). This is not to imply that war is the preferred method, or a desired method, or an efficient method, or a morally acceptable method, for maximizing economic participation... this is further complicated by the fact that given the massive complexity of war stated goals rarely match outcomes.

With respect to revolution/resistance and economics I see them as connected...chicken and egg style. With more time spent in 'peace mode' than 'war mode' I also think that our folks should be more aware of how to assess pre war economic equilibriums and systems than perhaps we are.

This brings us back to Mexico and our lack of understanding of it's history, equilibriums, and systems. Despite this lack of understanding there are some, present company most definitely excluded, who continue to ignore recent lessons dearly paid for while blithely proposing 'solutions' which do not involve changing our own behavior...

Bill M.

Sat, 09/22/2012 - 10:27pm

In reply to by Surferbeetle

Read carefully, I didn't say I dismissed COIN, I said I dismissed our COIN doctrine. We have hundreds of vignettes of minor tactical success, but overall strategic failure period. The resistance/revolution defines the economic system, not the other way around.


Sat, 09/22/2012 - 3:39pm

In reply to by Bill M.

<i>Since I pretty much dismiss our COIN doctrine to begin with, I'm definitely not making an argument the Mexicans should use it in their struggle against the Cartels. I am simply think this is a security challenge that States will increasingly have to deal with, so it is past time to start taking this seriously.<i/> and losers are recognized and there are no trophies for participation/attendance ;)

Fully dismissing COIN is akin to throwing out the baby and bathwater. Costly, and informative, lessons regarding success and failure are to be found in the history of it's attempted operationalization. I would go further and state that understanding the ecosystem of economics/business is key to understanding the revolution/resistance/oppression continuum.

Mexico...I wonder about of many of these articles...they often seem off base/out of kilter with the language & culture & tenor of the actual people. Do our purported interlocutors actually live and move among the populace they attempt to describe?

Bill M.

Sat, 09/22/2012 - 2:15pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


In general I agree, but I also think it is time we expand our apeture and stop rejecting new thoughts on the topic without giving them a fair trail. Dr. Metz has written some great studies on criminal insurgencies that deserve careful consideration for example.

Whether the situation in Mexico is an insurgency or insurgency like or nothing of the sort can be debated rationally from both sides of the argument. Since I pretty much dismiss our COIN doctrine to begin with, I'm definitely not making an argument the Mexicans should use it in their struggle against the Cartels. I am simply think this is a security challenge that States will increasingly have to deal with, so it is past time to start taking this seriously. I would hate to see the discussion fall into two camps like law enforcement versus COIN strategy, like the flawed argument we heard in Afghanistan about CT versus COIN. The threat isn't insignificant and it deserves serious reflection. I'm not prepared to offer a doctrine to counter it, I'm still struggling to understand it.

This definitely didn't start off as insurgency, but the tactics and even the strategy that some of the Cartels are using are insurgent strategies and tactics, so they may in fact have become accidental insurgents, much like we became accidental occupiers. Similiar to physical training where your body becomes its function over time, I suspect the same applies to strategy, if you embrace an insurgent strategy over time you become an insurgent. They may not desire to be insurgents, but since they're conducting warfare against the state's security forces, subverting the government through infiltration, pay offs and coercion, and seeking control of the populace in areas through a combination of coercion and hearts and minds (providing medical care, enforcing the law, etc.) they are starting to look like a duck and quack like a duck, even if it isn't a duck.

I suspect they also have a global network, but they definitely have a potential or actual support network in the States with the various Mexican gangs that already distribute their products to a market that just can't get enough. At this point I'm arguing the challenge is far beyond the capacity of law enforcement and more importantly the legal system to handle, so what response is appropriate? Again I'm not arguing anyone should apply our COIN doctrine, but that still leaves the million dollar question, what should be done (obviously the response must be feasible)? The answer requires first understanding the nature of the challenge, which means moving beyond assumptions to the extent possible.

Bill C.

Sat, 09/22/2012 - 12:02pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

"To the victor go the spoils" would seem to be a principal and primary reason for insurgencies -- in both traditional and modern societies -- throughout much of history and still highly prevalent and relevant today?

So, (1) not a desire for some standing government to make some changes in what or how it is doing something, (2) not a desire to break free and/or separate oneself from the country and (3) not resistance to the idea of foreign intervention.

None of these things would seem to be what actually motivates the highly prevalent "to the victor go the spoils" insurgents.

Rather, what motivates these individuals is the desire to be the ones in-charge, so that they might best profit from -- and provide patronage through -- this position.

Thus, the "to the victor go the spoils" insurgents:

a. Have no real problem with how the country is run. They just want to be the ones that profit from these arrangements.

b. Have no wish to divide or separate the country (illogical in their minds, as this would dramatically reduce the assets and resources available to them to derive profits from).

c. Really have no problem with, per se, the idea of foreign intervention; as long as these foreign powers work to put and keep them -- rather than someone else -- in-charge. This, so that they -- rather than someone else -- might reap the benefits of and profits derived from being the ones who have attained power and control of government.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 09/22/2012 - 8:23am

In reply to by Bill M.

To Bill's comment:

For the SWJ community, this is a conversation that Bill and I have often; here, in person, at work, over beers, etc. It is one where we agree on 90-95% of a broad, complex field of conflict. It is a field we come at with probably nearly 60 years (I defer to Bill owning the majority share of those years and that practice) of combined practice, study and thought. We agree to disagree on a few small points, but some of those small points are critical ones, and I believe this point of "what is an insurgency" is an important one worth carrying that conversation here.

Now, in my post I said that all insurgencies are political in their primary purpose. I think that is an important distinction, as there are many types of illegal, irregular competition and conflict that occur in every community. There are a handful of broad categories. Political, Economic, Emotion are three big ones. Youth, testosterone and our deep, primal DNA coding to over rice logic with violent action is another as well, and certainly it plays into the first three (prisons are filled with young men for a reason, and we tend to begin calming down after age 40 or so).

In the past I have argued that all insurgencies are caused by poor governance and that therefore all causation radiates out from government, and that therefore as this is purely an internal affair it is really not war at all, but a civil emergency and should be handled as such by a government that is more focused on fixing itself than it is on defeating its own populace. Bill effectively moved me off that position a couple years ago. It is not a position I make any more, and it is not one I made here.

All insurgencies are political, or they are not insurgencies. I stand by that. Names need to mean something and I think that meaning should suggest a genus and species of conflict that helps me to categorize it with similar conflicts in a way that helps me to understand how to best deal with the same.

So, if my primary genus is Insurgency, I think there are three (perhaps two) main families of species. Revolution and Separatist insurgency are in line with my former thinking on this. Internal, political, driven by perceptions of "poor governance," (not ineffective government, that is a handy device for tactical metrics of performance, but is how populaces feel about that performance that matters, not our opinion on the performance in of itself), and really not effectively thought of or approached as "war," regardless of how violent they might become. Revolution seeks to force some change on the current government, and that may be over some key issue or issues, or it may be a complete regime change. The degree of change sought or that occurs is, IMO, moot to understanding the nature of the problem. Separatist has very similar types of drivers, but due to the geography and history of the problem the populace group seeks to break free and form a new body under governance of their own design and control as the solution to their political grievances.

The other category of insurgency is political and a form of war. That is resistance insurgency. This most often occurs within or after a more conventional war. Either in occupied areas while the war still rages, or in occupied areas once the government and the military are defeated with only bold elements of the populace remain in the fight. This is not caused by "poor governance," this is cause by the belief that some presence if illegitimate, inappropriate, illegal, etc, and must go.

Often two or three of these species of insurgency exist in the same conflict at the same time. Certainly all three were present in Iraq, and I believe our refusal to recognize and address the distinction between the revolutionary insurgency and the Resistance insurgency in Afghanistan is the primary source of our frustration there.

Most of these species engage in illegal, profit motivated activities to fund their operations. Often, once the political problems are addressed groups will either morph into profit-purposed organizations, or some cell with roots in the former political movement will re-purpose for profit and continue on. The Jesse James gang is a classic example of this.

But COIN against Jesse James would not work, even though much of the populace of Missouri may well have seen his gang as a symbol of continued resistance and provided them the sanctuary of their support. But Jesse and the boys were out for themselves and money. When they left the sanctuary of that supportive populace and took their little act up north they found out that being a criminal among those who recognized them as such was not so much fun.

Purpose for action. I think this is critical and it is the question we must always ask. In conventional operations and wargames I would always ask the S-2 "is this opponent terrain oriented or force oriented"? By understanding that purpose for action it allowed me to make decisions on where and how I could take risks and where and how I might find or create opportunities. Purpose for action is equally critical for irregular conflicts, but we don't ask. We ask "what is their ideology" or "who do they associate with" or other such interesting, but largely irrelevant, questions.

"What is their primary purpose for action"? IMO that is the essential question that we must be able to answer and that we must understand how to process the answer to as well. Instead of conflating the opposing parties under broad banners, such as "AQ" or "Taliban" that blurs those distinctions, we must learn to disaggregate and distinguish instead. Then we must finely tailor our activities to match with the problem sets, and do so within campaigns also tuned to the problem sets they face. We don't do this now. We did this by accident in Iraq. We need to understand the accident of our success there. Our failure to understand the accident of Iraq led us to carry the wrong lessons learned to Afghanistan. The results speak for themselves.

I realize this was a bit of a dissertation, but I believe this to be one of those essential nuanced points that we currently fail to grasp, and that hinders our efforts in these many, diverse conflicts that we seek to understand, shape or even “defeat.”


Bob Jones

Bill M.

Sat, 09/22/2012 - 4:36am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Poor governance is not always the root cause of an insurgency. There is no reason a group cannot be motivated by profit to overthrow or seek to control a government. We risk making serious errors anytime we assume there is a predetermined (doctrinal) family of activities for resolving an insurgency or any other category of conflict. Context matters.

I agree most criminal organizations don't want to overthrow the government, but instead seek various degrees of influence/control of the government or elements of the government (courts, police, local politicians) to facilitate co-existance and business activities. However in the case of Mexico it is worth considering that this relationship dynamic changed when we convinced Mexico to declare war on the cartels. This in turn forced the cartels to declare war on the government in order to survive, and they have sufficient means to do so based on our citizens buying their drugs and to some degree our businesses selling weapons to all buyers to include the cartels.

What may have started as a relatively simple law enforcement crackdown on the cartels has evolved into something much larger that we still can't define. In the end it may not be an insurgency, but it is a conflict that has evolved well beyond a simple law enforcement issue.

Some incomplete thoughts:

Not unlike the tribal conflicts we see elsewhere we see Cartels fighting each other, while all are fighting the state. The duration and level of violence and threat of violence over time transforms the society it affects. What this will mean over time is still to be determined, but if the Cartels feel they have to achieve more control of the state to facilitate business it isn't far fetched that over time they may accidentally achieve control of the state or sub-states within Mexico.

Those who push Mexico to continue the crack down hail from the same population that is providing the support to sustain the cartels as identified above.

The U.S. fears the ideology of profit when Cartels embrace it because we fear they'll extend their influence into the U.S. through well established Mexican gangs in urban and rural areas throughout the country. We fear the situation we created, and based on our well founded fears we are looking for a solution to the problem in Mexico. A bizzare situation when you take a step back and observe it dispassionately.

Bill C.

Fri, 09/21/2012 - 5:30pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Should one understand the difference between insurgents and criminals as follows:

a. The insurgents wish to obtain greater monetary gains and profits by attaining power and control of government, while,

b. The criminals wish to obtain greater monetary gains and profits by offering and providing desired, but outlawed, goods and services?

Thus, should one understand that what is common to both insurgents and criminals is that while they both wish to obtain greater monetary gains and profits (by different means); their ability to achieve this goal runs afoul of -- and/or is thwarted by -- a current law, system and/or regime?

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 09/21/2012 - 4:16am

"This deployment may represent another “firebreak” crossed concerning the criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico."

Two points:

1. All insurgencies are criminal. Otherwise they would not be insurgencies. All insurgencies are also political in purpose.

2. No criminal organization that has profit as its primary purpose is an insurgency no matter how much it comes to challenge government in the pursuit of those profits.

When we conflate these two purpose-based categories simply because most political insurgencies tend to employ criminal enterprises to fund their movements, and just because most large criminal organizations tend to generate a disruptive effect on government, we lose sight of the aspects of each that we must focus on to achieve success. Such conflation leads to strategies of tactics aimed at defeating the symptoms of an organization's activities, and diverts focus away from programs aimed at reducing their very reason for existing in the first place.

Perhaps the only thing more dangerous than the existence of these organizations that some label as "criminal insurgencies" is the very activity of applying that label and thinking of those organizations in that confused context. How we categorize problems should be based upon their primary purpose for action, and that category should suggest the family of activitiy best suited to resolving the problem they cause.

COIN against a profit-focused criminal organization is as inappropriate as conducting a law enforcement campaign (or "war", in most cases) against a politically-focused insurgent organization. Tactics, Techniques and procedures will often apply to each problem, but the context and the overall framework of approach must be completely different to achieve any kind of durable effect.

I realize it is a snappy term that gets people's attention. But it is inappropriate, illogical, unhelpful and dangerous. That all trumps "it sounds cool."