Steve Herman – Voice of America
WHITE HOUSE - It is time for Mexico and the United States to join forces and “wage war” against drug cartels, according to President Donald Trump.
The U.S. leader is calling for a crackdown on armed drug groups south of the border following the ambush on an American family residing in Mexico that has left dead at least six children and three women.
Trump said “a wonderful family and friends from Utah” was caught in a gun battle between two vicious drug cartels.
“If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively,” Trump tweeted.
“The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!” Trump wrote, adding he is merely waiting for a call from Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to begin a joint effort “to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.”
The Mexican president spoke with Trump on Tuesday afternoon.
”I thanked him for his willingness to support us and informed him that the institutions of the government of Mexico will act to ensure justice is done," Lopez Obrador said on Twitter.
Earlier in the day, Lopez Obrador said Trump's suggestion of joint military action is "not in agreement with our convictions. The worst thing is war."
Shortly after Trump's call for action, Lopez Obrador said while he would speak with the U.S. president about the matter, the suggestion of joint military action is “not in agreement with our convictions. The worst thing is war.”
Analysts see little likelihood of the U.S. army going into Mexico, although the two countries have a long history of law enforcement and intelligence cooperation to combat drug gangs.
“I don’t think that we’re moving into any territorial raids to see something like a U.S. invasion of Mexico to fight the drug cartels,” says Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute. “But I do think that the diplomatic pressure on Mexico will go up significantly as a result of this incident.”
The victims of the ambush in the Mexican state of Sonora are identified as members of the LeBaron family, U.S. citizens who formed a fundamentalist Mormon community decades ago in the border region.
The attack occurred when family members were traveling in three separate vehicles on a dirt road along the Chihuahua-Sonora border, according to several family members.
Mexico’s security minister, Alfonso Durazo, confirms the family members were traveling in a convoy and could have been confused with criminal organizations battling for control of the region.
Family members say children who tried to flee the scene also were gunned down, making implausible speculation the victims were mistaken for criminals.
A former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobsen, says it is common, however, for innocent parties to be killed by cartel gunmen.
“The reaction from cartel members is frequently to shoot first and ask questions later about who is involved,” Jacobsen told MSNBC.
The current U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, says five children who were injured in the attack have been transferred to the United States.
Police and army troops are searching for one missing child, according to Durazo.
“Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from the Utah territory originally went into Mexico in the 1880’s at the height of a federal government crackdown on polygamy,” according to the University of Utah’s Mormon Studies professor, W. Paul Reeve.
In recent years, Mormons in the area were targets of kidnappings, and two members of the Chihuahua Mormon community, including a LeBaron family member, were killed in 2010 in an apparent revenge attack after security forces tracked down drug gang members.
“It’s not a safe place, but it is their home,” Wilson tells VOA. “They were there before the security situation deteriorated. They are living in a part of rural Mexico that is under dispute by criminal organizations” near the U.S. border with its important trafficking corridors.
One of the prominent families that was a victim of the ambush has been outspoken in pushing for an improvement of the security situation, according to Wilson.
“They’ve actually become targets of criminal organizations seeking to quiet them and quiet their calls for greater intervention by the Mexican government to restore security.”
Wayne Lee contributed to this report.