Small Wars Journal

Tactical Note

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #48: Video of CJNG Engagement of Autodefensa Mounted Infantry in IAFV in La Bocanda, Michoacán

Wed, 12/30/2020 - 6:15pm
In the ongoing conflict in Michoacán between the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and local defense forces coordinating amongst themselves and with local cartels, a recent engagement took place in which an autodefensa (self-defense group) improvised armored fighting vehicle (IAFV) was engaged by small arms fires. The engagement, caught on video from the perspective of the mounted infantry and reporters in the armored truck bed of the IAFV, took place in La Bocanda—a CJNG stronghold—in mid-December 2020.

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Mexican Cartel Tactical Note # 18: Cartel Caltrop Use in Texas

Thu, 05/23/2013 - 6:46pm

Key Information:  Mexican Cartel Related Activity—Caltrops, Texas Department of Public Safety, nd,

Since 2008, there have been 80 caltrop incidents, where cartel operatives throw tire-deflation spikes at the vehicles of law enforcement officers in order to evade arrest.

These spikes [See later images] have damaged and disabled law enforcement and civilian vehicles.

The 82nd Legislature prohibited the use of caltrops. Using a caltrop or other tire deflation device against an officer while the actor is in flight is now a third degree felony.


Key Information:  Mike M. Ahlers, “Texas bans tire-puncture devices used by drug runners.” CNN, 1 September 2011,

…State Rep. Aaron Pena crafted the caltrop ban at the behest of the U.S. Border Patrol, whose tires have borne the caltrops’ trademark slashes.

“There’s a portion of my district which goes right up to the border, the (Rio Grande) river,” Pena said. “And caltrops are used there probably more than any other location in the United States.”

Almost all reported cases of caltrop use can be found in a 20-mile stretch of the border west of McAllen, Texas, authorities said.

“The first time we were exposed to this was 2008 when we had one incident,” said Rosendo Hinojosa, chief of the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector. In 2009, there were 12 incidents, with 13 last year…

Who:  Mexican cartel personnel—primarily Cartel del Golfo (CDG) and Los Zetas —  operating in Southern Texas.  

What:  Use of caltops—tetrahedra-like and sea urchin shaped metal devices with sharp tips— used to deflate the tires of pursuing police vehicles. The devices deployed are improvised and created by welding large nails together. While other variants exist—such as cut and bended sheet metal and specifically manufactured caltrops (with hollow spikes and a central air vent to maximize tire deflation)—only improvised caltrops can be identified in the photos released by law enforcement and published by the media.

When:  The incident breakdowns in Southern Texas are as follows: 2008 with 1 incident, 2009 with 12 incidents, 2010 with 13 incidents, and 2011 (possibly into 2012) with 54 incidents [1] [7].

Where:  The Southern Texas cities where cartel caltrop deployment has taken place include La Grulla, Sullivan City, Los Ebanos, Havana/Crow, La Joya, Penitas, Abram, and Palmview [4].

Why:  Primarily to degrade and terminate the police pursuit of fleeing cartel operatives. See other applications in the tactical analysis.

Texas Department of Public Safety (For Public Release) [1]

Texas Department of Public Safety [No Restrictions on Use] [4]

Texas Department of Public Safety [No Restrictions on Use] [4]


General Analysis: Searches were conducted for cartel use of anti-vehicular caltrops in the other Southern border states of New Mexico, Arizona, and California with no incidents or seizures of these devices reported. However, the employment of spiked stakes, individual nails, and nail boards—much like caltrops— have been used in an anti-personnel mode in marijuana grows in California and many other states by cartel operatives. The last reported use of caltrops by the cartels in Texas appears to have taken place in Sullivan City in March 2011 with 20 to 30 cars suffering punctured tires [6]. These devices were made illegal to possess in Texas in September 2011 as a response to the eighty instances of their usage by the cartels in that state since 2008 [7]:





Sec. 46.01.  DEFINITIONS.  In this chapter:

…(17) “Tire deflation device” means a device, including a caltrop or spike strip, that, when driven over, impedes or stops the movement of a wheeled vehicle by puncturing one or more of the vehicle’s tires.  The term does not include a traffic control device that:

            (A)is designed to puncture one or more of a vehicle's tires when driven over in a specific direction; and

            (B) has a clearly visible sign posted in close proximity to the traffic control device that prohibits entry or warns motor vehicle operators of the traffic control device… [8]

In Mexico, the most recent reports of caltrop usage are in Reynosa in February 2012 [3][5] and again in August 2012 [3]. Their deployment was combined with other cartel TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) during running gun battles and other cartel tactical actions.

Tactical Analysis:  Caltrops are very old weapons that can be traced back to use by Greek and Roman troops. During the Middle Ages, they were deployed against heavy cavalry forces to serve as a hasty open battlefield barrier, for area denial, and from an ‘anti-vehicular perspective’ to cause damage to the hoofs of cavalry horses. Besides a long pedigree in such combat operations, and sporadically employed for anti-personnel purposes in more modern conflicts, they have also been more recently utilized by U.S. law enforcement in their modified form as ‘spike strips’ to create a barrier across a roadway which if crossed will flatten the tires of a fleeing vehicle containing criminals being pursued by law enforcement.          

In this instance, caltrops provide the user— fleeing Mexican cartel operatives in vehicles being pursued by U.S. law enforcement officers— a number of tactical options and capabilities. The most immediate capability is the ability to degrade and possibly terminate a law enforcement pursuit by either creating unsafe highway conditions to the pursuing law enforcement officers and civilians in the vicinity of the car chase, cause damage and blow outs to the tires of vehicles of the pursuing law enforcement officers, or causing the vehicles of pursuing law enforcement officers to run off the road or crash.

Additional capabilities are to mimic law enforcement ‘spike strips’ in order to create a roadway barrier to deny an opposing force an avenue of approach.  This would also be considered an ‘area denial’ capability and would be synergistic with the cartel Narcobloqueos (narco-blockades) which have appeared in Southern Texas such as in November 2012 [2]. Besides keeping a force from using an avenue of approach or entering an area, the reverse is also true with a target group of some sort being kept in an area—such as, at least theoretically, in an ambush or killing zone. While these additional capabilities provided by caltrop deployment exist and have been used in cartel operations in Mexico, they have not been documented taking place in Texas in either open media or law enforcement public information reports [3]. 

Countermeasures: criminalize caltrop possession, helicopter pursuit, response policy change (to lethal), run-flat tires  


[1] Mexican Cartel Related Activity—Caltrops, Texas Department of Public Safety,

[2] John P. Sullivan, “Spillover/Narcobloqueos in Texas.” Small Wars Journal—El Centro. 1 April 2013,

[3] In Mexico spike strips are known as “ponchallantas” and have been used by the cartels. See Chivis, “Shootouts and Narcoblockades in Reynosa: Reports ‘El Gringo’ is Dead.” Borderland Beat, Tuesday 14 August 2012, Caltrop usage in parts of Mexico is also quite common with photos of  captured Los Zetas and Cartel Del Golfo personnel with these devices present. The number of devices in these photos has ranged from about half-a-dozen to about four dozen caltrops. For a social media example of some of these devices found in Mexico see,

[4] Spillover Crime and Cartel Operations, Texas Department of Public Safety, nd [No Restrictions on Use],

[5]. Sergio Chapa, “Tire Spikes Plaguing Reynosa Roadways.” Valley Central, 16 February 2012,

[6] Erika Flores, “Homemade spikes leave dozens of vehicles with a flat tire,” Valley Central, 31 March 2011,

[7] Mike M. Ahlers, “Texas bans tire-puncture devices used by drug runners.” CNN, 1 September 2011,

[8]. See

Significance: Area Denial, Cartel Weaponry, Channeling of Forces, Escape & Evasion, Officer Safety

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note # 17

Sun, 02/17/2013 - 4:02pm

Note—the information and pictures contained in this tactical analysis have been pieced together from OSINT (open source intelligence)/news reports published between March 2009 and January 2012. They represent initial I&W trending pertaining to small caliber mortar deployment by the cartels in Mexico and Central America. 

Key Information: “Mexico deploys an additional 5,000 troops to Juarez to fight drug cartels.” 2 March 2009. [1]:

In other news, Army troops captured a man who was guarding a weapons cache in rural Sinaloa (Northwestern Mexico).

Photograph No. 1 & 2   (

Photographic Analysis: Photographs No. 1 and 2 show an improvised launcher (framework) in the foreground. Leaning against the fabricated launcher structure are three M-203 type 40mm grenade launchers. This arrangement appears to have been tailored after a “salvo” type launcher that would fall into the class of Infantry Light Support Weapons.  Infantry level salvo launchers in this class are generally capable of launching two or more grenades, or light mortar rounds either individually or all at once.

This captured device has been fabricated from square steel tubing with welded joints. The construction of it also appears to be unfinished. The fact that all of the individual elevated (launcher) attachment rails appear to be welded at a fixed angle indicate two possibilities.  This may be a hastily constructed platform to test the concept, or there is an additional component for its base that is not present, or has not yet been fabricated.  The reader will note the short section of pipe that has been welded on one side of the lower framework (Photograph No. 2).  This may be present as part of a vehicle mount.  If this is a preliminary test platform, then it’s reasonable to assume that the end result will be collapsible launch rails.  This will make the whole system (with its present frame size) low profile and backpackable.  

Salvo launchers have a wide variety of uses in forward areas or areas that are heavily patrolled.  They can be used in both offensive and defensive situations.  Due their low profile, they are easily camouflaged and many can be fired remotely via wire command.

Improvised launchers, as seen in the photographs, are quite uncommon, but could be quite effective in certain situations if configured correctly and the gunner is in possession of accurate empirical data for range vs. elevation.

This device may be indicative of a new interest and trend on the part of the cartels to gain increased tactical capability in the use of projected munitions. 

Key Information: “Nicaragua Seizes Guns from Mexican Drug Cartel.” Latin American Herald Tribune. 15 November 2009 [2]:


MANAGUA – An arsenal of military weaponry seized over the weekend in the province of Matagalpa belonged to a cell of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, Nicaraguan authorities said Monday.

The National Police said Monday in a communique that the arsenal – including 58 assault rifles, two mortars, 10 grenades, 30 sticks of TNT and 19,236 rounds of ammunition – “were being transported by members of the Sinaloa cartel” in a pickup truck with Nicaraguan plates.

The shipment of arms, ammo and explosives was confiscated on Sunday in a joint operation involving the police and the army, the statement said.

The arsenal was found in the truck but the suspected members of the cartel managed to flee after engaging police in a shootout. Police pursued them but they were able to escape.

The National Police announced that several houses in different parts of Managua are being raided because they are suspected of being arms warehouses.

The police added that they are looking for Mexican Roberto Bedolla Corona, who is considered the head of the group that transported the weapons and supposedly has been living in a rented house in Managua for the past month. EFE


Key Information: United States Department of State, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: Volume I, Drug and Chemical Control. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State: March 2010, 432:

The cross-border flow of money and guns into Mexico from the United States has enabled well-armed and well-funded cartels to engage in violent activities. They employ advanced military tactics and utilize sophisticated weaponry such as sniper rifles, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and even mortars in attacks on security personnel. DTOs [Drug Trafficking Organizations] have openly challenged the GOM [Government of Mexico] through conflict and intimidation and have fought amongst themselves to control drug distribution routes.

Key Information: Gerardo, “Arsenal seized in Nadadores, Coahuila.” Borderland Beat. 2 June 2011. [3]:

The Mexican Army reported the discovery and seizure of an imposing arsenal in a co-op farm, Ejido Sardinas, located in the municipality of Nadadores, Coahuila.

The announcement was made by Brigadier General Dagoberto Espinoza Rodriguez, commander of the 6th military zone and Major General Noe Sandoval, commander of the 4th military region headquartered in Monterrey.

The Generals reported that the weapons consisted of Russian, Chinese, Czech and U.S. weapons that had recently been wrapped in plastic and buried in a section of the farm. The owner of the plot is unknown and no suspects were detained in the operation.

In total, 154 rifles (assault weapons, rifles, shotguns and machine guns), 7 handguns, 1 rocket launcher (RPG) and 2 rockets, 4 sixty mm mortar rounds, 2 crossbows, 10 dismantled weapons grenades, 4,629 magazines, 62,039 rounds of ammunition, 435 tactical vests with 4,735 accessories including holsters, ammunition pouches and belts, 23 camouflage uniforms and 31 radio chargers [were found].

Photographic No. 3. Containing Four Mortar Rounds


Photographic Analysis: The following identification and analysis concerns the four mortar rounds visible on the foreground of the tarp containing seized cartel weapons found in Photograph No. 3.  These mortar rounds are the 60mm HE, Model “N” produced by the Esparanza y Cia in Spain.  They have a maximum range of 1,975 meters.  The exact age of these rounds, though not that old, cannot be easily determined as the Model “N” has continued to be in production for a number of years where it has remained virtually unchanged. The rounds shown appear to have had frequent handling in transit.

These rounds are fuzed with Model 53 Impact Fuzes that are likely to have been supplied as standard from the factory.  This type of fuze arms the round at 40-meters from the muzzle, with the last safety going off once the round passes zenith in the trajectory. This fuze is also produced by the same company in Bizkaia, Spain. 

All of the rounds in the photograph are intact with their fuze safety pins properly in place.  The reader will also note that each of the four mortar rounds have the wafer propellant charges in place on the tail section.  The range of these rounds can be tactically controlled by the removal of one or two of these propellant wafers.

The cartels may have come into possession of these rounds through any number of means.  There is, however, a high likelihood that they were hijacked from a scheduled shipment of arms destined for the Mexican government.

The mere presence of these rounds in this setting is a clear indicator that the cartels are continuing to acquire higher echelon infantry weapons in their inventories. For the purposes of the cartels, mortar rounds also have a dual use as all of the components excluding the tail sections can be used in the construction of IEDs.

Key Information: The Unstoppable Los Zetas. 14 January 2012.

 White Gun was directed at the Sinaloa cartel senior leaders. Officials indicated that up to nine leaders were targeted by the sting operation. The Sinaloa cartel was operating several training camps for its gunmen and wanted military-grade weapons, to include .50 caliber heavy machineguns, medium mortars, and grenade launchers. The M2HB .50 caliber heavy machinegun is capable of destroying light armored vehicles of the type used by Mexican federal police. It is also effective against aircraft, particularly helicopters.

Who: Primarily the Sinaloa cartel was mentioned in these news reports. The Nadadores, Coahuila cache suggests a possible Zetas stockpile. The Zetas have been referenced in some earlier works as having mortars—amount unknown—in their inventory.    

What: 40mm grenades utilized as improvised mortars, small caliber (60mm) mortars, and mortar rounds utilized as IEDs (potentials).

When: From OSINT/news reports spanning March 2009 to January 2012.

Where: In a rural area of the state of Sinaloa, Mexico (2009), in the province of Matagalpa, Nicaragua (2009), and in Nadadores, Coahuila, Mexico (2011).

Why: The Sinaloa and the Zetas cartels are seeking the tactical engagement capability of engaging in indirect and high arching fires.

Tactical Significance: Standoff, harassing, and infantry support functions. Indirect and high arching fires can defeat Mexican and Central American police and military personnel deployed in open topped sand-bagged emplacements guarding police stations, barracks, other critical facilities, and road junctions. Terrorist potentials to lob mortar rounds into crowded gatherings also exist, as does the employment of mortar rounds as IEDs for ambushes, and to boost the lethality of car bombs utilized in an anti-personnel role.  




3. The original source of this report is El Universal. 1 Junio 2011. The Borderland Beat url is

Significance: Indications & Warnings (I&W), IED Potentials, Cartel Weaponry, Standoff Weaponry.

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #16

Mon, 01/28/2013 - 9:15am

Note: This important, yet mostly forgotten, incident from 4 years ago represents a clear ‘firebreak’ in violence potentials for U.S. law enforcement officers vis-à-vis gang and cartel members armed with hand grenades. Such grenades are becoming more and more common in Mexico with thousands seized from the gangs and cartels. Their documented use against police personnel, vehicles, and facilities has occurred numerous times. They represent an increasing ‘officer safety’ concern on this side of the border.

Key Information:  Associated Press, “Cartel grenades may be coming into 3 August 2009.

PHOENIX — It was a scenario U.S. law enforcement had long feared: A fragmentation grenade from Mexico's bloody drug war tossed into a public place. 

Only the grenade thrower’s bumbling prevented bloodshed in a south Texas bar — he neglected to pull a second safety clasp. But the act was proof that one of the deadliest weapons in Mexico's drug battle is a real threat to the U.S., and investigators are stepping up efforts to make sure it doesn't happen again.

While Mexican drug violence has been spilling across the border in the form of kidnappings and killings, grenades are a particular worry because they can kill large numbers of people indiscriminately, and they are a weapon of choice among Mexican cartel members.

“It’s one thing to shoot someone — that’s a very violent act. But to throw a grenade into a crowded bar or a crowded restaurant, that's a different type of criminal you are dealing with, a different mindset,” said Bill Newell, special agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona and New Mexico…

Markings on weapons match 
The grenade that failed to explode in the bar in Pharr, Texas, had the same markings as grenades thrown in October at the U.S. consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, and at a television station in early January in the same city. The grenade thrown at the consulate failed to explode, and no one was injured when the grenade hit the Televisa network’s studio as it aired its nightly newscast.

But all three grenades were manufactured at the same time and place, and were at one point together in the same batch from South Korea. Their manufacture date was unavailable.

The United States and South Korea rank as the top two producers of the grenades seized in Mexico, according to the ATF…

The alleged gang member who threw the South Korean grenade into the Texas bar on Jan. 31 wasn't believed to have been acting on behalf of a cartel. Still, Hidalgo County Sheriff Guadalupe Trevino, whose office investigated the case, suspects there is a loose association between the gang behind the attack and Mexican cartel members.

After the grenade bounced off the floor and landed on a pool table, an off-duty police officer picked it up and threw it back out the door. No one was hurt, no arrests were made, and authorities are divided about whether the targets were rival gang members or off-duty police officers.

The incident led the ATF to issue a warning to law enforcement agencies along the border…

Handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Alcohol,

Tobacco and Firearms [For Public Distribution]

Who: Gang members, thought to belong to the tri-city bombers, threw the hand grenade. A search warrant was served at 1023 Bell Street, Pharr, Texas with three suspects arrested and several pounds of marijuana and a shotgun seized. [2].

What:  A South Korean K-75 fragmentation grenade (based on the U.S. M67 grenade) was thrown into a bar containing off duty U.S police officers.  An unidentified man who looked in via the front door of the bar threw the grenade inside. The grenade bounced off the floor and landed on a pool table. It fortunately did not explode— a second safety clasp had not been pulled— and it was thrown back out the front door of the bar by one of the off duty police officers. This 2.5 inch spherical 14 ounce grenade produces “casualties by high-velocity projection of fragments” [6]. It has a 4-5 second delay once the fuse is properly activated that detonates 6.5 ounces of Composition B high explosive—“The 
effective casualty-producing radius is 15 meters and the killing radius is 5 meters” [6].

When:  Late on the night of Saturday 31 January 2009 [4].

Where:  The grenade was thrown into the ‘El Booty Lounge’ at 3701 N. Veterans Blvd in Pharr, Texas [3].

Why: Initially, speculation existed that the grenade might have been directed at the off duty U.S. police officers in the bar. Another view is now that “Investigators don’t suspect the Zetas of direct involvement in the attack on the Pharr bar. Instead, they believe members of the Tri-City Bombers gang may have been targeting top leaders of the rival Chicanos gang” [5]. A number of area gangs “…including the Tri-City Bombers, the Texas Chicano Brotherhood, the Texas Syndicate and the Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos…” are said to be violently competing for a spot as the designated South Texas enforcers for the Zetas and ongoing incidents are taking place as they prove themselves worthy [5]. Of the two lines of reasoning, the attack on opposing gang members—rather than upon U.S law enforcement officers—appears to be the more plausible one.

M67 fragmentation hand grenade

FM 3-23.30. 7 June 2005, 1-3 [For Public Distribution] [6]

Tactical Analysis: This was a very basic incident— a fragmentation grenade was tossed into a bar— initiated by a gang member untrained in the safety functioning of the grenade. Minimal recon was evident by the perpetrator peering in through the front door of the bar and tossing in the explosive device. Escape and evasion took place by means of running away and or hopping into a get-away vehicle. The criminal act was traced back to the perpetrator within a couple of days so basic OPSEC (operational security) procedures were not likely followed.  This could be attributed to either forensics (via fingerprints or surveillance footage), eyewitness accounts of the fleeing suspect, or ‘word on the street’ from the gang members or their associates bragging about the incident at the bar. The origins of the K-75 South Korean grenade were traced back to a warehouse in Monterrey, Mexico, which contained explosives and high-caliber weapons, which is believed to have belonged to the Zetas—the then paramilitary arm of the Gulf cartel. The grenade was tied to a production lot, via serial number tracing, to two other grenade attacks in Mexico—one against a Televisa news station and one against the U.S consulate in Monterrey [4, 5]. While at that point dozens of grenade attacks had taken place in Mexico, including quite a few across the border in the city of Reynosa, the cross border violence potentials that this attack signified with its tie in to a cartel stockpile of weapons and a U.S. based gang linked to that cartel [the Gulf cartel] is of importance. What is further troubling about this incident is the fact that off duty U.S. law enforcement officers were in a bar late at night that was either frequented by Chicanos gang members or actually contained them at the time of the grenade attack.


[1]. Victor Castillo, “Three men arrested in Pharr house raid.” 2 February 2009,

[2]. “Pharr Grenade Correlation to Mexico Attacks.” Fox 2 News. 11 February 2009, See video.

[3]. To view the front of the bar, see the photos in this article. “Man throws grenade into bar outside Pharr.” 2 February 2009,

[4]. Ken Ellingwood and Tracy Wilkinson, “Drug cartels' new weaponry means war.” Los Angeles Times. 15 March 2009,,0,5675357,full.story.

[5]. Jeremy Roebuck, “Authorities fear RGV gangs competing for cartel work.” Valley Freedom Newspapers. 17 February 2009,

[6].  “Chapter 1: Types of Hand Grenades.” Grenades and Pyrotechnic Signals, FM 3-23.30.  U.S. Army, 7 June 2005,

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #15

Mon, 01/14/2013 - 4:22am

Note—Photos of recovered cartel car bomb borne IEDs are relatively rare in Mexico. This incident dates back to 10 January 2012. It is somewhat reminiscent of recovered IEDs found in Iraq—however of a lesser tactical lethality.

Key Information: Sergio Chapa, “Car found with trunk full of explosives in Ciudad Victoria.” 10 January 2012.  Story includes 4 incident photos.

Who:  Mexican cartels; either the Zetas or the Gulf/Sinaloa cartels who are locked in a conflict over this region.

What:  Failed car bombing attempted based on an IED placed in the trunk of a 1989 Chevrolet Corsica. The driver of the vehicle parked the car next to a police building in the evening and then got into a compact vehicle that quickly drove the unidentified man away. The vehicle was identified as a possible threat to the facility/personnel and Mexican military and police ordnance disposal/bomb squad personnel subsequently disarmed the IED that it contained.

When:  Tuesday 10 January 2012.

Where:  In Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas next to the state police building (Avenida 16 de Septiembre sin número de la colonia Benito Juárez).  

Why: This was an attempted attack on the Tamaulipas state police (see analysis).

Source: Mexican Federal Police

Source: Mexican Federal Police

Tactical Analysis: Very basic car bombing attempt utilizing a limited yield device— an IED in the trunk of a car as opposed to a fully evolved VBIED— that apparently failed to detonate. The primary intent of the aborted attack was for threats & warnings and psychological warfare/terrorism purposes directed at the

Tamaulipas state police. The anti-personnel and somewhat limited anti-infrastructure/anti-vehicular effects of the detonation (blast and fragmentation) would only be considered a collateral/secondary outcome in order to generate ‘terror’ and ‘ambiguity’ concerning follow-on attack potentials— even though immediate pedestrian and glass fragment casualties to those in nearby buildings may have been significant. This is very much an insurgent TTP directed at Mexican state authority. 

IED Photographic Analysis:  Based upon the available photograph, the quality of which is poor, the bomb maker appears to be using a form of dynamite; which for the purposes of this analysis is going to be assumed to be between 40% and 60% straight dynamite.  There appears to be at least 10 sticks present, as some appear to be underneath others in the photograph. Without greater photo clarity, the dynamite in question may be commercial, military, or even a hand assembled / packaged explosive.  As the reader will note, the sticks within the package are not bundled together.

It should also be emphasized that, based upon the assembled explosive package as it is shown in photograph No. 2, questions are present regarding the potential for complete detonation of the package and, consequently, the skill level of the maker.

There are a couple of possibilities that exist regarding the intended method of detonation on the part of the bomb maker: 

  1. The sticks have been individually capped and were to be electrically fired from a termination point (single “stick” size object) that may likely contain batteries and a switch closure circuit.  If this is the case, while the circuit might work, the layout is defective by design and would likely result in only a partial detonation of the package.
  1. The sticks have been individually assembled with prima-cord for detonation by way of a single splice point to be initiated by a single blasting cap.  If this is the case, the cord junction at the individual sticks, as shown in the photograph, is not formatted correctly for a positive detonation using prima-cord with dynamite.  The photograph quality is too poor to determine if there may have been non-electric caps inserted within the sticks beyond the apparent connection.

It is important to note that the above analysis is based in part upon the format of the device as presented in the photograph.  It (the device) may or may not have been in this format when originally discovered in the vehicle.  It is possible that the sticks were originally bundled together, and that the person or persons rendering the device safe cut and removed the ties, tape, or wrappings prior to the taking of photographs.   This may have been warranted as part of the “render safe” process.

If the device in this case was properly formatted, and a total of ten sticks of 60% dynamite were present, the blast would have been substantial; obliterating the rear section and approximately 90% or greater of the vehicle’s body.  Structural and operational components of the vehicle above the chassis would become shrapnel.  Significant structural damage would have occurred to the closest adjacent buildings and windows within 100-meters or greater would have been blown out or damaged.

Significance: Car Bombs; Cartel Weapons; Cross Border Violence Potentials; VBIED Potentials

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #14: Anti-Aircraft Mounted .50 cal. Machine Gun and Surface-to-Air Missile Recovered in 2009 (Archival)

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 5:04am

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #14: Anti-Aircraft Mounted .50 cal. Machine Gun and Surface-to-Air Missile Recovered in 2009 (Archival)

The intent of this note is to update the Mexican cartel tactical note series with some archival information dating back to 2009. The following Mexican cartel weapons should be considered rare and have been encountered sporadically as in the case of .50 cal. machine guns and singularly (potentially) as in the case of surface-to-air missiles. The initial news links and analysis provided for these weapons are attributed to Sylvia Longmire’s Mexico’s Drug War,

Anti-Aircraft Mounted .50 cal. Machine Gun

Key Information: “Mexico police seize anti-aircraft weapon near US border.” Agence France-Presse. 4 April 2009,

MEXICO CITY - Police seized an anti-aircraft machine gun mounted on a van and other heavy weapons at a house in northern Mexico near the US border, an official said Tuesday.

The haul came two days before a visit to Mexico by US President Barack Obama in which Mexico's violent drug cartels and their mainly US-bought weapons were set to top the agenda.

The machine gun seized in Sonora state, bordering Arizona in the United States, could fire 800 shots per minute up to 1,500 meters away, said Rodolfo Cruz, from the federal public security ministry, at a news conference…

Key Information: Mail Foreign Service, “What's a nice girl like you doing with an arsenal like this? Police seize 20-year-old guarding vast weapons cache... including anti-aircraft gun.” Daily Mail. 15 April 2009,

Smirking for the camera, this is the 20-year-old woman Mexican police caught guarding an extraordinary arsenal of weapons.

Anahi Beltran Cabrera was seized during a routine patrol in Sonora state, near the U.S. border.

Officers recovered a vast cache of weapons including an anti-aircraft gun capable of firing 800 shots per minute, five rifles, a grenade and part of a grenade launcher.

They believe the haul belongs to a group allegedly linked to the powerful Belt[r]an Leyva drug cartel.

Cabrera was paraded before the media - along with the weapons she was caught guarding.

The anti-aircraft gun, capable of penetrating armour from more than 5,000ft away and found attached to the top of a SUV, was the first of its type to be seized by Mexican police…

Analyisis:  Via Sylvia Longmire’s 14 April 2009 Mexico’s Drug War entry:

…my best guess is that it was an Oerlikon GAI-BO1 model. It’s a Swiss-made air defense weapon, consisting of an Oerlikon KAB 20mm cannon on a hand-traversed and elevated mounting. It makes sense that, if true, this is the kind of anti-aircraft gun that was seized for a few reasons. First, it's the only anti-aircraft gun used by the Mexican army- or at least it was in 2006. Second, the range for the GAI-BO1 lines up with the information in the article, although the rate of fire is off. Third, it’s one of the smallest and lightest anti-aircraft guns in existence, weighing only 547 kilograms(1,203 pounds) - meaning it could ostensibly be mounted on a larger truck or van. That being said, it would be extremely obvious and unwieldy…[1]

The Longmire analysis suggests that the weapon is a Oerlikon 20mm cannon. Her blog site clearly shows a picture of such a cannon but the photo is not referenced to the weapons seizure (it may be a stock photo). The initial identification of the gun mounted weapon, however, is highly in question because a photo of it that appeared in the article “Mexique : une mitrailleuse antiaérienne saisie à la frontière américaine” of Le Monde. That weapon appears to be a heavy machine gun with a ballistic shield and links of .50 cal. ammo draped over it [2]. The photos of the weapon were forwarded to weapons expert David Kuhn. He verified that the ammo was .50 cal. M2, FMJ draped over the chicken plate (shield). He could find no evidence of tracer round linking in the belts but this could be due to poor photo quality or rough handling of the ammo belts. The weapon itself was identified as either an M2 Browning machine gun or a foreign copy [3].

The utility of such a anti-aircraft gun-truck mount for a .50 cal. M2 machine gun for the Beltrán Leyva cartel and its affiliates is that this larger caliber weapon can be effectively employed against both a) rival cartel gun-trucks and improvised armored fighting vehicles (IAFVs) and b) Mexican military helicopters.  Typically, the machine guns seized belonging to the cartels are smaller caliber such as the 7.62 mm M60 machine gun and the .30 cal. Browning machine gun.   

Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM)

Key Information: “Mexican authorities seize Soviet-era missile in Playa Bagdad.” Valley Central. 15 May 2009,

Mexican authorities are investigating the discovery of a Soviet-era anti-aircraft missile south of where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf [o]f Mexico.

The El Universal newspaper reported that a hotel employee from the beach resort community of Playa Bagdad made the discovery on Thursday night.

The newspaper reported that the discovery prompted the mobilization of the Mexican navy, soldiers and police.

Authorities seized the missile and searched the area for other explosives but did not find any. 

El Universal reported that the type of missile seized is fired from a shoulder launcher and has a range of a little over two miles.

The newspaper reported that the seized weapon is a first-generation Soviet military heat-seeking missile.

Mexican authorities are continuing to investigate how the missile go[t] to Playa Bagdad [4].

Analyisis: Via Sylvia Longmire’s 16 May 2009 Mexico’s Drug War entry:

It's still too early for me to be able to do more than speculate on the origins of this missile, but I'll do just that. The Spanish El Universal article has a few more specifics on the missile capabilities, and I wish the Mexican authorities would have just come out and said the make and model. From what very little I can gather (and again, the better info is in El Universal, if you read Spanish), there’s a chance the missile might be an old Soviet SA-7…[5]

The original El Universal Spanish article confirms, as Longmire suggests, that the missile recovered is likely that of an SA-7. Mention of the infrared (heat seeking) guidance system also being recovered was noted in the article. Apparently a hotel employee found the missile, which contained its explosive warhead, on a local beach.  No other information has appeared concerning this incident. No photos of the recovered missile have been identified. The area of Baghdad Beach (Playa Bagdad) is located in Matamoros, Tamaulipas in the area of influence of the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels— the incident took place prior to their later split. While no links to these cartels have been mentioned, it would have been virtually impossible to illicitly transport the suspected SA-7 missile into that city without the permission of those cartels. The proximity of the recovered missile to the US southern border is also of concern. The circumstances behind the transport of the missile and its subsequent abandonment remain a mystery.

Of interest is that 2 years after this incident, in March 2011, a story broke in which Sinaloa cartel operatives were indicted on weapons charges pertaining to a undercover operation in which they were arrested while attempting to acquire military grade weapons in the US which were to be shipped back to Mexico. These weapons included a US Stinger surface-to-air missile and various anti-tank systems such as the Dragon, AT4, and LAW. The basis of this conspiracy goes back to November 2009, about 6 months after the Playa Bagdad SA-7 incident (6). A conviction leading to a 25-year prison sentence was later obtained in this case (7).

Significance: Cartel Weapons, Surface-to-Air Missile


1. See

2. See the photos at “Mexique : une mitrailleuse antiaérienne saisie à la frontière américaine.” Le Monde.14 April 2009,

3. Email correspondence with David Kuhn on 25 September 2012.

4. The original Spanish article is Julio Manuel L. Guzmán, “Localizan misil antiaéreo abandonado en playa de Tamaulipas: Estaba en la orilla de la playa de Bagdad frente a la zona comercial y hotelera.” El Universal. Tamps Jueves 14 De Mayo De 2009,

5. See

6. Dennis Wagner, “3 accused of plotting to give military weapons to Mexican cartel.”  USA Today.  18 March 2011,

7. Robert Tilford, “Sinaloa drug cartel member tried to buy Stinger missile, CNN reports.” 24 August 2012,

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #13: Man Crucified in Michoacán, Mexico

Mon, 09/10/2012 - 12:59pm

Primary Mexican news sources are provided for research and translation validation purposes. The incident synopsis and analysis is in English.

Key Information: Localizan a un hombre crucificado en Michoacán Por: Redacción / Sinembargo - septiembre 7 de 2012,

Morelia, 7 Sep. (Notimex).- Un hombre que había sido acusado de violar a una mujer apareció crucificado, en el municipio de Contepec, informó la Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado (PGJE).

El ahora occiso, quien fue identificado como Eladio Martínez Cruz, de 24 años de edad, fue localizado este viernes amarrado en forma de cruz de un madero de casi dos metros de largo y un poste de un señalamiento vial.

El informe ministerial señaló que el cuerpo presentaba huellas de tortura y junto a él había un letrero.

Sobre los hechos se dio a conocer que Martínez Cruz se encontraba relacionado con la violación de una mujer, hechos ocurridos el 3 de septiembre en las inmediaciones de una fábrica de Contepec.

Key Information: Vengadores Anónimos Crucifican a Violador en Michoacán, Sábado, Sepriembre 08, 2012.

 See the picture at this site [Note— it is graphic][1]

Contepec, Michoacán.- Un sujeto acusado de ultrajar a una mujer fue torturado y crucificado en un señalamiento vial de un crucero de esta población, en el que los homicidas le dejaron una cartulina clavada con dos picahielos en el pecho, con una advertencia a los violadores, dedos y traidores.

Todo se desprende de la denuncia penal formulada por la mujer agraviada, de la que se omite su identidad por razones obvias, en la que señaló ante las autoridades que el pasado tres del mes en curso, ella salió de trabajar poco después de las 18:00 horas en una fábrica de esta localidad.

Cuando de pronto, en el trayecto le salió al paso un sujeto que la amagó con un cuchillo y la sometió para cometer sus más bajos instintos, sin embargo, la víctima pudo identificar a su agresor y ante ello el fiscal inició la averiguación previa penal que el caso ameritaba.

De acuerdo con la Procuraduría General de Justicia de Michoacán, el jueves pasado agentes de dicho municipio del oriente michoacano, detuvieron y trasladaban en una patrulla a un sujeto, identificado como Eladio Martínez Cruz.

La finalidad del traslado era confirmar si el individuo había participado en la violación; sin embargo, en el trayecto a la comisaría y justo a la altura de la desviación hacia Atotonilco, dos camionetas con varios sujetos armados, le cerraron el paso a la unidad de la Dirección de Seguridad Pública.

Enseguida sometieron a los gendarmes y subieron por la fuerza al arrestado a uno de los automotores, para darse a la fuga con dirección al Estado de México.

Este viernes, cerca de las 08:00 horas, la Policía Municipal recibió en su base una llamada anónima en la que les informaban que en el poste de señalamientos viales, ubicado en el crucero que conduce a la comunidad El Césped, estaba una persona colgada y muerta.

Por lo anterior le dieron parte a la Policía Ministerial cuyos agentes acompañaron al Ministerio Público para realizar las diligencias necesarias, encontrando a la persona del sexo masculino amarrada de ambos brazos a una tabla de aproximadamente dos metros de largo, la cual subieron con un lazo de plástico hasta la punta del poste, además de que los homicidas lo torturaron y le cercenaron el pene para colocárselo en la boca.

También, al infortunado le clavaron con dos picahielos, una cartulina en el pecho en el que le escribieron un mensaje que dice, “esto me pasó por violador y esto le va a pasar a todos los chismosos, dedos traidores sépanlo que esto no es un juego”.

Finalmente se supo que el hombre colgado fue identificado como Eladio Martínez Cruz y era el mismo presunto violador que les fue arrebatado a los policías.

Who: Eladio Martinez Cruz, 24 years old, who was tortured-killed.

What: The first cartel related crucifixion to take place in Mexico.

When:  The deceased was found Friday 7 September 2012.

Where: At a “T” in the road on a large traffic sign in front of what appears to be a cornfield. This incident took place in the municipality of Contepec, Michoacán, roughly 45 miles East and slightly North of Morelia, Michoacán and 50 miles North-West of Mexico City.

Why: The deceased was alleged to have raped a women near a factory in Contepec, Michoacán and as a result was executed by cartel operatives.

Synopsis: The deceased, Eladio Martinez Cruz, had been the subject of the criminal complaint of rape by a female victim, whom he had threatened with a knife, and was taken into custody by local police officers on Thursday 6 September 2012. On the way to the police station, armed men in two vehicles blocked the police officers and forcibly seized Martinez Cruz. They then drove off with him in the direction of the State of Mexico. At 8:00 AM on Friday 7 September 2012, the municipal police were notified by an anonymous caller that a dead man was hanging from a large traffic sign next to a road. The municipal police, accompanied by the ministerial police, investigated the call and discovered the deceased who was identified as Martinez Cruz. The deceased, who was found naked, had shown signs of torture and was crucified about 18 feet above the ground—his arms were tied to a wooden pole (with rope or cloth) secured by a rope hoisted over the top of a large traffic sign. The rope securing the wooden pole holding the individual was then wrapped around the metal pole securing the sign multiple times and then was tied off near the ground. The male genitalia (penis) was severed and placed in the mouth of the deceased. A pink cardboard placard with a narco message (narcomensaje) was affixed to the deceased via two ice picks plunged into his chest. It read “esto me pasó por violador y esto le va a pasar a todos los chismosos, dedos traidores sépanlo que esto no es un juego” which identified him as a rapist and threatened gossips, traitors, and thieves that this is not a game [Note—looking for a more precise translation].

Analysis: Individuals hung from traffic signs and from freeway underpasses is quite common in the plazas and areas of Mexico where the cartels operate. Typically, a rope or cable is tied around the deceased’s neck or the ankles. An accompanying narco message (narcomensaje) is frequently found with the deceased and evidence of torture is quite common. What is unique about this incident is that it is the first recorded cartel crucifixion to take place in Mexico. It would have been more expedient to simply hang Martinez Cruz by a rope over the traffic sign but instead the time and effort was taken to symbolically crucify him. This act, along with the accompanying narco message, the way in which the alleged rapist was forcibly taken from police custody, the severing of the male genitalia, and the fact that the incident took place in Michoacán all provide a “contextual basis” which suggests that elements of either La Familia or Los Caballeros Templarios (the Knights Templars) splinter group/successor are involved with this abduction and subsequent torture-killing. Both groups in the past have carried out public humiliations and torture-killings against those they deem as undesirables and threats to civil society. Viewing themselves as protectors of the citizenry of Michoacán, both groups, which expose cult-like Christian beliefs, would thus likely view such a symbolic crucifixion as indicative of god’s judgment on a sinner. If this interpretation is accurate, then this barbaric incident would represent another small escalation in radicalized Christian cult-like behaviors emerging in Michoacán.

Addendum: A recent precedent for the threat of Christians crucifying others in Mexico exists.  In September 2011, seventy evangelical protestants were forced to flee from the village of San Rafael Tlanalapan, about 45 miles West of Mexico City, after being threatened with lynching and crucifixion if they remained in the village. The instigator of the threat was Father Ascensión González Solís, the local parish priest, who was subsequently forced to retire.[2]

Significance: Barbarism; Los Caballeros Templarios; Dark Spirituality; La Familia; Spiritual Insurgency


1. For a more detailed photo see “Torturan, ejecutan y crucifican a violador en Michoacán.” Blog del Narco, Sábado, 8 de septiembre de 2012,

2. “Agreement in Mexican village where Protestants were threatened with crucifixion.” Catholic World News. 4 October 2011, See also “Mexico Evangelicals Leave Village Amid Crucifixion Threats.” Worthy News. 20 September 2011, For a primary Spanish language source see Yadira Llavén, “Católicos amagan con linchar y crucificar a evangélicos.” La Jornada, Viernes 9 de septiembre de 2011, p. 37.,

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #12A: Lanzagranadas y Lanzacohetes

Thu, 06/07/2012 - 9:05am

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #12A:  Lanzagranadas y Lanzacohetes

Tracking The Sources of Mexican Cartels’ RPG7s

Note : In 2009, the Mexican Government reported that over the previous three years, they had seized 2,804 grenades. Among “the highest quantity” of seized arms were “anti-tank rockets M72 and AT-4, rocket launchers RPG-7, grenade launchers MGL Caliber 37 mm, grenade launcher additional devices caliber 37 and 40 mm, 37 and 40 mm grenades, fragmenting grenades.”

Key Information: Elyssa Pachico, “22 Grenade Launchers Go Missing from Honduras Army Supplies”, Insight Magazine, 08 February 2012  

The Honduras security forces have a poor record of keeping track of their armament, feeding suspicions that these stockpiles are an important source of weapons for criminal groups.

Who : Honduras Special Prosecution Office Against Organized Crime vs corrupt Honduran Army personnel. SGT Luis Alberto Sanchez has been held in an army stockade near the capital since June 2011 on charges connected with the theft . 

What : Circa-2010 theft of RPG-7s and rockets from Honduran Army depots indicative of lax security, corruption. The Guatemalan Army currently has approximately 2,200 RPG-7s on it’s books.

When : Investigation opened in February 2012, of theft in mid-2010.

Why : Honduran Military failed to conduct their own investigation in a timely manner, prompting civilian law enforcement to move.

Where : Honduran Army's Comando de Apoyo Logístico de las Fuerzas Armadas (CALFFAA, or logistical support center) at Ocotal, Francisco Morazán.

The Honduran Army had also lost track of an unknown number of M433 40mm grenades and 26 M72 LAWs (four later showing up in Mexico and six in Colombia) prior to April 2008. 

If some or all of those 22 Honduran RPGs went North, Guatemala would have been a logical transit point. The Guatemalans security forces  have also discovered RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenades, along with .50 caliber heavy machine guns and hand-grenades in Zeta arms caches, which has led to the Guatemalan declaring the Zetas operating out of the city of Coban to be the better-armed force.  

While testifying to the United States Senate on March 30, 2012, General Douglas Fraser ( head of the U.S. Southern Command), implied that corrupt military officers in Central America bear most of the responsibility for arming Mexican drug traffickers.

Photo Analysis:

A Honduran policeman displays the remains of an RPG-7 grenade that exploded outside of the Supreme Court building in Tegucigalpa, on 25 November 2009.

A masked Law Enforcement Officer inspects captured RPG-7s. Note that all four RPGs lack optics and the two MG-34s (sans buttstocks), by his left shin. Photo via Elmundo. See also ‘Mexican Cartel Tactical Notes 11A’.

Beat-up RPG-7 launcher and PG-7 rocket confiscated during Mexican Army and Navy operation in "La Antigua", Veracruz, March 2012. Note the lack of optics and missing heat shield.

While only as mechanically sophisticated as a single-action pistol, the RPG’s optics and counter-intuitive flight path through crosswinds requires practice to master beyond point-blank range. Age of and improper storage conditions for the rockets can also negatively affect performance.

Further Reading(s):

Geoffrey Ramsey, “Cable: Honduran Military Supplied Weaponry to Cartels”, Insight Magazine, 25 April 2011

Zetas Guatemala, Insight Magazine, March 02, 2011

RPG-7 Use Throughout Latin America

In addition to weapons stolen from local military depots, ‘legacy weapons’ left over from the Latin and Central American Civil Wars are another likely Cartel source. Since there are no “one way” signs for smugglers, the Mexican Cartels may also tap sources in South America and move them North the same way they move drugs.

The first notable use of the RPG-7 in Latin America was the 1980 assassination of exiled Nicaraguan President Ansatasio Somoza on September 17, 1980. A seven-person Sandinista commando team ambushed his car and killed him near his residence in Paraguay (the first grenade misfired, the second did not).

Over the next decade and a half, guerilla movements in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala made use of the RPG-7.   In 1984/85, Israel supplied the Contras with over a hundred RPG 7s recovered from PLO camps during a 1982 invasion. In a July 1986 memo to CIA Director William Casey, retired Major General John Singlaub discussed a large pending delivery of munitions that included 200 RPG7s. By contrast, exact details on the volume of aid the Soviets supplied their Latin American Allies and friends during the period are far more difficult to pin down.

For instance, a 1986 analysis of 70 tons of munitions seized from rebel caches in Chile revealed that the 114 recently-manufactured RPG7s in mint condition, along with appropriate ancillary equipment, came from Bulgaria. By contrast, a serial number check of the caches’ well-worn M72 LAWs and M16s revealed that they had originally been sent to Vietnam.  All of the Chilean cache munitions were suspected of being shipped through Cuba.

In the 1990s, Colombia’s FARC became another customer for RPG7s and Costa Rica a transit point. An RPG-7 and 50 grenades seized in David, Panama by local police in early September 2006 was thought to be related to a shipment of explosives seized the week before in Costa Rica, which originated from Nicaragua and were destined for delivery to  FARC (There is also one apocryphal account of a tourist in Costa Rica being offered “an RPG for $75 and rounds for $10 each”).

While these various rebel groups negotiated peace settlements in the early 1990s and supposedly turned in their weapons during disarmament talks, it’s unlikely that the majority went to the smelters. Former guerrillas and downsized soldiers sold or traded excess weapons to Colombia’s FARC, sometimes in barter deals for cocaine.

Possibly some of their caches were forgotten but more likely they were left hidden over the last two decades until cashed-in as a retirement funds. In October, 2011, a farmer digging livestock ponds near Jinotega, Nicaragua uncovered and reported several RPGs (as well 300 AK47s and copious amounts of ammunition).

To help unmask the actual origin of RPGs recovered from Mexican Cartels, local media should be encouraged to photograph the markings and serial numbers.

Significance: Arms Transfer; Cartel TTPs; Cartel Weapons; Cross Border Violence Potentials; SWAT; Urban Combat

Notes: USSOCOM’s General Fraser also pointed out that illicit trafficking by transnational criminal organizations is “expanding between our AOR and the AORs of United States Northern Command, United States Africa Command, and United States European Command, underscoring the truly global nature of this networked threat”.

As the Cartels are becoming more active inside the United States, the most dangerous extrapolation would be proliferation of RPG-7s over the border in the same manner as drugs are smuggled, particularly if the Cartels acquire the more-sophisticated rockets (eg: PG-7VR, PG-7VL, OG-7V, etc ).

The Mexican Army also fields the RPG-29V, known locally as the XGPC-10 and made under license by SEDENA, which when properly handled can be a threat to modern Main Battle Tanks. To date, there have been no open source accounts of these weapons being stolen.

Background Source(s):

Honduran Army Admits Theft of Grenade Launchers, IANS/EFE, February 9, 2012

Felix Rivera, ‘About 300 rifles AK, ammunition and launchers discovered’, La Prensa, October 2, 2011

Karl Penhaul, ‘Fear City’, Univision News, September 13, 2011

USA-Mexico Firearms Smuggling, Mexican Federal Government, March 26, 2009

Elmer Enrique Quintero, Decomisan armas de guerra en David, El Siglo, September 16 2006

Glenn Garvin, ‘Costa Rica vows effort to stop arms shipments’, Miami Herald, September 15, 2000

Michael Klare and David Andersen, A SCOURGE OF GUNS : The Diffusion of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Latin America, Federation of American Scientists Arms Sales Monitoring Project , 1996

Analysis of Arms Caches Seized in Chile, August 1986

Jordan Baev , ‘Bulgarian Arms Delivery to Third World Countries, 1950-1989, PHP 27/4/07’, Apr 30, 2007

Edward Ulrich , ‘The Astonishing Story of Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza’, News of Interest.TV, April 13, 2012

NOTICIAS DE GUATEMALA Weekly Bulletin, August 28 - Sept. 2, 1994

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #12

Thu, 05/31/2012 - 5:22pm

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #12: Forensics of Recovered Weapons from Piedras Negras Tactical Engagement Between Los Zetas and GATE (Grupo de Armas y Tácticas Especiales)

Note— Borderland Beat Reporter Chivis Martinez provided additional informational support pertaining to the Piedras Negras incident for this tactical note.

Key Information: Chivis Martinez “Gunmen in Piedras Negras Attack, Block Roads and Terrorize the City.” Borderland Beat, Wednesday, March 7, 2012,

Chaos and panic erupted last night in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, the Mexican city that shares the border with Eagle Pass Texas.

Around 8PM twitterers and libre network users began reporting that shootouts were occurring in various sectors of the city in what media sources are calling a “narco rebellion”. In the aftermath Sergio Sisbeles, a spokesman for security affairs of Coahuila, stated there were 10 known casualties of the attacks with no apparent losses by the narco group, but possibly there may be civilian casualties.

Elements of GATE (special weapons and tactics group) and the narco group engaged in battle on Highway 75 and various parts of Piedras Negras. Using combat weapons and granadazos (grenades) the attacks lasted for hours.

Terror gripped the city causing widespread turmoil. The first confrontation broke out on Highway 57 at around 5 PM and the Micare plant and offices. The violence triggered American federal authorities to close the two international bridges in Eagle Pass, Texas.

A girls softball tournament was in progress while the violence was occurring, as the shootout ensued close to the playing field creating hysteria by the players and those attending the game, as they ran to safety.

Buses were stopped by the gunmen, passengers robbed and the buses set afire.

The armed gunmen are believed to be the Los Zetas cartel known to have control of Piedras Negras and are most likely responsible for the attacks.  The border with Mexico, Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras was closed to protect American citizens and prevent the violence from crossing over into the United States.

By using buses and a crane, it was the gunmen themselves that blocked highway 57, and the Acuna/Piedras highway, virtually isolating and paralyzing the city.  Bullet ridden vehicles were left inoperable by the gunmen shooting out the tires leaving hundreds of “ponchallantas” (punctured tires) scattered and blocking the main traffic arteries of the city.

A GATE officer was killed in the shootings, Maria Guadalupe Delgadillo, age 21, was dead at the scene however her fellow officer was alive but seriously wounded, he and the other wounded officers were taken to IMSS Clinic 11 for medical treatment, one in critical condition, four others serious condition and five in fair condition.

Army tanks remained at the hospital to protect the safety of the wounded officers. This action was taken hoping to prevent the gunmen from gaining entrance and killing the officers, as often occurs in Mexico to survivors of such attacks.

Recently, Piedras was one of the border cities receiving additional security as additional troops arrived such as the Marina and equipment including helicopters. On Monday of this week GATE troops arrived, and clearly preventing even greater loss of human life and property.

UPDATE:  Coahuila's Prosecutor's Office   announced the arrest of Eusebio Hernandez Olivas, alias “El Chebo” and Eduardo Hernández Reyes alias “El Guero”. These individuals were arrested in the vicinity of the road that leads from Piedras Negras to the ciudad Acuña and were arrested for involvement in the Piedras attack.  (see fotos below)  The state also emphasized that the GATE elements were deployed to Piedras this week to combat the alarming elevation of kidnapping and carjacking incidents in the city.

Among the items confiscated from the attack:

  • Black Durango model 2000
  • A Toyota Tundra burgundy
  • A GMC Sierra crew cab gray
  • A Toyota Tundra, double cab, white, 2010 model
  • A double cab DODGE RAM, color red, model 2010
  • 50 AK-47s
  • Two rocket launchers
  • Three grenade launchers
  • Grenades
  • Ammunition
  • Six radios (communication type)
  • Three bullet-proof vests
  • Camouflaged boots
  • Camouflaged uniforms;
  • HK machine gun with ammunition
  • Machine gun MDD
  • Long gun (shotgun)
  • 20 long gun (R15
  • A 22-caliber rifle
  • A 33 caliber rifle
  • Drugs
  • An antenna base

The images of the captured weapons below are from Boletín de Prensa Piedras Negras- Detención 07 de Marzo 2012,

This photo is an untouched original.

GATE/For Public Distribution

Who: Between Los Zetas (assumed) and GATE.

What: An engagement between criminal insurgents and Mexican state authorities that turned into running gun battles with infantry small arms (assault rifles, light machine guns, thrown/launched grenades, and rocket propelled grenades). Vehicles (with tires shot out) and buses (set on fire) were utilized by Zeta tactical units to channel opposing forces (to create kill zones) and to block main avenues of approach/hinder the mobility of responding GATE/law enforcement elements. Note—The reporting of army tanks protecting the hospital is in error; rather armored cars (non-tracked vehicles) were deployed. Ten allied Mexican state casualties were noted from this engagement.

When: Initially at 5:00 PM and then from 8:00 PM on for hours afterward, on Tuesday, 6 March, 2012.

Where: On Highway 75 and in various parts of Piedras Negras, Coahuila (Across from Eagle Pass, Texas).

Why: The Mexican government is deploying additional forces to Piedras Negras in order to retake de facto political control of the city from Los Zetas.

Outside Expert Analysis: Sid Heal, a retired SWAT Captain (later Commander) with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and retired CWO5 with the U.S. Marines, was asked to evaluate the level of this engagement. According to Commander Heal “Clearly, the confrontations between the authorities and criminals have escalated to war in all but name only.” After some reflection, he further went on to state:

One thing that occurred to me in retrospect is the long understood principle that the weaker adversary always seeks refuge.  The nearest and safest refuge is a short distance to the north. Inevitably then, some of these violent episodes will follow and I believe we are starting to see that very thing.  Moreover, there are historical precedents, not the least of which are the execution of 18 Americans by Pancho Villa in 1916 which resulted in the incursion by Gen. Pershing.  Accordingly, if the Mexican government is unable to protect their own citizenry it is at least not incredible that they would seek refuge because it would provide both a temporary sanctuary and potential punitive actions against the assailants by a stronger government.

Commander Heal’s concerns are being echoed by many law enforcement officers along the U.S. Border. Increasingly, we are witnessing the emergence of zones of “dual-sovereignty” being established by the cartels on U.S. soil. The potential for the loss of

de facto political control in rural areas of Southern Texas across from Piedras Negras and other borderland towns controlled by the Mexican cartels is becoming a U.S. national security concern.

Photographic Analysis: The following two photographs originally posted by GATE have had numbers added to them in order to label and identify the various weapons and hardware recovered. A third photograph of weapons on the table has then been enhanced and has had numbers added. It should be noted that the cartels are increasingly being armed with military grade weaponry—the same weaponry that would be provided to squad and platoon sized military units of insurgent forces and national armies. 

GATE/For Public Distribution

GATE/For Public Distribution

Note:  This roster is a culmination of the weapons and/or components shown in main photograph, the photographic enhancement of the items to the extreme right (displayed on the table nearest the banner).  Weapons and components were moved around as the photographs were taken and, therefore, some will appear only in certain photographs.  Additional enhancement of the photographs has revealed the presence of certain weapons that were not previously apparent due to placement and lighting.

  1. AK-47, 7.62 X 39mm, fixed stock.
  2. Grenade launcher, 40mm, rifle mount (mount configuration unknown).
  3. Assorted Ammunition, Rifle, .30 caliber or greater, type unknown.
  4. Grenade launcher, 40mm, M-79, standard format.
  5. Grenade launcher, 40mm, Multiple, 6-round capacity, mfg. unknown.
  6. Grenade launcher, 40mm, HK 69A1 “Granatpistole,” retractable butt-stock (Heckler & Koch).
  7. (7) 40mm Spin-stabilized Grenades, HE // HEDP:  (2) types present:

      (4) Bearing strong resemblance to the U.S. M433 HEDP (Fragmentation / Shaped-charge).

      (3) Bearing strong resemblance to the S. Korean K200 HE (Fragmentation / High Explosive).

  1. Ammunition, Rifle, .30 caliber or greater, type unknown.
  2. AK-47, 7.62 x 39mm, unknown origin, folding stock.
  3. AK-47, 7.62 x 39mm, military issue, fixed stock.
  4. Model 1919A4.30 cal. Browning Machine Gun, belt-fed, (U.S. produced or exact foreign copy).
  5. PG-7 Booster charge – for RPG-7 munitions.
  6. RPG round – PG-7VM (Romanian) HEAT with a modified fuze or an improvised fuze safety cover; heavily carried.
  7. RPG round – PG-7V Anti-tank; consistent with RFAS or Bulgarian mfg.
  8. RPG round – PG-7V Anti-tank; consistent with RFAS or Bulgarian mfg.
  9. RPG round – PG-7VM (Romanian) HEAT.
  10. RPG-7 Launcher, 40mm Russian (RFAS) or Eastern Bloc, heavily carried and recently fired.
  11. RPG-7 Launcher, 40mm Russian (RFAS) or Eastern Bloc, heavily carried.
  12. M-60 machine gun, 7.62 x 51mm, U.S. issue, produced sometime between 1996 and 1999.
  13. Ammunition, Military Ball, linked, 7.62 x 51mm (for the M-60).
  14. AK-47, Weapon origin uncertain, however, the folding stock that it is equipped indicates that it is Romanian, Polish, or post 1985 East German.
  15. Weapon not identifiable from view angle, but may be a semi-auto shotgun, box magazine fed.
  16. AK-47, 7.62 x 39mm, fixed stock.
  17. This firearm appears to be a pump-action rifle, .30 cal. or above, model / origin unknown.
  18. Limited item view prevents positive identification.
  19. Magazines, 7.62 x 39mm, 30-round capacity, loaded.  Magazine count:  108 // Total rounds:  3,240 rnds.
  20. (2) Hand-held Transceivers (appear to be VHF).
  21. Magazine, Drum, 7.62 x 39mm, AKM, 75-round capacity.
  22. Hand Grenades, delay fragmentation, M-26A1 design, country of origin not identifiable; possibly:  South African, South Korean, or U.S.
  23. Hand Grenade, appears to be an RFAS RDG-5 with UZRGM Fuze.
  24. Unknown container, possibly Deta-sheet (flexible explosive) rolled, or similar foreign compound.
  25. Packing container containing at least one PG-7 booster charge – for the PG-7 rounds.
  26. Canister, PG-7 booster charge.
  27. Canister, PG-7 booster charge.
  28. Tactical Vest, hand grenade configuration.
  29. Body armor, military.
  30. Tactical gear pouches.
  31. Tactical duty belt.
  32. Tactical Rifle sling, padded.
  33. Body Armor, tactical, threat level (Bullet resistance) unknown.
  34. This appears to be a ceramic plate/s for body armor shown (Item No. 40).


HK69A1 40mm Grenade launcher (“Granatpistole”) [Item No. 6; is a very high quality 40mm launcher that is produced in Germany and is in service with a number of military and police forces, all of which are overseas.  There is a high likelihood that this weapon was hijacked or interdicted during a shipment of legitimate arms, possibly destined for delivery to the Mexican government.  Another probable example of a hijacked weapon in this group would be Item No. 19, the M-60 Machine gun of U.S. mfg.

RPG-7 Presence:  The presence of two RPG-7s’ (Item Nos. 17 & 18) in this cache may have significance based upon their origin.  Components of the Mexican army appear to have fielded small numbers of RPG-7s within the past several years from sources currently unknown.  The RPG-7 has seen very limited use on the southern continent, with the exception of the El Salvador conflict that occurred in Central America in the mid 1980’s.  While the dates of manufacture of these weapons are not readily apparent, they appear far too new to be from the El Salvador conflict.  They do however, appear, to be of European (RFAS or former Eastern Bloc) or Middle Eastern origin.

Significance: Arms Transfer; Cartel TTPs; Cartel Weapons; Cross Border Violence Potentials; SWAT; Urban Combat

Background Source(s):

Buggs, “Problems in Piedras Negras.” Borderland Beat, Sunday, October 16, 2011,

Overmex, “Mexico Army arrests 7 U.S. citizens in Piedras Negras, Coahuila.” Borderland Beat, Wednesday, September 7, 2011,

Gerardo, “Piedras Negras in the Grip of Fear.” Borderland Beat, Friday, May 28, 2010,

Gerardo, “Fall from Grace.” Borderland Beat, Sunday, August 15, 2010,

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #11A

Wed, 05/30/2012 - 6:42am

This is an addendum on the potential source of MG-34 GPMGs seized by the Mexican Government at Ixtlan del Rio, Nayarit, as originally discussed in Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #11.

Note: The presence of MG-34 General Purpose Machine Guns in Mexico can be traced back to the 1954 Guatemalan Civil War and illuminates often-ignored arms smuggling routes into southern Mexico.

Key Information: Kristen Bricker, Chiapas Government Tries to Pin Narco Arsenal on Peasant Leader, Narconews, October 2009

Another MG-34 (initially misidentified as a “Barrett”) was part of what was described as the largest weapons seizure in the history of Chiapas, and the biggest weapons seizure in the entire country to that date in 2009. While the Mexican government claimed that the cache belonged to Chiapan peasant leader Jose Manuel “Don Chema” Hernandez Martinez, substantial circumstantial evidence actually pointed to the Zeta cartel ownership. Martinez was arrested on September 30th and subsequently released on November 24th, 2009.

Who:  Chiapan peasant leader Jose Manuel “Don Chema” Hernandez Martinez, probably Zeta cartel.

What: Weapons cache seizure by the Mexican Government.

When: Reportedly October 9, 2009, press release dated October 18, 2009

Why: Conflicting arrest accounts of three men later linked to the Zeta cartel

Where: Frontera Comalapa, Chiapas, Mexico

Photo Analysis : MG-34 seized in October 2009 raid, originally misidentified as a “Barrett”.

Note: The most likely source for the 7.92mm MG 34 General Purpose Machine Guns seized in October 2009 and January 2012 was a 1954 Czechoslovakian shipment to Guatemala. At that time, Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán circumvented an arms embargo by arranging for two thousand tons of weaponry to be smuggled into his country via the Swedish motor vessel Alfhem. 

While the vast majority was detritus from Czech arsenals, part of the Alfhem’s cargo included 7.92mm MG-34 GPMGs (along with 9mm MP-40 submachine guns, 7.92mm K98 and G43 rifles) which were delivered to the Guatemalan Army’s 1st and 2nd Regiments. A period post-coup newsreel about Carlos Castillo Armas clearly shows several of these weapons on display at the 1.09 mark.

Exactly how and when these weapons could have crossed into Mexico over the next 55 years remains a mystery, but corruption has been singled out as the main problem affecting Mexico’s southern border management and the Customs Service.

While most of the media’s attention still focuses on Mexico’s northern border, Guatemala remains a major source country for cartel weaponry (both Central American Cold War left-overs and new arms trafficked into Guatemala from the U.S.).

Ironically, former CIA employee Samuel Cummings’ INTERARMCO was the first arms dealer to set up shop in Guatemala, re-equipping the 5,000-strong army in 1954 with American WWII weaponry surplused from Britain.

As noted in #11, the absence of linked ammunition at the time that the weapons were recovered indicates a potential lack of tactical relevance. While the MG-34 and MG-42 share the same non-disintegrating belts, the 7.62 NATO MG-3 (a modernized MG-42 license produced by SEDENA in Mexico) uses M13 disintegrating links. Substitution of disintegrating link belts for non-disintegrating would be problematic, without some imaginative modifications.

Significance: Cartel Weaponry, Smuggling Routes, Weapons Sources (Potentials)

Further Reading(s):

Jorge Kawas, “Guatemala and the Black Market for US Weapons”, Insight Magazine, November 25, 2011

K. Bricker, “OCEZ Political Prisoners' First Day Of Freedom After Nearly Two Months",, November 2009

David M. Barrett, “Congress, the CIA, and Guatemala, 1954”, Center for the Study of Intelligence

CIA documents relating to the 1954 Guatemalan Civil War


Johnson, George B. & Hans Bert Lockhoven, INTERNATIONAL ARMAMENT. Vol. II. International Small Arms Publishers, Cologne, Germany. 1965.

Brogan, Patrick & and Albert Zarca, DEADLY BUSINESS: Sam Cummings, Interarms, and the Arms Trade, Norton, 1983.