Small Wars Journal

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #47: Anti-CJNG IAFV Trenches Dug in Michoacán

Fri, 12/11/2020 - 3:00pm

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #47Anti-CJNG IAFV Trenches Dug in Michoacán

Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, and Alma Keshavarz

The ongoing Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) offensive into Michoacán has been met by the creation of defensive trenches dug across multiple state highways/roads in mid-November 2020.  These anti-improvised armored fighting vehicle (IAFV) trenches were created by Los Viagras, Carteles Unidos, and/or local community self-defense groups (autodefensas) in an apparent co-ordinated effort to obstruct CJNG commando unit—consisting of IAFVs, monstruos (monster trucks), narcotanques (narco-tanks), and soft-skinned vehicles and gun trucks with mounted infantry elements—access to towns under their control.

Trench Michoacán

Trench cut on road in Coalcomán, Michoacán to prevent advance of CJNG.  Source: @DannyRangelGDL, 16 November 2020,

Key Information: “Habitantes modifican carreteras para evitar avance del CJNG en Coalcomán y Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.” El Universal.16 November 2020,

En un hecho sin precedentes, habitantes de Coalcomán y Tepalcatepec, Michoacán, trozaron las carreteras estatales que comunican a estos municipios con el estado de Jalisco para frenar el avance de integrantes del Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) que los asedían… 

…Los tramos carreteros que han sido trozados son entre La Limonera, municipio de Coalcomán y Pinolapa, Tepalcatepec.

Los pobladores advirtieron que el otro punto donde trozarán la carretera es entre Tepalcatepec, Michoacán y Jilotlán, Jalisco.

Señalaron que por esos puntos es por donde han circulado los convoyes crimínales, encabezados por los monstruos, camionetas de blindaje atesanal, arrilladas, con las que los delincuentes perpetran los ataques.[1]

Key Information: “Citizens dig trenches across highways in effort to thwart CJNG attacks.” Mexico News Daily. 17 November 2020,

In an attempt to prevent Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) hitmen from entering their communities and attacking them, residents of two municipalities in western Michoacán have taken defensive measures by digging trenches across highways.

Residents of Coalcóman and Tepalcatepec, neighboring municipalities that border Jalisco, cut road access at La Limonera and La Pinolapa, the newspaper Milenio reported…

…According to residents, CJNG gunmen have entered several communities in armored vehicles over the past week and launched attacks directed at their adversaries, among which is a group known as Carteles Unidos…

…The decision to dig the trenches came after members of a CJNG cell set fire to 11 vehicles last weekend in the Coalcóman community of Puerto de las Cruces, apparently to stop the entry of security forces from Jalisco after a cartel ambush.

Key Information: Ernesto Martínez Elorriaga, “Destrozan carretera para evitar acceso del CJNG en Michoacán.” La Jornada. 17 November 2020,

En los límites de los municipios de Tepalcatepec y Coalcomán, presuntos integrantes del grupo delictivo Los Viagras trozaron la carretera que comunica estas dos demarcaciones para impedir el paso de vehículos del Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, denunciaron pobladores de la zona.

Según versiones de los habitantes, los autores de dicha acción utilizaron maquinaria pesada para hacer una zanja a lo ancho de la vía y evitar el acceso a poblaciones como Apatzingán, Buenavista, Tepalcatepec, Coalcomán, Chinicuila y Aquila.[2]

Key Information: Charbell Lucio, “Trozan carreteras para blindar Tepalcatepec ante ataques del CJNG.” Revolucion 3.0. 20 November 2020,

Son cuatro carreteras y cinco brechas las que fueron trozadas para impedir el paso de los criminales provenientes de Jalisco.

Habitantes del municipio de Tepalcatepec, trozaron las cuatro carreteras que conectan al municipio con el estado de Jalisco, para evitar que ingresen grupos armados provenientes de esa entidad.

El fin de semana, los pobladores e integrantes del grupo autodefensa de Tepalcatepec, cortaron dos tramos carreteros, luego de que el Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, irrumpiera en comunidades de Coalcomán, que colindan con Tepalcatepec.[3]

Who: Attributed to Los Viagras, Carteles Unidos, and/or local community self-defense groups (autodefensas).

What: Anti-vehicle (defensive) trenches—some with dirt berms—dug across highway/road choke points using heavy machinery.  

When: ~15-16 November 2020.  Resident complaints about the ditches made on 16 November; ditches were created on that date or possibly a day sooner.

Where: State highways/roads with four roads interrupted by at least five trenches cut between La Limonera, Coalcomán and Pinolapa, Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.  These roads ultimately lead to Jalisco (state). The trenches obstruct access to the towns of Aquila, Apatzingán, Buenavista, Chinicuila, Coalcomán y Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.  

Why: To block Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) commando(s) avenues of approach into the towns controlled by/in the sphere of influence of Los Viagras, Carteles Unidos, and local autodfensas.  CJNG has been launching an operational offensive into the region for roughly a week.


Trench to prevent passage of CJNG Vehicles on road between Tepalcatepec and Buenavista.  Source: Unidad De Inteligencia Ciudadana, 6 November 2020,


The use of anti-vehicle (defensive) trenches dug across highways and roads in Michoacán is a first for the criminal insurgencies intensifying across various regions of Mexico. Michoacán is an important front for the CJNG since they are engaged in a competition for control of the greater region with criminal groups such as Los Viagras, La Guardia Michoacana, Los Blancos de Troya, and the people of Abuelo Frías.[4]

Past cartel anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) focusing on choke point defense have been at the immediate tactical/tactical action level of implementation.  These TTPs have included the use of caltrops (sharp metal spikes used to deflate tires)[5] and the creation of hasty barriers by means of the dumping of debris, setting tires on fire, parked and disabled and/or overturned vehicles as well as vehicles set on fire[6].  In some instances, covering .50 cal sniper and automatic weapons fires from vehicular mounts and dismounted cartel enforcers and sicarios have been utilized to provide additional A2/AD resilience.

The utilization of anti-vehicle trenches represents an escalation of tactical level A2/AD TTPs by elevating them to an operational level response.  The use of defensive trenches is equivalent to the creation of hastily built field fortifications in Michoacán. Similar TTPs would include the cutting down of telephone poles, power lines, and trees along choke points—which has not yet taken place—to similarly deny highway and road network access.

As evidenced by some immediate local community grievances[7], the use of anti-vehicle trenches (or other semi-permanent physical barriers) is not a sustainable long-term operational response to CJNG incursions into the towns held by Los Viagras, Carteles Unidos, and the autodefensas.  By shutting down the routes into the towns of Aquila, Apatzingán, Buenavista, Chinicuila, and Coalcomán y Tepalcatepec in Michoacán, the economic commerce of local businesses and citizenry is imperiled—even with the loading and unloading of goods onto trucks on opposite sides of the trenches as work arounds.[8]   

Additionally, if the use of anti-vehicle trenches persists, the expected CJNG response would be to either bring in dump trucks to fill in the ditches with a load or two of dirt, rocks, and other debris or engage in ad hoc bridging operations by means of their commandos carrying improvised metal vehicular spans to place over the ditches—essentially requiring them to acquire limited ‘combat engineer’ capabilities.

A fallback local cartels and autodefensas posture may be to attempt to institutionalize the anti-vehicle trench locations as fortified checkpoints.  These checkpoints would include serpentines and other vehicular impediments in order to withstand a sustained CJNG siege of their towns.[9]  This would entail filling in the trenches themselves in order to allow commerce to once again flow in and out of their towns.  However, there is a question as to whether the local manpower resources exist to undertake such efforts and it remains very doubtful that State police and Federal forces would allow fortified checkpoints manned by mixed groups of armed villagers and armed cartel members to remain for very long on key public highways and roads. 


Charbell Lucio, “Trozan carreteras para blindar Tepalcatepec ante ataques del CJNG.” Revolucion 3.0. 20 November 2020,

“Citizens dig trenches across highways in effort to thwart CJNG attacks.” Mexico News Daily. 17 November 2020,

Ernesto Martínez Elorriaga, “Destrozan carretera para evitar acceso del CJNG en Michoacán.” La Jornada.17 November 2020,

“Habitantes modifican carreteras para evitar avance del CJNG en Coalcomán y Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.” El Universal.16 November 2020,

La lucha contra el CJNG en Michoacán: en fotos, los destrozos a las carreteras para evitar el avance del grupo criminal.” Infobae. 18 November 2020,

Significance: A2/AD, Anti-Vehicle, Bloqueos (Blockades), Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), Carteles Unidos, Defensive Trenches, Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles (IAFV), Los Viagras, Monstruos (Monster Trucks), Narcotanques (Narco-Tanks)


[1] In English, the title reads: “Residents modify roads to prevent CJNG advance in Coalcomán and Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.”  The text reads: “In an unprecedented event, residents of Coalcomán and Tepalcatepec, Michoacán, cut up the state roads that connect these municipalities with the state of Jalisco to stop the advance of members of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) who were besieging them.”...“The road sections that have been cut are between La Limonera, municipality of Coalcomán and Pinolapa, Tepalcatepec.”…“The residents warned that the other point where they will cut the highway is between Tepalcatepec, Michoacán and Jilotlán, Jalisco.”…“They pointed out that these points are where the criminal convoys have circulated, led by monsters [monster trucks], corrugated armored trucks, with which the criminals perpetrate the attacks.

[2] In English, the title reads: “Highway destroyed to prevent CJNG access in Michoacán.”  The text reads: “In the city limits of Tepalcatepec and Coalcomán, alleged members of the criminal group Los Viagras cut up the road that connects these two locations to prevent the passage Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel vehicles, according to residents of the area.”…”According to statements of the inhabitants, the actors used heavy machinery to construct a ditch across the width of the road and prevent access to towns such as Apatzingán, Buenavista, Tepalcatepec, Coalcomán, Chinicuila and Aquila.”

[3] In English, the title reads: “Roads cut to shield Tepalcatepec from CJNG attacks.”  The text reads: “There are four highways and five gaps that were cut to prevent the passage of criminals from Jalisco.”… “Inhabitants of the municipality of Tepalcatepec, chopped up the four roads that connect the municipality with the state of Jalisco, to prevent the entry of armed groups from that entity.”…“Over the weekend, the residents and members of the Tepalcatepec self-defense group cut two stretches of road, after the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel broke into communities in Coalcomán, which border Tepalcatepec.”

[4] Habitantes modifican carreteras para evitar avance del CJNG en Coalcomán y Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.” El Universal.16 November 2020,

[5] Robert J. Bunker and Khirin Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note # 18: Cartel Caltrop Use in Texas.” Small Wars Journal. 23 May 2013,

[6] Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #23: Firefights Below the Border—Cartel del Golfo (CDG) Ciclones vs. Metros.” Small Wars Journal. 22 March 2015,—cartel-del-golfo-cdg-ciclones-v and John P. Sullivan, “Spillover/Narcobloqueos in Texas,” Small Wars Journal, SWJ Blog, 1 April 2013,

[7] Ernesto Martínez Elorriaga, “Destrozan carretera para evitar acceso del CJNG en Michoacán.” La Jornada. 17 November 2020,

[8] Charbell Lucio, “Trozan carreteras para blindar Tepalcatepec ante ataques del CJNG.” Revolucion 3.0. 20 November 2020,

[9] Imagery of autodefensa checkpoints in Mexico have become increasingly common over the last decade.  However, they are typically marginal affairs comprised of a few sandbags or sand filled barrels and sometimes vehicles parked across roads with armed men stationed behind them.  See, for example, the image found at “El fundador de las autodefensas de Michoacán quiere ser candidato al congreso mexicano.” 20 Minutos. 29 December 2014, Note the fixed position is fortified better than most.  It includes a low dirt berm across the road with a vehicle next to it that can be moved, making it operate much like a mobile gate.  Still, it would stand little chance against a CJNG commando unit.

For Additional Reading 

Robert J. Bunker and Byron Ramirez, Eds., Narco Armor: Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles in Mexico.  Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office, US Army Command and General Staff College. October 2013: pp. 1-85.

Alma Keshavarz and Robert J. Bunker, “The Gulf Cartel’s Armored Vehicles.” OE Watch. March 2019: p. 56.

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #43: Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles (IAFVs) – ‘Narcotanques’ and ‘Monstruos Blindados’ in Jalisco.” Small Wars Journal. 10 January 2020.

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

Alma Keshavarz received her PhD in Political Science at Claremont Graduate University. Her dissertation focused on hybrid warfare applied to the Islamic State, Russia, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. She previously earned a MA in political science at the same institution. She also holds an MPP from Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy and a BA in Political Science and English from University of California, Davis. She has held various research intern and associate positions and has served as a graduate assistant at Pepperdine University. Her research interests include non-state actors, specifically Hezbollah, cyber security and warfare, and national security strategy with a regional focus on Middle East politics, specifically Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria. She has written a number of SWJ  articles and has also co-published a number of the works for the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), Fort Leavenworth, KS. She is fluent in Spanish and Farsi and is a past Non-resident Fellow in Terrorism and Security Studies at TRENDS Research & Advisory.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an Instructor at the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. Dr. Bunker has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at   

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at



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