Small Wars Journal

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

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

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan

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.

Key Information: “Captan en video emboscada del CJNG contra autodefensas y reporteros.” El Universal. 17 December 2020, https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/captan-en-video-emboscada-del-cjng-contra-autodefensas-y-reporteros-0:

Los reporteros Marco Antonio Coronel y Fernando Guillén, integrantes del equipo del noticiero En Punto de Dennise Maerker, fueron atacados a balazos, luego de asistir el pasado miércoles 16 a la zona conocida como La Bocanda, en el municipio de Tepalcatepec, Michoacán, acompañados de Autrodefensas de la zona

Los reporteros fueron a La Bocanda para documentar cómo las personas del lugar huyen, debido a la violencia que hay por los constantes enfrentamientos entre integrantes del CJNG y los autodenominados Autodefensas de Tepalcatepec. 

En el reportaje narran como el CJNG convirtió a La Bocanda en su base de operaciones, y como utilizan una edificación, a la que llaman La casa baleada, como fortín para atacar desde ahí a los miembros de las Autodefensas, que se apostaron metros adelante para impedir que los del cártel sigan avanzando.

En el video del ataque, uno de los reporteros incluso enfoca la marca de un balazo que quedó detras de él, mostrando la cercanía a la que pasaron las balas de ellos.  También, en el video, se ve a uno de los autodefensas herido del brazo.[1] 

The video and the fortified building are documented in the following two entries.

Key Information: Marco A Coronel, “El #CártelJaliscoNuevaGeneración convirtió La Bocanda, Michoacán, en su base de operaciones.” Twitter. 17 December 2020, https://twitter.com/marcocoronel/status/1339787765513396226?s=20:

El #CártelJaliscoNuevaGeneración convirtió La Bocanda, Michoacán, en su base de operaciones. La comunidad es una zona de guerra. Viajamos ahí, con ayuda de las #Autodefensas, para captar el impacto a la población y fuimos emboscados. Nuestro reporte #EnPunto @NTelevisa_com.[2]

MAC

Autodefensa IAFV Truck Bed

Source: Tweet Courtesy of Marco A. Coronel

Key Information: “Autodefensas se enfrentan al CJNG en Michoacán.” FOROtv at Facebook. 18 December 2020, https://www.facebook.com/FOROtv/videos/1082440872201669/:

ForoTV

CJNG Fortified Building (La Casa Baleada) in La Bocanda. Autodefensa Drone Imagery.

Source: Screen shot ForoTV at Facebook

Key Information: “#CJNG EMBOSCA A AUTODEFENSAS Y REPORTEROS EN #LABOCANDA VIDEO.” Valor Por Tamaulipas. 18 December 2020, https://www.valorportamaulipas.info/2020/12/cjng-embosca-autodefensas-y-reporteros.html:

Circula en redes sociales el fragmento de un video, en el que miembros del Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, emboscan a reporteros y a un grupo de autodefensas…

…La Bocanda, Michoacán, se ha convertido en la base de operaciones del CJNG y la comunidad se ha convertido en un campo de guerra.[3]

Key Information: “CJNG ataca a reporteros que acompañaban a autodefensas de Michoacán.” Vanguardia. 19 December 2020, https://vanguardia.com.mx/articulo/cjng-ataca-reporteros-que-acompanaban-autodefensas-de-michoacan:

Los reporteros se encontraban documentando la realidad que se vive en el municipio cuando fueron atacados por CJNG

Un par de reporteros del noticiero En Punto de Televisa y miembros de autodefensas locales fueron atacados por miembros del Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) el pasado miércoles 16 de diciembre en La Bocanada, Michoacán

…No obstante, al momento en que el grupo llegó al lugara que se encuentra en poder del CJNG, los delincuentes los recibieron a balazos, por lo que los autodefensas repelieron el ataque de los agresores; no obstante, uno de ellos resultó con una herida en el brazo.[4]

Who: Gunmen armed with infantry small arms belonging to the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG – Jalisco New Generation Cartel).

What: The CJNG gunmen fire upon a IAFV containing mounted infantry—belonging to the Autodefensas de Tepalcatepec (Self-Defense Forces of Tepalcatepec)—in the bed of the armored heavy truck along with two reporters, Marco Antonio Coronel and Fernando Guillén from En Punto de Televisa, accompanying them.  

When: Wednesday, 16 December 2020 during daylight hours.

Where: La Bocanda municipality between Aguililla and Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.

Why: The CJNG gunmen engaged the autodefensa members (and the reporters) riding in the IAFV as a component of their ongoing operations to exert control over the region of La Bocanda.  The CJNG has established a fortified position in a building called La Casa Baleada, which they are utilizing as an operational base.  The reporters were riding with the autodefensa members into La Bocanda to chronicle the violence and depopulation of the area caused by ongoing CJNG activities.    

Analysis

The incident videos involving the autodefensa IAFV and the CJNG forces firing upon it pertaining to the fortified CJNG forward base (aka La Casa Baleada; the ‘Shot House’)[5] in La Bocanda has been widely viewed on social media and in news reports. The basic 5Ws providing a short overview of the tactical action have been provided above in this note.  Some context behind the incident was highlighted via recent correspondence with Marco A. Coronel who was riding inside the IAFV when it was attacked:

La primera parte del recorrido viajamos en una de varias camionetas en carabana (se observa en el reportaje) después llegamos a una especie de campamento donde nos subieron al blindado para poder aproximarnos más a la comunidad de La Bocanda y así poder grabar con nuestro dron a distancia.[6] 

Hence, the autodefensa group utilized the safety of their interior lines to transport the En Punto de Televisareporters (Marco A. Coronel and Fernando Guillén) to their base camp near La Bocanda in a caravan of soft-skinned vehicles (i.e., vans).  The videos posted on Twitter (17 December 2020) and Facebook (18 December 2020) provide imagery and an audio account of the tactical engagement itself after the reporters were loaded up into an autodefensa IAFV (with an accompanying security detail armed with assault rifles, a .50 Cal Barrett rifle, and wearing ballistic armor) and set off on the reconnaissance mission.  It is still unclear how many accompanying autodefensa IAFVs were or were not part of this mission—drone video imagery segments from the Facebook posting (see 1:35 and 2:38) first shows La Bocanda and then a column of roughly eleven autodefensa vehicles in the vicinity possibly involved in supporting the operation.

The incident videos portray the confusion, moments of sheer terror, and inherent danger found with such tactical engagements.  In addition to sparks and sounds of impacts, some CJNG rounds are clearly seen to penetrate the IAFV’s armor a few feet up to the right from Coronel’s head in the Twitter (0:48-0:50) posting and later, in the Facebook (4:21) posting, an autodefensa can clearly be seen to have been wounded in the upper left arm.

Two image sets have been selected from the Twitter smart phone video posting uploaded by Marco A. Coronel from his vantage point via the passenger side rear section of the armored truck bed.  They are of tactical interest for the following reasons:

Image Set 1. The initial image set provides perspectives on the interior components of the IAFV bed and the ISR drone.  The mounted infantry section of the IAFV has cutout firing ports that can be popped out and then resealed with a cable/rebar pull back system.  These firing slots were utilized during the ensuing engagement that took place.

Also evident is a fixed weapons mount in the center of the bed and an armored firing ‘V’ slot right behind the back of the vehicle cab directed forward. While Barrett .50 Cal rifles have been stabilized by such mounts—as viewed in past cartel weaponry imagery[7]—this mount is likely meant for heavier infantry weapons such as M2 Browning (“Ma Deuce”) or smaller caliber machine guns as seen in cartel arsenals.[8]  The possession of such fixed mounted infantry weapons would currently put autodefensa IAFVs at offensive parity with deployed cartel IAFVs.  The use of a drone (in this instance, a DJI Mavic Mini) for ISR purposes by the autodefensa unit and the fact it was launched and recovered from the bed of the IAFV (even though the vehicle appeared not to be moving in both instances; Facebook 3:09 and 3:19) is also of significance. Verification of such autodefensa—or, for that matter, cartel—ISR drone use is very rare and to have it utilized as a means to conduct a reconnaissance mission from an IAFV is, to our knowledge, a first.             

IS1

  Image Set 1: Autodefensa IAFV Truck Bed: Lay Out and ISR Drone/Controller

Sinaloa IAFV

Sinaloa Cartel IAFV (Bed/Cargo Box Armored Only) with .50 Cal M2 Machine Gun on Fixed Weapons Mount in Culicán, Sinaloa in October 2019. Aborted Operation to Arrest Ovidio Guzmán López. 

Source: Cell Phone Social Media Video Posting (Unattributed)

Image Set 2. The second image set focuses on the Barrett .50 Cal rifle gunman. He is wearing radio/commo gear on the left side of his head and a ballistic vest as well as carrying supplies on the front of his utility harness and in a green satchel/backpack attached to it. A shooting glove (with the fingers exposed) on his left hand is also evident while he stabilizes and aims the weapon. Whereas Barrett .50 Cal rifles are now relatively common in the arsenals of the cartels,[9] they are more seldom seen deployed by the autodefensas as are RPGs (rocket propelled grenades).    

IS2

Image Set 2: Autodefensa IAFV Truck Bed: Barrett .50 Cal Rifle Gunman

The tactical action at La Bocanda in many ways provides a vignette into both the present intensity of the criminal insurgencies waging across regions of Mexico and the use of various technologies and forms of weaponry by the belligerents engaging one another.  An invading cartel utilizing a fortified building as a forward strong point is reconned by a ISR drone belonging to a civilian militia (possibly compromised or not by competing cartels) launched from the bed of an armored truck.  The intent of the recon mission is to provide imagery for the two reporters aboard the vehicle to help them broadcast information about the depopulation and other deprivations taking place within the local communities.  The sicarios (assassins) of the invading cartel—the CJNG—in response fire upon the IAFV to drive it away from their operational base.

Nowhere to be seen are Mexican federal, state, or local authorities—in fact, the immediate area appears devoid of a stabilizing law enforcement or military presence.  As in other regions of Mexico, the central government’s ‘low political capacity’ is being strained to the breaking point by the second order effects of the ongoing pandemic—including increasing budget deficits and redeployment of ground forces—now layered upon the already endemic cartel and gang conflicts. To be fair, for many years now, Michoacán has been a fragile if not failed region within Mexico. Who can forget the earlier criminal (and spiritual) insurgent activities of La Familia Michoacana and the Los Caballeros Templarios and the open societal conflict that resulted as local communities rose up against the tyranny of their neo-feudal pseudo-Christian cult practices.[10]

Still, local conditions appear to be once again getting worse with the recent CJNG invasion.  Anti-IAFV trenches now sporadically cut across major highways within the state [11] and the autodefensas now field their own IAFVs and large caliber infantry weapons in response to the invading CJNG commandos—in essence, motorized IAFV mounted infantry units—presently attempting to overrun the local defenders.  In summation, the constant conflict in sections of Michoacán, and within other states such Guanajuato Colima, and Guerrero, provide us insights into patterns of technology and weaponry use not only among the gangs and cartels but also within the autodefensas and similar people’s militias that have emerged to contest their attempted criminal domination over local communities.  Greater numbers of improvised armored fighting vehicles, heavy infantry weapons, and increasingly drones—for both ISR and combat purposes—are becoming part of the landscape of the criminal insurgencies taking place within Mexico.   

Sources

“Autodefensas se enfrentan al CJNG en Michoacán.” FOROtv at Facebook. 18 December 2020, https://www.facebook.com/FOROtv/videos/1082440872201669/.

“Captan en video emboscada del CJNG contra autodefensas y reporteros.” El Universal. 17 December 2020, https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/captan-en-video-emboscada-del-cjng-contra-autodefensas-y-reporteros-0.

"CJNG ataca a reporteros que acompañaban a autodefensas de Michoacán.” Vanguardia. 19 December 2020, https://vanguardia.com.mx/articulo/cjng-ataca-reporteros-que-acompanaban-autodefensas-de-michoacan.

“#CJNG EMBOSCA A AUTODEFENSAS Y REPORTEROS EN #LABOCANDA VIDEO.” Valor Por Tamaulipas. 18 December 2020, https://www.valorportamaulipas.info/2020/12/cjng-embosca-autodefensas-y-reporteros.html.

Marco A Coronel, “El #CártelJaliscoNuevaGeneración convirtió La Bocanda, Michoacán, en su base de operaciones.” Twitter. 17 December 2020, https://twitter.com/marcocoronel/status/1339787765513396226?s=20.

Significance: Autodefensas, Barrett .50 Cal Rifle, Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación  (CJNG), Drone(s), Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles (IAFV), Intelligence Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), Narcotanques (Narco-Tanks), Self-Defense Forces of Tepalcatepec, Unmanned Aerial System (UAS)

Endnotes

Special thanks to Marco A. Coronel, Ioan Grillo, and Conrad Dreby for their help in the preparation of this note. 

[1] In English, the title reads: “CJNG ambush against self-defense groups and reporters captured on video.”  The text reads: “Reporters Marco Antonio Coronel and Fernando Guillén, members of Dennise Maerker’s En Punto newscast team, were attacked with gunfire, after visiting the area known as La Bocanda accompanied by Self-defense groups on Wednesday 16 [December 2020], in the municipality of Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.”...“The reporters went to La Bocanda to document how the people of the place flee, due to the violence due to the constant confrontations between members of the CJNG and the self-described Self-Defense Forces of Tepalcatepec.”…“In the report they narrate how the CJNG turned La Bocanda into their base of operations, and how they use a building, which they call La casa baleada [the shot house], as a fort to attack the members of the Self-Defense Forces, who stationed themselves meters ahead to stop the cartel from advancing.”…“In the video of the attack, one of the reporters even focuses on the mark of a bullet that was left behind him, showing the closeness to which the bullets passed from them.  Also, in the video, one of the self-defense groups is seen with injures in the arm.”

[2] In English, the Tweet reads: “The #CártelJaliscoNuevaGeneración made La Bocanda, Michoacán, its base of operations.  The community is a war zone. We traveled there, with the help of #Autodefensas, to capture the impact on the population and we were ambushed.  Our report #EnPunto @NTelevisa_com.”

[3] In English, the title reads: “#CJNG Ambush Autodefensas [Self-Defense Forces] and Reporters in #LaBocanda Video.”  The text reads: “A video fragment circulates on social networks, in which members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel ambush reporters and [members of] a self-defense group.”…“La Bocanda, Michoacán, has become the CJNG’s base of operations and the community has become a battlefield.”

[4] In English, the title reads: “CJNG attacks reporters accompanying Michoacán autodefensas [self-defense groups].”  The text reads: “The reporters were documenting the reality of the municipality when they were attacked by CJNG.”…“A pair of reporters from the En Punto de Televisa newscast and members of local self-defense groups were attacked by members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) last Wednesday, 16 December [2020], in La Bocanada, Michoacán.”...“However, when the group arrived at the place controlled by the CJNG, the criminals received them with bullets, so the self-defense groups repelled the attack by the aggressors; however, one of them was injured in the arm.”

[5] “‘La casa baleada’, fortaleza del CJNG desde la que mantienen una cruda batalla contra las autodefensas de Michoacán.” Infobae. 18 December 2020, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/12/18/la-casa-baleada-fortaleza-del-cjng-desde-la-que-mantienen-una-cruda-batalla-contra-las-autodefensas-de-michoacan/.

[6] In English, the passage reads “[During] the first part of the tour we traveled in one of several vans in a caravan (as seen in the report) then we arrived at a kind of camp where they put us on the armored vehicle to be able to get closer to the community of La Bocanda and thus be able to record with our drone at a distance.”  Email correspondence with Marco A. Coronel, 22 December 2020.

[7] 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. 74-75, https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/fmso-monographs/197127.

[8] Ibid; Also see “‘Armored division’ supported Sinaloa Cartel in Culiacán.” Mexico News Daily. 21 October 2019, https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/armored-division-supported-sinaloa-cartel/ and “2 convoy videos were the work of Jalisco cartel’s ‘Elite Group:’ army chief.” Mexico News Daily. 21 July 2020, https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/2-convoy-videos-were-the-work-of-jalisco-cartels-elite-group-army-chief/.

[9] Robert J. Bunker, “Sniping in the Mexican Criminal Insurgency.” The Counter Terrorist. June/July 2014: pp. 30-32, 34-38, 40-42, http://www.thecounterterroristmag.com/pdf/issues/TheCounterTerrorist_JuneJuly2014.pdf.  For more recent information, see Keegan Hamilton and Kathleen Caulderwood, “Mexican Cartels Are Arming Themselves to the Teeth With Powerful US Sniper Rifles.” Vice. 20 August 2020, https://www.vice.com/en/article/ep48pz/how-deadly-american-sniper-rifles-became-the-mexican-cartels-favorite-weapon and Kevin Sieff and Nick Miroff, “The Sniper Rifles Flowing to Mexican Cartels Show a Decade of U.S. Failure.” Washington Post. 19 November 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/mexico-losing-control/mexico-drug-cartels-sniper-rifles-us-gun-policy/.

[10] George W. Grayson, La Familia Drug Cartel: Implications for U.S.-Mexican Security. Carlisle Barracks, PA: US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, December 2010:  pp. 1-127, https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/2114.pdf and Robert J. Bunker and Alma Keshavarz, Eds., Los Caballeros Templarios de Michoacán: Imagery, Symbolism, and Narratives. (Small Wars Journal-El Centro eBook.) Bethesda, MD: Small Wars Foundation, April 2019: pp.1-279, https://www.academia.edu/38806893/Los_Caballeros_Templarios_de_Michoacán_Imagery_Symbolism_and_Narratives.

[11] Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, and Alma Keshavarz, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #47: Anti-CJNG IAFV Trenches Dug in Michoacán.” Small Wars Journal11 December 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-47-anti-cjng-iafv-trenches-dug-michoacan.

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.

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 Journal10 January 2020.

Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, and Alma Keshavarz, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #47: Anti-CJNG IAFV Trenches Dug in Michoacán.” Small Wars Journal11 December 2020.

Categories: El Centro - Tactical Note

About the Author(s)

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 docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com.   
 

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 jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.

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