Small Wars Journal

Mexican Cartel Note

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 20: Mexican Newspaper (El Norte, Juárez) Closes Doors in Response to Cartel Targeting/Violence Against Journalists

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 12:38pm

Attacks on journalist and media outlets are mechanisms of intimidation used to dampen or influence reportage in favor of the criminal enterprise and/or corrupt state organs.

About the Author(s)

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #33: Terrorist TTP Firebreak Crossed - Criminal Group Utilizes Women and Children as Human Shields in Palmarito, Puebla

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 8:22am

This appears to be the first known incident in the Mexican criminal insurgency in which the TTP of utilizing women and children as human shields has taken place.

About the Author(s)

Mexican Cartel Smuggling Cocaine into Hong Kong Amid Booming Demand for Drugs

Mon, 02/03/2014 - 1:08pm

Mexican Cartel Smuggling Cocaine into Hong Kong Amid Booming Demand for Drugs by Bryan Harris, South China Morning Post

One of the world's largest and most notorious drug cartels is targeting Hong Kong as it seeks to expand its operations into lucrative new markets, the Sunday Morning Post has learned.

Already a key supplier of illicit narcotics to many Western countries, Mexico's Sinaloa cartel is diversifying its business by taking advantage of the booming demand for cocaine and methamphetamines in the Asia-Pacific region…

Read on.

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #19: Sniper Rifle Use in Mexico

Tue, 07/16/2013 - 4:13pm

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #19: Sniper Rifle Use in Mexico

Robert Bunker and Jacob Westerberg

This tactical note was prompted by discussions and inquiries related to the February 2013 Los Zetas sniper incident that took place in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon and an earlier December 2012 interview with Borderland Beat on Mexican cartel weaponry use patterns and tactics. In that interview one of the authors made some assumptions about .50 cal use potentials. It is now clear, after additional research has been conducted, that cartel use of snipers is more frequent than many of us had suspected and is of significant concern to the Mexican military. Additionally, one or more .50 cal rifles were utilized at least twice in an anti-helicopter role in related incidents in May 2011 in the area of Apatzingan, Michoacan.

Key Information:  Primarily Spanish language sources: Victor Hugo Michel, “Calibre .50. ¿Francotirador del narco?” Milenio. 21 Noviembre 2011; Victor Hugo Michel, “Comprar una Barrett, toda una ganga en EU.” Milenio. 22 Noviembre 2011; Jorge Alejandro Medellin, “¡Alerta, francotiradores!, los tienen en la mira.” El Universal. Viernes 27 de Abril 2012; and “Francotirador ejecuta con fusil calibre .50 a mando policiaco de Nuevo León.” Proceso.19 de Febrero de 2013. Also U.S. Governmental documents, news reports, and social media sources in English and Spanish including Borderland Beat.

Who: Sniper rifles were utilized in documented incidents by the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO), Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), The Federation/Sinaloa, La Familia Michoacan (LFM), and Los Zetas. These rifles are also (or have been) in the possession of the Cartel del Golfo (CDG), Juarez Cartel, and the Knights Templars, however, incidents of use have not been documented in this note [1].    

What: Nine identified incidents in which sniper rifles, all of which were .50 caliber Barretts, were utilized against Mexican military and law enforcement personnel, vehicles, and air assets are identified in this tactical note. According to SEDENA, between 1 June 2007 and 22 June 2011 at least 10 soldiers were killed by snipers [2]. Since all of these deaths are not reflected in the nine identified incidents, this dataset is incomplete. Further, cartel-on-cartel incidents have not been documented. The assumption can be made, based on known homicide patterns, that these incidents will outnumber cartel-on-Mexican military and law enforcement personnel sniper incidents. Hence, this data set should be considered fragmentary at best.

When:  The documented incidents took place from January 2008 through February 2013.

Where: Sniper rifles have been used in the Mexican states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, and Tamaulipas per the nine identified incidents. Additionally, such rifles have also been seized in the states of Durango, Sinaloa, and Veracruz. [3] In total, at least forty-two .50 caliber sniper rifles have been seized from the cartels by the Mexican government between 2007 and 2011. Additionally, another twenty of these rifles were seized by the U.S. ATF on the border between 2009 and 2010 before they illegally left the United States on their way to Mexico. [4]

Why: .50 caliber Barrett rifles provide superior standoff capabilities and penetrating power when engaging antipersonnel and antimateriel point targets. They represent a preferred type of sniper weapon when combined with the proper optics/scope and also can be utilized in a combined arms role with cartel commando elements equipped with infantry small arms such as assault rifles (with grenade launchers), fragmentation grenades, and rocket propelled grenades and personnel protective gear such as ballistic vests and helmets.

Photo 1 &2: Cartel del Golfo (CDG) Barrett .50 cal 

[Photo 1— From social media site of a purported CDG member, undated; note gold plated pistol handle, gold necklaces, arm tattoos, and military style haircut.

Note 40mm grenade launcher and rounds, small arms, and ballistic damage to the windshield and hood/grill denting from an earlier engagement].

Photo 3: Barrett .50 cal Vehicular Mount 

[Social media posted May 2011; unidentified cartel. Note ballistic damage to passenger rear window and armor plating for crew protection. Internal vehicular mounts allow for camouflage, a stable firing platform, and weapon mobility]

Photo 4: Damage to UH-60 Helicopter. 29 May 2011 Michoacan Incident.

“During a trip to Mexico City on June 25, 2011, Members and staff from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government had an opportunity to visually inspect the damaged helicopter. Several bullet holes were evident on the body of the aircraft, and one round from a .50-caliber rifle penetrated the thick “bullet proof” glass windshield.” Source: The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious:

Fueling Cartel Violence, 2011: 59. [5] [For Public Distribution]

Analysis: Mexican cartel sniper use incident information is sporadic and fragmentary. What is clear is that sniper rifles have been used both offensively for assassinations (targeted killings) and as part of integrated combines arms tactics to support the movements of cartel enforcement units and defensively to cover the withdraw of forces in urban combat, to protect safe houses, and to cover avenues of approach into cartel territories. One unofficial report suggests that the Juarez cartel would utilize up to four Barrett rifles to provide cover over sections of a highway. In addition, it was reported that Mexican law enforcement and government officials riding in armored vehicles (assumed SUVs with armor kits) have been killed by cartel snipers [15]. 

Photo 5: Seized Zetas (Single Shot Bolt Action) Sniper Rifle.

Villa Unión, Coahuila. Undated.

[Mexican Marines (SEMAR). For Public Release]

Images of cheaper grade .50 cal and smaller caliber long rifles with scopes are also evident in some of the cartel weapons seizures. These weapons have undoubtedly been utilized in targeted killings but the frequency and circumstances of that use is unknown [16]. Also of note is that in November 20, 2009 in Naco, Sonora a Beowulf .50 caliber rifle was recovered from the cartels [17]. This weapon is unique in that is it based on the AR-15 model and is intended for short and moderate ranges. As a result, it represents a highly portable armor penetrating rifle that can be used in antipersonnel and antimateriel (such as to destroy engine blocks) roles. In a sense, it can be considered a close-in urban sniper rifle with its shorter lines of sight capabilities [18].

Many questions exist about the quality and training of Mexican cartel snipers. This is because the engagement ranges and specifics of most of the sniper incidents are not provided. The February 2013 Apodaca, Nuevo Leon incident— in which a police official was killed while entering his residence— had a standoff range of about 66 yards which does not require a high level of training. On the other hand, the 2008 Tijuana incident in which a Mexican special force soldier was killed while riding on an armored vehicle and the May 2011 incidents in which Mexican Federal Police helicopters were targeted suggest higher levels of sniper competency.

Since substantial numbers of Mexican special forces personnel have defected to the cartels over the years, it can be assumed that some cartel snipers have superior levels of training. Whether many of these cartel operatives with former military sniper training are still being deployed is unknown. Of note is that fact that a review of hundreds of images of cartel weapons seizures and social media postings has not yielded any images of optics for spotters/long range surveillance devices. This may suggest that extreme standoff ranges are beyond the engagement capacity of Mexican cartel snipers and that they are not deployed with spotters—but this is only speculation.

Mexican Governmental Response: The use of .50 caliber Barrett rifles by the cartels has become a significant issue for Mexican military forces. This has prompted the Mexican government, by at least mid-to-late 2011, to begin looking into the purchase of sniper detection (acoustic gunfire detectors/shotspotters) from various European companies. One such system, the French 01db-Metravib, is about 20 years old and was designed as a countermeasure to sniper attacks taking place against peacekeepers in Bosnia and Sarayevo. It was scheduled to be demonstrated to the Mexican Army (SEDENA) in May 2012 at a military base in the state of Mexico [19]. Additionally, it can be expected that, in tandem with the potential fielding of such sniper detection systems, dedicated Special Forces or Army counter-sniper units armed with their own .50 caliber Barrett rifles will be deployed. These units would likely be available to augment pre-existing SEDENA and Mexican naval (SEMAR) snipers attached to infantry units deployed in regional hot spots such as in Michoacan and Tamaulipas as required.

Reference(s):

[1] In addition to the nine incidents of sniper rifle use in Mexico by the cartels, about two dozen distinct seizure/recovery incidents of sniper rifles from the cartels have been identified while researching this tactical note.

[2] Jorge Alejandro Medellin, “¡Alerta, francotiradores!, los tienen en la mira.” El Universal. Viernes 27 de Abril 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/195989.html.

[3] Victor Hugo Michel, “Calibre .50. ¿Francotirador del narco?” Milenio. 21 Noviembre 2011, http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/46f0d414226d25e2a5d84a0f19f01749.

[4] Victor Hugo Michel, “Comprar una Barrett, toda una ganga en EU.” Milenio. 22 Noviembre 2011, http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/9ba077ad272132591cfa416dc171d54d.

[5] Joint Staff Report, The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious:

Fueling Cartel Violence. Prepared for Rep. Darrell E. Issa, ChairmanUnited States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform & Senator Charles E. Grassley, Ranking Member United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 112th Congress, 26 July 2011: 59. Within the document also see note 155:  Report from United States Embassy staff about Congressional Visit, 25 June 2011 (on file with author), http://www.scribd.com/doc/61063632/22/B-The-Mexican-Helicopter-Incident.

[6] Victor Hugo Michel, “Calibre .50. ¿Francotirador del narco?” Milenio. 21 Noviembre 2011, http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/46f0d414226d25e2a5d84a0f19f01749; and Syliva Longmire, Cartel. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011: 78-79.

[7] Victor Hugo Michel, “Comprar una Barrett, toda una ganga en EU.” Milenio. 22 Noviembre 2011, http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/9ba077ad272132591cfa416dc171d54d.

[8] Victor Hugo Michel, “Calibre .50. ¿Francotirador del narco?” Milenio. 21 Noviembre 2011, http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/46f0d414226d25e2a5d84a0f19f01749; and Syliva Longmire, Cartel. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011: 78-79.

[9] Victor Hugo Michel, “Calibre .50. ¿Francotirador del narco?” Milenio. 21 Noviembre 2011, http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/46f0d414226d25e2a5d84a0f19f01749.

[10] Victor Hugo Michel, “Comprar una Barrett, toda una ganga en EU.” Milenio. 22 Noviembre 2011, http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/9ba077ad272132591cfa416dc171d54d.

[11] Joint Staff Report, The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious:

Fueling Cartel Violence. Prepared for Rep. Darrell E. Issa, ChairmanUnited States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform & Senator Charles E. Grassley, Ranking Member United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 112th Congress, 26 July 2011: 10.   http://www.washingtonpost.com/r/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2011/07/26/National-Politics/Graphics/ATF%20Fast%20and%20Furious%20-%20Fueling%20Cartel%20Violence.pdf; OSINT sources.

[12] Associated Press, “Drug Gunmen Force Down Mexican Police Helicopter.” The San Diego Union-Tribune. 25 May 2011, http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2011/May/25/drug-gunmen-force-down-mexican-police-helicopter/. Joint Staff Report, The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious: Fueling Cartel Violence. Prepared for Rep. Darrell E. Issa, ChairmanUnited States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform & Senator Charles E. Grassley, Ranking Member United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 112th Congress, 26 July 2011: 57-58.   http://www.scribd.com/doc/61063632/22/B-The-Mexican-Helicopter-Incident.

[13] Joint Staff Report, The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious:

Fueling Cartel Violence. Prepared for Rep. Darrell E. Issa, ChairmanUnited States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform & Senator Charles E. Grassley, Ranking Member United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 112th Congress, 26 July 2011: 58-59.   http://www.scribd.com/doc/61063632/22/B-The-Mexican-Helicopter-Incident.

[14] “Francotirador ejecuta con fusil calibre .50 a mando policiaco de Nuevo León.” Proceso.19 de Febrero de 2013, http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=334073 and Robert Bunker, “Sniper Executes a Police Chief of Nuevo Leon with a .50 Caliber Rifle (Translation).” Small Wars Journal—El Centro. 25 February 2013, http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/sniper-executes-a-police-chief-of-nuevo-leon-with-a-50-caliber-rifle-translation. For additional information see Chris Covert, “Mexisniper gunned down by Mexicops.” Borderland Beat. Tuesday, 26 March 2013, http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2013/03/mexisniper-gunned-down-by-mexicops.html.

[15] Victor Hugo Michel, “Comprar una Barrett, toda una ganga en EU.” Milenio. 22 Noviembre 2011, http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/9ba077ad272132591cfa416dc171d54d.

[16] For a few examples of smaller caliber sniper rifles/long rifles with scopes see http://m3report.wordpress.com/2011/06/09 and “Greetings from Comandante 40 to the troops.” Borderland Beat. Monday, 4 July, 2011. http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2011/07/greetings-from-comandante-40-to-troops.html.

[17] Joint Staff Report, The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious:

Fueling Cartel Violence. Prepared for Rep. Darrell E. Issa, ChairmanUnited States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform & Senator Charles E. Grassley, Ranking Member United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 112th Congress, 26 July 2011: 17.

[18] For more on the .50 cal Beowulf  see http://www.alexanderarms.com/index.php/products/50-beowulf.html.

[19] Jorge Alejandro Medellin, “¡Alerta, francotiradores!, los tienen en la mira.” El Universal. Viernes 27 de Abril 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/195989.html.  

Significance:  Assassinations, Cartel Weaponry, Countermeasures, Snipers, Standoff Weaponry

Tags : El Centro, Mexican Cartel Note, Tactical Note

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

Key Information:  Mexican Cartel Related Activity—Caltrops, Texas Department of Public Safety, nd, http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/PublicInformation/cartelCrimeStats.htm:

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, http://www.cnn.com/2011/CRIME/08/31/texas.drug.technology/index.html:

…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]:

PENAL CODE

TITLE 10. OFFENSES AGAINST PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY, AND MORALS

CHAPTER 46. WEAPONS

 

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  

Reference(s):

[1] Mexican Cartel Related Activity—Caltrops, Texas Department of Public Safety, http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/PublicInformation/cartelCrimeStats.htm.

[2] John P. Sullivan, “Spillover/Narcobloqueos in Texas.” Small Wars Journal—El Centro. 1 April 2013, http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/spillovernarcobloqueos-in-texas.

[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, http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2012/08/shootouts-and-narcoblockades-in-reynosa.html. 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, http://menytimes.blogspot.com/2012/09/ponchallantas-varios.html.

[4] Spillover Crime and Cartel Operations, Texas Department of Public Safety, nd [No Restrictions on Use], http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/members/dist4/pr11/p032411b.pdf.

[5]. Sergio Chapa, “Tire Spikes Plaguing Reynosa Roadways.” Valley Central, 16 February 2012, http://www.valleycentral.com/news/story.aspx?id=720417#.UYb4IpX3C9Z.

[6] Erika Flores, “Homemade spikes leave dozens of vehicles with a flat tire,” Valley Central, 31 March 2011, http://www.valleycentral.com/news/story.aspx?id=599475#.UYcI5pX3C9Y.

[7] Mike M. Ahlers, “Texas bans tire-puncture devices used by drug runners.” CNN, 1 September 2011, http://www.cnn.com/2011/CRIME/08/31/texas.drug.technology/index.html.

[8]. See http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.46.htm.

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

Peter J. Munson Thu, 05/23/2013 - 6:46pm