Small Wars Journal

Mexican Cartel Note

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

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

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.


[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,

[3] Victor Hugo Michel, “Calibre .50. ¿Francotirador del narco?” Milenio. 21 Noviembre 2011,

[4] Victor Hugo Michel, “Comprar una Barrett, toda una ganga en EU.” Milenio. 22 Noviembre 2011,

[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),

[6] Victor Hugo Michel, “Calibre .50. ¿Francotirador del narco?” Milenio. 21 Noviembre 2011,; 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,

[8] Victor Hugo Michel, “Calibre .50. ¿Francotirador del narco?” Milenio. 21 Noviembre 2011,; 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,

[10] Victor Hugo Michel, “Comprar una Barrett, toda una ganga en EU.” Milenio. 22 Noviembre 2011,

[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.; OSINT sources.

[12] Associated Press, “Drug Gunmen Force Down Mexican Police Helicopter.” The San Diego Union-Tribune. 25 May 2011, 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.

[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.

[14] “Francotirador ejecuta con fusil calibre .50 a mando policiaco de Nuevo León.” Proceso.19 de Febrero de 2013, 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, For additional information see Chris Covert, “Mexisniper gunned down by Mexicops.” Borderland Beat. Tuesday, 26 March 2013,

[15] Victor Hugo Michel, “Comprar una Barrett, toda una ganga en EU.” Milenio. 22 Noviembre 2011,

[16] For a few examples of smaller caliber sniper rifles/long rifles with scopes see and “Greetings from Comandante 40 to the troops.” Borderland Beat. Monday, 4 July, 2011.

[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

[19] Jorge Alejandro Medellin, “¡Alerta, francotiradores!, los tienen en la mira.” El Universal. Viernes 27 de Abril 2012,  

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,

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 Strategic Note No. 14: Narcocantante (Narco-singer) Assassinated in Mission, Texas

Jesus “Chuy” Quintanilla was discovered dead in Mission, Texas, across the border from Reynosa, Tamaulipas.  He was a noted singer of narcocorridos.[1]  Narcomusica (narco-music) plays a key role in shaping the social space of Mexico’s drug war. Narcocorridos are epic folk ballads that extol the merits of the narcos: capos and sicarios alike. Chuy Quintanilla was best known for his narcocorridos:

…depicting the infamous characters and clashes of Mexico’s drug war, and with lyrics that could drop listeners into the thick of a gunbattle, it’d be easy to mistake the singer for a combatant himself.  (Source: [2] The Monitor, 28 April 2013)



Norteño singer Jesus “Chuy” Quintanilla was discovered dead in a pool of his own blood on Thursday, 25 April 2013.  Hidalgo County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene.  According to Sheriff Lupe Treviño, Quintanilla had been shot at least twice in the head— the preliminary autopsy report released later stated one shot to the head and one to the neck. While it is too early to determine the motive for the slaying, Quintanilla’s prominent role in narcomúsica and long history of singing narcocorridos make him a prominent figure in Mexico’s narcocultura that shapes the social contours of the drug war.

Jesus “Chuy” Quintanilla appeared to have been shot at least twice in the head and was found near his vehicle, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said. Irrigation workers found his body on a roadway north of Mission in an isolated area surrounded by citrus groves, Trevino said. (Source: [3]. El Paso Times, 26 April 2013)

Quintanilla who recorded over 40 albums of corridos was known as La Mera Ley del Corrido — The True Law of the Corrido. His nickname is derived from his serving as a Mexican judicial police officer for 20 years prior to his music career.

Quintanilla’s songs covered topics ranging from horse races to cockfights, but the drug war was prominent on his play list. Further, the dress of this individual and his propensity to be posed in his album covers with assault weapons, expensive cars, and beautiful women added to his mystique as a narcocantante. His repertoire included several songs about drug traffickers on the U.S. side of the border.  These include corridos entitled “Tomy Gonzalez,” “El Chusquis” and “El Corrido de Marco,” that commented on alleged drugs dealers in Weslaco and Rio Grande City who coordinated drug trafficking organizations in Texas and the U.S.:

One of Chuy Quintanilla’s most famous songs involves the fierce battle through the streets of Reynosa as Mexican authorities hunted down the Gulf Cartel leader known as Jaime “El Hummer” Gonzalez Duran.

 Another top hit, called “Estamos en Guerra,” talks about how the Zetas turned on the Gulf Cartel, which in turn would move to eradicate its former enforcers. (Source: [2] The Monitor, 28 April 2013)

Chuy Quintanilla Album Cover

[For additional examples see]


As Sullivan noted in his SWJ–El Centro paper “Criminal Insurgency: Narcocultura, Social Banditry, and Information Operations,”

Music is a key element of transmitting alternative cultural values in the ‘narcoscape.’  Narcomúsica (narco-music) is an integral component of cartel influence operations (information operations) and is instrumental is defining (redefining) the persona of the outlaw.  The tradition of narcocorridos builds from the ranchera tradition of folk ballads (corridos) that extol heroic deeds. The narcocorrido variant of traditional corridos has extended its reach from the narco subculture to mainstream audiences throughout Mexico and the United States. Narcocorridos extol the virtues of the drug lord and describe, apotheosize, comment upon and lament the deeds of the narcos, projecting the image of ‘folk hero.’[4]

According to University of Texas, Brownsville Professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, narcocantantes are influential in transmitting narcocultura:

People who sing about these people, drug traffickers are making money from that because there is a captive market and the drug traffickers are going to promote this music,” Correa-Cabrera said. “It promotes, recruits young people presents a life that everyone would like to have and it really serves the purpose of drug trafficking organizations. (Source: [5] Action 4 News, 25 April 2013)

While narcocorridos are popular and bring musical success, they can also bring violent reprisal when the lyrics cross certain gangsters. When the gangsters take exception to the story line, the singers can become targets.  For example, in January 2013, members of the band Kombo Kolombia were found in a mass grave (narcofosa) in Monterrey.  Other narcocantantes killed in cartel-related violence include: Julio Cesar Leyva Beltran of Los Ciclones del Arroyo in Sinaloa

(April 2012); Sergio Vega (aka “El Shaka”) in Sinaloa (June 2010); and Valentin Elizalde in Reynosa (November 2006).[5]  The difference here is that Quintanilla was killed on the U.S. side of the border.


If the investigation determines that Quintanilla was killed because of his narcocorridos it would be the first known assassination of a narcocantante (narco-singer) in the United States.  This would be a significant shift in targeting and the U.S. would be firmly in the operational zone of targeted killings to shape the ‘narcosphere’ or ‘drug war zone.’  

Quintanilla was identified with the CDG: Cartel del Golfo (Gulf Cartel) and had dedicated songs to Tony Tormenta (Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén)[6] the CDG capo who died with Mexican marines in November 2010 which resulted in a turf battle with Los Zetas in the city of Mier.[7]  One of his songs, “Estamos En Guerra (Los Zetas Vs. CDG),”chronicled the battles following the Gulf-Zeta split.[8],[9]

It is possible that Quintanilla became a target of one or both of those cartels as a result of his characterization of their activities in the current conflict in Tamaulipas.  Certainly both cartels have a presence in Texas and could operate there as seen in recent reports of narcobloqueos (narco-blockades) in Texas.[10]  It is also possible that he crossed other criminal enterprises (such as U.S. gangs) or was targeted for more mundane criminal reasons.  Nevertheless, the modus operandi or tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) involved in his death are consistent with those of narco-assassinations.

Normally, a single murder (narco or otherwise) would possibly at best warrant a tactical note.  This killing, due to the prominence of the victim, his history of singing narcocorridos, and his alleged links with both the CDG and Los Zetas cartels make this an act of strategic significance.  Even if the death is not a cartel-related hit, the information operations dynamics of his murder exude images of narcocultura.



1. “Asesinan en Texas al cantante de narcocorridos Chuy Quintanilla,” Emeequis, 25 April 2013 at

2. Ildefonso Ortiz, “Slain singer Chuy Quintanilla gained fame for drug war ballads,” The Monitor, 26 April 2013 at

3. Christopher Sherman, “Singer found dead along road in rural South Texas,” El Paso Times, 26 April 2013 at

4. John P. Sullivan, “Criminal Insurgency: Narcocultura, Social Banditry, and Information Operations,” Small Wars Journal, 3 December 2012 at

5.“Narco Corridos: The dark side of the Mexican music world,” Action 4 News, Harlington, TX, 25 April 2013 at

6. Chuy Quintanilla songs about Cárdenas Guillén include “El Corrido De Tony Tormenta,” see

7.“Asesinan a Chuy Quintanilla, cantante de narcocorridos,” Terra, 27 Apil 2013 at,6467775b15a3e310VgnCLD2000009acceb0aRCRD.html.

8. For an analysis of the fissure between the CDG and Los Zetas see Samuel Logan and John P. Sullivan, “The Gulf-Zeta Split and the Praetorian Revolt,” ISN Security Watch, ETH Zurich, 7 April 2010 at

9.  See to hear Chuy Quintanilla, “Estamos En Guerra (Los Zetas Vs. Cartel Del Golfo).”

10. John P. Sullivan, “Spillover/Narcobloqueos in Texas,” Small Wars Journal, SWJ Blog, 1 April 2013 at  See also Texas Public Safety Threat Overview 2013, Austin: Texas Department of Public Safety, February 2013, p. 18 at


Additional Resources:


a. Video: “Narco singer ‘Chuy’ Quintanilla found shot dead in South Texas.” NewsFix, 26 April 2013, at

b. Video: Nadia Galindo, “Preliminary autopsy results released for slain singer Chuy Quintanilla.” Valley Central, 26 April 2013, at

c. Facebook: Chuy Quintanilla (La Mera Ley Del Corrido) at

d. “Narco Singer Chuy Quintanilla Found Slain North of Mission Texas.” Borderland Beat, Thursday 25 April 2013, at

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note # 17

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

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

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