Mexico to Keep Troops on the Border

Posted: Updated:

It was the deadliest July on record with 245 killings in Juarez, the battlefield for a bloody drug cartel turf war. Among those gunned down on one day that claimed 11 lives: a pregnant woman whose family was ambushed in broad daylight while driving on a busy avenue. It's happening in spite of the federal force of 10,000 troops and police on patrol.

The Calderon administration defends Joint Operation Chihuahua and plans to keep the troops in place. "We are in that fight, that process," said Mexico's Interior Minister Fernando Gomez-Mont. "It's not the time to be complacent but neither is it time to anticipate defeat. The operation is constantly evaluated to make it more efficient but the operation will continue."

The announcement came during a Juarez visit this past Wednesday by Gomez-Mont. At the press conference I attended we were not allowed to ask questions.
But clearly plenty of border residents I've interviewed question whether "Operation Chihuahua" is making a difference. For a while after a troop surge in March, the killings slowed. But now they're spiking again.

Authorities say that's because the drug traffickers have found ways to adapt to the military presence. One tactic: masquerade as the military.

"Criminal bands are using military style uniforms and equipment," the spokesman for Operation Chihuahua told me. He pointed to arrests last month in the mountains of Chihuahua. The soldiers captured the group of 25 men -- 23 were dressed in uniforms that matched their own.

And an anonymous tip recently led authorities to a small factory where soldiers seized 23 commercial sewing machines, piles of military uniforms and plenty of fabric to make more. Interestingly the fabric, according to Torres, was like that used by the U.S. military for "desert-storm style" uniforms.

It was a close enough match for the uniforms used by the Mexican soldiers manning checkpoints throughout the border state Chihuahua. Authorities confirm they've discovered fake checkpoints in various remote areas -- along key smuggling routes.

"They say they're disguised like soldiers," said Ivan Martinez, a street vender selling kitchen matches in Juarez. Residents who hear about drug cartel commandos dressed in military garb wonder trust even as they ask whether the real military operation is making a difference.

I know coverage of the killings can lead to some battle fatigue for viewers and readers. This past year and a half I've tried to get beyond the body count to show the impact on communities on both sides of the border. New American Media recently spotlighted some of our work (I team up with photographer Hugo Perez in the border bureau.) To see the story and learn more about this unique news organization check this link: BELO TV Documents Mexican Drug War Impact on Civilians

And please offer your ideas on how we can continue to improve our comprehensive coverage of the war next door.