Counter-Terrorism: The Gun Fight at Tamaulipas, Mexico


January 11, 2008: The kind of terror we associate with Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia can show up a lot closer to home. Take, for example, the recent "Tamaulipas Drug War" just south of the U.S. border in Mexico. In an era of "small war," what amounts to a major battle took place on January 7th, in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Mexican Federal Police personnel spotted a van carrying three men, who were openly carrying automatic weapons. When the police attempted to stop the van, the men opened fire, abandoned their vehicle, and fled into a nearby house, which was apparently the headquarters of a drug gang. Heavy fire was soon coming from the building, which like most Mexican houses was of cement-cinder block-rebar construction, and thus essentially a bunker. The police called for reinforcements. As scores of Federal Police and some troops responded, the action grew into a major fire fight. The fight lasted a little over a half hour, as the security forces quickly gained the upper hand, helped by RPGs and, reportedly, machine gun fire, provided by the troops.

When the fighting ended, ten police officers and soldiers had been wounded, but three of the drug gang were dead and ten more, some of them wounded, were in custody. A considerable arsenal was confiscated, including 7 automatic weapons, 16 "sniper rifles," a dozen automatic pistols, and a grenade launcher, plus grenades and ammunition, as well as flack jackets and some radios. Much of the equipment appeared to have come from the U.S.

They were identified as operatives of the Heriberto Lazcano drug gang, commonly known as the "Gulf Cartel." Among the prisoners were three Mexican-Americans, apparently all U.S. citizens, one from Texas and two from Michigan, apparently professional criminals hired to provided additional muscle

Lazcano, known as "El Lazco," controls the drug trade in Tamaulipas, and his gunmen have killed large numbers of police officers, local officials, and other drug dealers. In November, following the murder of a prominent local anti-drug politician and several of his aides, Mexican President Felipe Calderon dispatched thousands of additional federal police and troops to the state.

Given that it began when armed men were seen driving through the streets, and that it occurred in close proximity to what appears to have been a major drug operations center, it's possible that incident may have been a deliberate effort by "El Lazco" to provoke a shootout with the Federal Police, in an attempt to intimidate them, as he done with many of the local police forces in the area. Even this is not the case, the likelihood is that there will be more such battles, as the current Mexican government seems to be serious about dealing with the drug cartels

One thing the Mexican government has not gotten serious about is increasing security at the border. Legally going from Mexico into the U.S. has become extremely time consuming, with long lines at the border crossings, frequent customs inspections, and computerized databases ("Been to Texas three times in the four days . . . why?"). But crossing from the U.S. to Mexico in most cases is no more difficult than crossing from New York to New Jersey; maybe a tie up at the crossing, and, of course, a stop at the toll booth. Inspections of vehicles are rare, nor does Mexico maintain a database of vehicle crossings. Mexican laws about bringing weapons into the country are stiff (folks have been sent to jail for just having two or three bullets in their possession), but since inspections are so infrequent, the laws have not had much impact on the movement of weapons from the U.S.


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