Pubdate: Wed, 25 Mar 2009
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Ewen MacAskill


. Washington fears carnage will spread across border

. Proposals echo battles to control mafia

The White House yesterday revealed plans for a crime-fighting 
operation targeting Mexican drug cartels on a scale not seen since 
the battles against the US mafia.

Washington is dispatching more federal agents and equipment to its 
south-western border with Mexico to target the cartels. Among them 
are a newly formed FBI unit, to deal with the ringleaders, and 
treasury officials who will track drug money. An extra 100 customs 
officers are to be sent to the border within the next 45 days.

The moves reflect growing concern in Washington that the carnage in 
Mexico involving the cartels is in danger of spilling over the 
border. A White House statement said: "The president is concerned by 
the increased level of violence, particularly in Ciudad Juarez and 
Tijuana, and the impact that it is having on the communities on both 
sides of the border."

The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, at a White House 
press conference yesterday, singled out Houston, Texas, and Phoenix, 
Arizona, as recording increases in violence and kidnapping. Other 
officials have also mentioned El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, California.

The plan to beef up operations came the day before the secretary of 
state, Hillary Clinton, is due to visit Mexico City for discussions 
about the drug war with the Mexican president, Felipe Calderon. 
Barack Obama is to visit Mexico next month. As well as sending more 
agents to the border, the White House is providing $700m (UKP 476m) 
to the Mexican government for five new helicopters, a surveillance 
aircraft and other crime-fighting equipment.

Calderon has dispatched more than 45,000 Mexican troops to combat the 
cartels, which responded with thousands of kidnappings and murders, 
including beheadings. Despite a string of arrests and drug busts - 
last week, soldiers captured two drug bosses - a record 6,300 
drug-related killings occurred last year.

Other measures announced by the White House yesterday included 
dispatching more mobile x-ray units to the US side of the border to 
screen vehicles involved in gun trafficking. Napolitano said that 
over the last week, the US had stopped 997 firearms en route to 
Mexico. Absent from the announced plans were high-visibility moves 
such as deployment of the National Guard or expansion of the border 
fence started under George Bush. But the Obama administration argues 
that these are not necessarily effective.

David Ogden, the deputy attorney general, said that the best way to 
fight the cartels was through intelligence-based operations, "the 
same approach as we took towards the Cosa Nostra".

The Obama administration view is that the strategy pursued against 
the Cosa Nostra, tracking the money with a view to locking up the 
leaders, is better than piecemeal arrests.

Napolitano said she was still considering a request from the governor 
of Texas, Rick Perry, to send 1,000 National Guard members to the 
border and would discuss the issue with him tomorrow.

The Mexican government on Monday offered $2m each for information 
leading to the arrest of the top 24 drug lords representing the six 
biggest cartels, including the Pacific and Gulf. A further $1m each 
is offered for 13 of their lieutenants.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom