Militarizing Marijuana

Not often do we harvest articles whole from the mainstream press, but when I tripped over a copy of the Dallas Morning News this morning, the top-of-the-fold-headline said "hey buddy, this is exactly what you’ve been looking for." Indeed, it was a story about a Colorado congressman calling for militarization of the USA border with Mexico, based on a recent "provocation" involving three SUVs, almost a ton of pot, and narco warriors packing 50 caliber heat. We darn sure warned you about this…
Border incident sparks outrage

Lawmakers urge troops after police encounter well-armed smugglers

08:30 AM CST on Wednesday, January 25, 2006

By DAVID McLEMORE / The Dallas Morning News

A West Texas standoff along the Rio Grande between U.S. law enforcement officers and heavily armed Mexican drug smugglers in military-style clothing prompted congressional demands Tuesday for an international investigation and a call for deployment of U.S. troops to the border.

The incident, which occurred Monday on U.S. soil at an isolated river crossing about 50 miles east of El Paso, is the latest involving armed incursions along the U.S. border with Mexico.

And it comes less than a week after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called a California newspaper’s account of such border incursions "overblown."

The incident Monday involved an encounter between two Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Department deputies and three Department of Public Safety troopers and 10 heavily armed drug smugglers at an area about 50 miles down the river from El Paso.

A spokesman for Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said Mexican military personnel had nothing to do with the incident and suggested the trespassers may have been drug traffickers wearing military-style gear.

The incident began on Interstate 10 near the Sierra Blanca checkpoint when DPS troopers began chasing three westbound SUVs believed to be carrying marijuana.

When the SUV drivers saw that they were being followed, they made a U-turn and headed south toward the river to an area known as Neely’s Crossing, said Rick Glancey, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition.

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At the crossing, one of the SUVs drove across the shallow river into Mexico. A second one got stuck in the muddy banks. And as the Texas deputies watched, a military-style Humvee attempted to pull it from the mud, while several armed men in green uniforms fanned out around it, Mr. Glancey said.

When the Humvee failed to extricate the truck, a group of men in civilian clothes walked into the ankle-deep river, removed what appeared to be bales of marijuana and hauled them to the Mexican side. They then set the truck, a Ford Expedition, ablaze.

The third vehicle, a Cadillac Escalade, was abandoned on the U.S. side with a flat tire as the driver escaped on foot. Deputies found 1,447 pounds of marijuana inside.

"What this latest incidence underscores is the necessity of increased support for local law enforcement to aid improving our border security," said Mr. Glancey. "If this doesn’t open D.C.’s eyes, I don’t know what will."
Inquiry launched

Monday’s incident was not the first face-to-face confrontation for Hudspeth County deputies. In November, deputies responded to assist Border Patrol agents at the border town of Fort Hancock where they encountered six men in military uniforms attempting to carry a load of marijuana over the river.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said Tuesday they have launched an inquiry into the Monday incident and asked Mexican authorities for a thorough investigation and full answer on what happened.

Customs "is coordinating closely with the appropriate federal, state and local authorities," said Kristi Clemens, Customs’ assistant commissioner for public affairs. "The U.S. government is also discussing the matter with the government of Mexico and is asking for a thorough investigation and response. We take very seriously and investigate fully any alleged incident of criminal activity, threats against our agents or possible incursions."

Gov. Rick Perry also has ordered an investigation, spokeswoman Kathy Walt said.

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., a frequent critic of the administration’s border security efforts, called Tuesday for the federal government and the governments of southern border states to immediately deploy troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in light of what he termed "recent armed assistance Mexico’s military has given to drug smugglers."

"Our border has literally turned into a war zone with foreign military personnel challenging our laws and our sovereignty," Mr. Tancredo said.

"The only way to deal with this dangerous situation is to tap the resources of our own military," Mr. Tancredo said. "I call on President Bush and the governors of border states to immediately deploy military personnel to defend our borders against the Mexican military."

U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called on Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to initiate a formal investigation on the reported border crossings and to begin a dialogue with Mexican officials to prevent further occurrences.

"These illegal incursions are a violation of our sovereignty and pose a significant danger to U.S. law enforcement officials and citizens near the border – especially if all parties involved are armed. The potential for violence is significant.

Mr. Kyl noted that the Department of Homeland Security released figures that indicate that there have been 231 documented incursions along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico since 1996.

Of those, 63 in that nine-year period occurred in Arizona and 28 occurred along the Texas border, according to Homeland Security.

In each instance, U.S. agents at the local level asked Mexican federal police and army officials to clarify what happened.
Border forays

Many included accidental forays by legitimate Mexican authorities across a poorly defined border in rough and isolated country while in pursuit of drug dealers. The Texas-Mexico border, however, is delineated by the Rio Grande River.

Investigators have long documented that Mexican drug gangs often wear camouflage clothing and carry military-style automatic weapons.

But Tuesday’s request for a Mexican government response significantly ups the ante, federal officials said.

In Mexico, officials said the National Defense Ministry has begun an investigation of the incident and launched a search for the vehicles identified by photographs taken by Hudspeth County deputies.

Hudspeth County Chief Deputy Mike Doyal said that men dressed as Mexican soldiers manned what looked like .50-caliber machine guns mounted on vehicles about 200 yards inside the U.S. border during the incident.

In Mexico, a ministry spokesman said that the Army’s Ciudad Juarez garrison does not maintain Humvees with mounted .50-caliber machine guns.

"It cannot be ruled out that said actions are designed as much to harm the image of our armed forces as the bilateral cooperation between Mexico and the United States in the fight against organized crime and, in particular, narcotrafficking," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Staff writer Lennox Samuels contributed to this report from Mexico City. David McLemore reported from San Antonio.

E-mail dmclemore@dallasnews.com

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