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02-08-2006, 08:32 #1
Mexican incursions inflame border situation (NEW)
Mexican incursions inflame border situation
House panel told of shootings by gunmen in Mexican military uniforms
By Brock N. Meeks
Chief Washington correspondent
Updated: 9:33 p.m. ET Feb. 7, 2006
WASHINGTON -- Armed men in Mexican military uniforms have illegally crossed into the United States to provide cover for drug smugglers, and have fired upon U.S. Border Patrol agents on several occasions, a congressional panel was told Tuesday.
Border Patrol Union President T.J. Bonner detailed three incidents since 2000 in which U.S. agents were chased and fired upon by what he characterized as Mexican soldiers operating inside U.S. borders. Bonner testified before the House Homeland Security Investigations Subcommittee on Tuesday.
The Department of Homeland Security said there have been 231 documented incursions by Mexican military and law enforcement personnel into the U.S. since 1996.
â€œThere is little doubt that the majority of these incidences are accidental,â€ said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas., chairman of the Security Investigations Subcommittee. â€œHowever, there are several reports of intentional violations of U.S. sovereignty by groups, often smuggling hundreds of pounds of drugs, which appear to be associated with members of the Mexican military or police forces,â€ McCaul said.
An incident last month in Hudspeth County, Texas, along the border east of El Paso, pushed the issue of alleged Mexican military incursions into the national spotlight. â€œIt was the straw that broke the camelâ€™s back,â€ McCaul said.
On Jan. 23, a group of Texas deputy sheriffs, acting on a tip, intercepted a group of drug smugglers and were surprised to find what they believed to be Mexican soldiers with automatic weapons and a military vehicle providing armed security.
When confronted by the deputies, the drug smugglers raced back across the border while men in Mexican military uniforms, driving a Humvee, â€œtook up a defensive positionâ€ that Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West described as a "military maneuver."
When one of the vehicles carrying drugs got stuck in the river, the uniformed men fanned out and took up protective positions as others unloaded the marijuana, West testified. When the drugs were unloaded, the truck was set on fire â€œand still sits in the river where it burned,â€ West said.
Mexican officials said Friday that, after an initial investigation, none of its military were involved in the episode. A State Department official testifying Tuesday said that a separate U.S. investigation is still being conducted.
Mexican soldiers caught inside U.S. boundaries â€œisnâ€™t a new phenomenon,â€ said David Aguilar, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol. Although the Mexican military has an â€œinternal policyâ€ that states they wonâ€™t operate within about two miles of the U.S., that policy is routinely violated or simply ignored, he said. â€œWe often spot themâ€ near or inside U.S. borders, Aguilar said.
And on several occasions the U.S. has chased, apprehended and even detained members of the Mexican military, Aguilar said during his testimony. However, the U.S. has no concrete evidence that the Mexican military is in any way involved in drug smuggling, Aguilar was quick to point out.
â€œHowever, we address these (incursions) as the serious criminal acts that they are, and these cases are actively pursued,â€ Aguilar said.
Union president Bonner asked Congress to treat the issue with more seriousness because the violence was widespread, leading to a â€œgrowing problem of armed incursions across the southwest border of the United States by current and former Mexican soldiers and law enforcement officers.â€
Bonner also urged the subcommittee members to hold Mexico accountable as well for not doing enough on its side of the border to help stem the problem.
The violence is escalating even as state and federal border crackdown initiatives take hold, law enforcement officials told the panel Tuesday.
Drug smugglers have moved to sophisticated techniques and increasingly lethal weaponry, including machine guns, said West. â€œAnd Iâ€™m afraid the situation will soon turn explosive, literally,â€ he said. â€œHow much longer is it going to be before the drug cartels start using explosives?â€ he said.
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02-08-2006, 09:04 #2Captain
- Join Date
- Jul 2004
Washington Times Article
Sheriff insists Mexican military crossed border
By Stephen Dinan
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published February 8, 2006
A Texas sheriff and his deputy told Congress yesterday they had "no doubt" that Mexican military crossed the U.S. border in Texas on Jan. 23, even as Mexican officials announced they have concluded it was known drug traffickers instead.
"There's no doubt in my mind there was Mexican military involvement. I've seen it too many times over the years," said Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West, in whose jurisdiction the incursion happened.
The House Homeland Security Committee's investigations subcommittee is examining the incident and the broader problem of incursions and violence on the U.S.-Mexico border. Two sheriffs and U.S. Border Patrol officials said Mexican military incursions happen, though they viewed them with differing degrees of seriousness.
On Jan. 23, Sheriff West said, his deputies and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers chased several vehicles suspected of carrying drugs as they fled back toward the Mexico border, and encountered a military-style Humvee on the American side of the Rio Grande.
After the Humvee and the other vehicles crossed the border into Mexico, one of the vehicles, a Ford Expedition, got caught in the riverbank. Another Humvee and other civilian vehicles arrived, unloaded the Expedition's cargo and then set the vehicle on fire.
The sheriff and his deputy yesterday played video from a patrol car that was part of the chase.
Mexican officials yesterday said the preliminary results of an investigation show that "no personnel of the Mexican army participated" in the incident.
In findings sent to Washington, the officials said the "uniforms, insignia, armament and vehicles that appear on the initial video do not correspond to those utilized by the armed forces of Mexico."
They said those involved were linked to the Rodolfo Escajeda drug-trafficking organization and that the tape shows Escajeda himself.
One of Sheriff West's deputies, Esequiel Legarreta, who was part of the chase, testified that the vehicle was a military-style Humvee, the men wore Mexican military-style uniforms with unidentifiable insignias and that they used military tactics.
Deputy Legarreta, who served six years in the Marine Corps Reserve, said he was familiar with military-style weapons and vehicles and with the Mexican military uniform. He said there is "no doubt in my mind" he saw Mexican military on the U.S. side of the border that day.
Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Whitaker said the federal government will wait for an investigation by the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement before drawing conclusions.
Chief Aguilar said the number of incursions is decreasing. Asked what help Congress could provide, he said the executive branch is doing enough and he did "not want to leave the impression our borders are besieged."
Lawmakers were skeptical.
"It just seems to me it's gotten worse, not better, and the cartels are getting more dangerous," said Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the investigative subcommittee.
Mr. McCaul said he was dismayed that Border Patrol agents were not involved in the chase.
He and T.J. Bonner, a 27-year Border Patrol veteran and president of the 10,000-member National Border Patrol Council, said they have been told agents were instructed to back off from this chase.
Mr. McCaul said that placing sheriffs rather than Border Patrol agents on the front lines could affect funding decisions in Washington.
Mr. Bonner suggested stationing the U.S. military as a reserve force to be used if the Mexican military crosses the border.
"If there's an incursion, let the chips fall where they may. Let them do what they were trained to do," he said.