Friday, 13 March 2009

us army may rescue mexico's gov

Obama eyes troops for Mexico drug war

By Daniel Dombey in Washington

Published: March 12 2009 21:14 | Last updated: March 13 2009 00:27

Barack Obama is considering sending National Guard troops to the border with Mexico as US concerns mount about its neighbour’s increasingly violent struggle with Mexican drug cartels on the frontier.

Amid debate in Washington over the crisis, the ­president highlighted the administration’s fears about the raging violence, focused on towns such as Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Mr Obama last week ­discussed the military implications of the fighting with Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“We’re going to examine whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense and under what circumstances they would make sense,” Mr Obama said this week.

But he added: “I’m not interested in militarising the border.”

The president’s comments follow requests from some border states for the deployment of troops.

Almost 6,000 people in Mexico died in drug-related violence last year, with deaths in Juárez representing a quarter of the total. The rate of killings has increased during 2009.

The state department and a series of private organisations have recently issued advice about travel to Mexico and US politicians have stepped up calls for a more forceful response from the administration.

US Joint Forces Command late last year issued a report that grouped Mexico with Pakistan as a state that could undergo a “rapid and sudden collapse”. It said: “The government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels ... Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.”

Joe Biden, the US vice-president, this week highlighted the threat posed by drug traffickers in the south-west border region when he announced Gil Kerlikowske as the new US drug tsar. But an increasing number of legislators say the US administration needs to do more.

“We are not taking seriously the so-called spillover violence effect from the drug cartels in Mexico,” Hal Rogers, a Republican Congressman, said. He compared US policy unfavourably with Mexico’s decision to send its army to the border to fight the drug gangs.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Arturo Sarukhán, Mexico’s ambassador to Washington, argued that the US also bore responsibility for the increase in violence.

“There is no spill­over into the US; that’s a misunderstanding,” he said.

“They are not fighting in Tucson [Arizona] because they are fighting in Tijuana ... The drug syndicates’ activities have been interrupted, including distribution in the US [because] we have a Mexican president who has decided to use the strength of the state to shut down the syndicates and roll them back.”

Arguing that the violence was largely spurred by fighting between “cornered” drugs groups, Mr Sarukhán said the assault weapons used and the money to finance them came from the US.

Last month, 54 US Congressmen wrote to Mr Obama backing Mexican calls to enforce a ban on the US importation of assault weapons, which are often shipped to Mexico.

Janet Napolitano, US homeland security secretary, says the administration is working on increasing its efforts to intercept the cash and guns flowing south.

US officials say intelligence sharing and scanners for Mexican border posts are at the heart of the approach.

However, Congress this week scaled down the administration’s request for $450m (€350m, £325m) for drug co-operation with Mexico, authorising $300m instead.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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