Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Reads of the Week: Debating COIN in Mexico and Dealing with Violence in Central America

by Shannon K. O'Neil
September 30, 2011

At least 27 people were found dead in the Guatemalan village near the border with Mexico last May. Police look at a message written with a victim's blood, which reads: ‘What’s up, Otto Salguero, you bastard? We are going to find you and behead you, too. Sincerely, Z200.’ (Courtesy Reuters).

In the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s recent hearing, “Has Merida Evolved? Part One: The Evolution of Drug Cartels and the Threat to Mexico’s Governance,” Committee Chairman Connie Mack (R-Fla), among others, expressed his support for a U.S. counterinsurgency program (COIN) to fight Mexican drug traffickers. Calling the cartels “a well-funded criminal insurgency raging along our southern border,” Mack said the only way to win the drug war is through an “all U.S. agency” COIN approach, which would require greater U.S. military involvement.

I’d tend to agree instead with this article by Patrick Corocan, which says that sending U.S. troops into Mexico will not provide a long-term solution to the country’s security challenges, first because the nature of narco-violence is distinct from that of an insurgency (so a COIN response to it would be inappropriate) and because of the “practical difficulties” involved in such an approach (including a popular backlash to it in Mexico).

This week the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control released its report, “Responding to Violence in Central America,” which draws attention to the rapid escalation of violence in the region – most of it tied to the ramped up activity of organized crime, as detailed by the Woodrow Wilson Center study I discussed last week. The report offers a number of policy recommendations to deal with the problem, the most critical (and innovative) of which include placing more emphasis on extraditions of drug traffickers to the United States, improving witness protection programs and expanding cooperation between U.S. law enforcement and regional counterparts. It also notes that while U.S. security assistance for Central America has grown over the past three years, it is likely to stagnate – or even decline – in the future,  making it even more critical for countries in the region to seek other sources of security funding by reaching out to other donors and to the domestic private sector.

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  • Posted by Matt

    Its the end game do you have one, the only difference between an insurgency fueled by narcotics and Iraq is ideology, occupiers etc. This makes getting a political settlement near impossible.

    What al-Sadr wanted and settled for what the Sunni awakening settled for is going to be completely different to what a political settlement in Mexico looks like. Then not only Mexico but what do they want in South America. 1. Mexico factions want control of the narcotics and to have immunity. Either via corruption or legalization. 2. South America want the Coca Leaf off the UN banned list and narcotics legalized, I think they will settle for the right to trademark the Coca leaf like Colombian Coffee. One is a bean the other a leaf. 3. Evo, Hugo want to destroy the US.

    Now they are correct that another Afghan/Iraq campaign is fiscally difficult for the US. But for at least 3 years of the 5 year plan we are treading water waiting for the indigenous force structure to come online then the insurgency is over in 18 to 24 months via a surge and saturation of the AO. But you use COIN/WHAM policy.

    So we can save time, money and blood by just training indigenous Mexicans on the US side of the border, as we did with the Cubans for the Bay of Pigs. Then we avoid being occupiers treading water for 3 years. We deport you or we train you either way hombre you are going back.

    For a war like that around 300,000 boots, plus the US forces, we can start with 30,000 Marines, JSOC and CIA SAD, but we may have to put in 80,000 to 100,00 ( that includes the 30,000 marines. Plus the 300,000 indigenous forces.

    That is only on the Mexican side not the deployment on the US side in the buffer zone in the Southern States.

    You have the border fence and crossings, but you have buffer zone on both sides, checkpoints of the traditional border. It is a headache to get into the Mexican border states in is a headache passing the buffer zone checkpoints to the traditional border, which is a headache, it is a headache passing the checkpoints on the US side and then a headache leaving the Southern States.

    You do the same on the Guatemala border zone. Then you have saturated all the provinces just like Iraq so you have to get through those check points before you even get to the border states.

    The Mexican Government will resist that move, so it may be in the US interest for the government to collapse, the US may have to help it collapse.

    Then you need blocking movements in Honduras, bases in Colombia for operations deep into South America Peru etc, regime change in Bolivia and Venezuela.

    You have to have a targeted killing program including of US citizens that are high value targets once the cartels and others are classified as terrorists. That will included drone strikes inside the US border areas with the Griffin. The Southern Border states need to be annexed outside of the US so the CIA can do this or the law has to be changed.

    You have to cut the transnational Africa, EU, US east coast logistics. So you are hitting them in South America, hit the east Coast and Mexico. The Canadian have deploy on their side of the border and the US on it side of the border. Or it will just move to Canada.

    You have to do that for 18 to 24 months and you will see narcotics, money, violence reduced and the Mexican insurgency contained.

    But you will not defeat the war on drugs you have only contained the Mexican insurgency. So it will go back to how it was prior to the escalation. So the US can withdraw after 18 to 24 months from combat operations inside Mexico but the restrictions on the borders will have to stay in affect for 5 to 8 years to prevent the insurgency from starting up again with an influx of narcotics and money. By then it will have reverted back to traditional criminal activity that can be handled by LEA.

    If you do it another way, you will get bogged down in the Mexican insurgency.

    You have to make them run at a fiscal loss, now that means cutting it down to 15 to 20 percent. Anything above that is still profitable. That is why the South American operations to counter increased production.

    Usually criminals will halt gangs wars because it cuts into profits and they need to get back to making money. But this has not occurred due to the ability of oversupply to the market place that the insurgency in Mexico has no impact on profits, nor does seizures. You seize a kilo, I increase production by a tonne. How can you win.

    That is why this is unpopular in Washington, no one wants to hear this. They did not want to hear about 400,000 ANSF, you think they want to hear about this.

    So the options are.

    1. As Pablo said stopping sticking it up your nose and they will stop sending it. (Clearly not an option after 40 years)
    2. Legalize it. (Not an option, WH says no)
    3. Forcibly vaccinate everyone. (Maybe)
    4. War. (Will be required)
    5. (Current option) status quo until you are forced into one of the above options (.3 or .4).

    That is it.

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