http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/ma ... ence-obama
The White House today revealed plans for a crime-fighting operation targeting Mexican drug cartels on a scale not seen since the battles against the US-based Mafia in the last century.
The US 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.
A hundred extra customs officers are also 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 Juárez 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 today, 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 scheduled to visit Mexico City for discussions about the drug war with the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón. Obama will visit Mexico next month.
As well as sending more agents to the border, the White House is also providing $700m (£475m) to the Mexican government for five new helicopters, a surveillance aircraft and other crime-fighting equipment.
Calderón has dispatched more than 45,000 Mexican troops to combat the cartels, which responded with thousands of kidnappings and murders, including beheadings.
Other measures announced by the White House today including dispatching more mobile x-ray units to the US side of the border to screen vehicles to try to stop a massive trafficking in guns from the US into Mexico. Lorries loaded with weapons are regularly crossing over. Napolitano said that over the last week alone the US has stopped 997 firearms en route to Mexico.
Absent from the steps announced today 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, though showy, are not necessarily effective.
David Ogden, the deputy attorney general, told the press conference that the best way to fight the cartels was through intelligence-based operations, "the same approach as we took towards the Cosa Nostra". He added: "The department of justice stands ready to take the fight to the Mexican drug cartels."
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. She would discuss with Perry on Thursday whether to deploy troops, how many and where to.
She admitted that the US has drawn up an emergency contingency plan should the Mexican government fail to quell the violence, though she said she thought the chances of reaching that stage were remote.
The Mexican government yesterday 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.
The White House statement praised Calderón for his efforts to confront and dismantle the cartels, saying that "we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him in that fight."
But Napolitano admitted there was a problem with intelligence sharing with the Mexican authorities to ensure that it did not, as has happened in the past, end up in the hands of the cartels.