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Military Speeds Up Help to Mexico, Explores Boosting Border Presence

Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2009 –

The United States is working to speed up delivery of equipment and training to help Mexico to better confront violent drug cartels, the commander of U.S. Northern Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Meanwhile, a Northcom planning team is meeting today with Department of Homeland Security officials to explore boosting the military presence on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico, Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr. told the senators.

Northcom is working with the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to accelerate deliveries funded through the Merida Initiative to help Mexico deal with the escalating violence, he said.

“I can’t tell you how important that is,” Renuart said. “The Mexicans see that as a real outreach and partnership, and it is making a difference in the confidence.”

Renuart said Mexico is making headway in the effort. “The Mexican government is taking aggressive action to win,” Renuart told the panel. “They are building momentum.”

His personal interactions with Mexico’s military leaders convince him they’ve received marching orders from President Felipe Calderon “to be much more aggressive in their presence,” Renuart said.

Meanwhile, the Mexican government also is addressing the country’s corruption problem. Renuart noted the Mexican response after a spike in violence in Juarez, a border town across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas. A force of nearly 10,000 vetted military and federal police deployed to the region, where they are replacing local police.

“The challenge for the Mexican government is … sustainment of that effort, because their military is not that large,” Renuart said. “So we’re working with them in a direct relationship to build more of the capability to allow them to sustain that effort in some of these cities.”

A partnership between Northcom and the National Guard is providing trainers in unique force capabilities to help the Mexican military conduct raids on cartels, he said.

Meanwhile, Northcom is working in cooperation with other authorities to secure the U.S. border against infiltration by cartels.

Crackdowns on their operations have led to “more aggressive behavior on the part of the cartels, and then their related gangs here north of the border,” he said. “So it is a real concern for the security in our country.” Northcom provides technology to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and other law enforcement officials to help them identify tunnels dug beneath the U.S.-Mexican border, Renuart said.

Troops also operate sensors along the border: cameras, listening posts, and both manned and unmanned aerial vehicles with night-vision capability. Information gathered goes to law enforcement authorities for use during their operations.

“We think we can expand that,” Renuart said. “We have a planning team in place today at the Department of Homeland Security looking at just this kind of additional support … to ensure that the governors get the kind of support they feel they need.”

Renuart said the support could consist of a mix of National Guard, reserve and active component troops, partnering with the law enforcement agencies and the states.

“This is a whole-government problem, and I think the best response is an integrated approach,” he said. “And we’re working toward that aggressively.”

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