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Gates, Mullen Extend Military Support to Mexico

Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden, American Forces Press Service

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, right, and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, back right, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, exchange greetings with U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual and Mexican officials after arriving in Mexico City, March 22, 2010. DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2010 Top U.S. defense officials met with their Mexican counterparts in Mexico City today to strengthen the U.S.-Mexico military partnership in the fight against drug cartels there.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen are in Mexico today as part of a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair also are part of the delegation.

The high-level talks are part of the Merida initiative, a partnership promised by President Barack Obama last year to help the region combat drug trafficking and related violence by the cartels. The three-year program provides $1.6 billion to fund drug-fighting initiatives.

The talks demonstrate the level of commitment the United States has in aiding Mexico in its struggle against the cartels and to impede the drug trade from crossing the border into the United States, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters at a news conference here today.

“Sending a delegation of this stature to Mexico is a clear indication of the critical importance both we and the Mexican government … place on law enforcement cooperation, strengthening Mexican institutions and other cooperative efforts to support the government of Mexico’s campaign against organized crimes,” Morrell said.

Gates and Mullen met with Mexico’s Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan Galvan and Navy Secretary Mariano Francisco Saynez Mendoza to discuss military-to-military coordination and to develop a comprehensive approach to counternarcotics operations and planning.

The meetings focused on bilateral information sharing, joint defense cooperation and the need for transparency and accountability on human rights. Currently, the Pentagon provides intelligence and surveillance support, communications equipment and mobility assets, Morrell said.

The talks come at a time when the Mexican government has suffered heavy losses in its war on drugs. Since 2006, some 18,000 people, including security personnel, have lost their lives to drug-related violence.

“The government of Mexico has taken strong actions to address these security threats,” Morrell said. “They are making some progress, but have paid high prices for their brave stand. Those sacrifices have only made our two nations more determined to work together to combat these criminal groups.”

Funds allocated to Mexico under the Merida initiative are due to expire in 2011. The remaining funds will go to other countries in Central America.

Gates and Mullen are set to return to Washington, D.C., tonight.

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