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Oct-23-2010 12:28printcomments

US Army Special Forces Trained Mexican Cartel Members

Founders of the Zetas drug gang learned special forces techniques at Ft. Bragg before waging a campaign of carnage.

Drugs in Mexico
Despite the deployment of 50,000 troops, Mexico seems to be losing the 'war on drugs' [AFP]

(U.S. BORDER WITH MEXICO) - It was a brutal massacre even by the gruesome standards of Mexico’s drug war: 72 migrant workers gunned down by the "Zetas" - arguably the country's most violent cartel - and left rotting in a pile outside a ranch in Tamaulipas state near the US border in late August.

The Zetas have a fearsome reputation, but the real surprise comes not in their ruthless use of violence, but in the origins of where they learned the tricks of their bloody trade.

Some of the cartel's initial members were elite Mexican troops, trained in the early 1990s by America’s 7th Special Forces Group or "snake eaters" at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, a former US special operations commander has told Al Jazeera.

“They were given map reading courses, communications, standard special forces training, light to heavy weapons, machine guns and automatic weapons,” says Craig Deare, the former special forces commander who is now a professor at the US National Defence University.

"I had some visibility on what was happening, because this [issue] was related to things I was doing in the Pentagon in the 1990s," Deare, who also served as country director in the office of the US Secretary of Defence, says.

The Mexican personnel who received US training and later formed the Zetas came from the Airmobile Special Forces Group (GAFE), which is considered an elite division of the Mexican military.

"Other cartels have accused the Zetas of not following the 'gentlemen's code' of drug trafficking"

Kristen Bricker, NACLA Research Associate

Their US training was designed to prepare them for counter-insurgency and, ironically, counter-narcotics operations, although Deare says they were not taught the most advanced commando techniques available at Ft. Bragg.

Military forces from around the world train at Ft. Bragg, so there is nothing unique about Mexican operatives learning counter-insurgency tactics at the facility. However, critics say the specific skills learned by the Zetas primed them for careers as contract killers and drug dealers.

“The Zetas definitely have the reputation of being the most dangerous, the most vicious, the most renegade of the cartels,” says Kristen Bricker, a Mexico-based research associate with the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA).

About 29,000 people have died since Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s president, declared war on the drug cartels in 2006.

Extreme violence

The group has mounted the severed heads of its victims on pikes in urban areas, posted torture and execution videos on the internet, forced poor migrants into prostitution and massacred college students during house parties.

"Other cartels have accused them of not following the 'gentlemen's code' of drug trafficking and causing undue violence," Bricker told Al Jazeera.

"At one time, it was considered bad form to kill pregnant women, but not any more." For safety concerns, Bricker didn’t want to say where she lives in Mexico.

Deare estimates "probably more than 500" GAFE personnel received special forces training. He is unsure exactly how long the programme lasted. The Zetas came to the attention of Mexico’s Attorney General’s office in 1999.

After US training, GAFE operatives defected from the Mexican military to become hired guns, providing security to the Gulf cartel, a well established trafficking organisation, according to Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas program of the International Relations Center.

"They split from the Gulf cartel and formed as a cartel in their own right," Carlsen, based in Mexico City, told Al Jazeera.

The Zetas' alleged current leaders, Heriberto Lazcano, known as Z-3 and Miguel Trevino, or Z-40, were first recruited by Osiel Cardenas, the now-jailed leader of the Gulf cartel. The name "Zetas" originates from the radio code "Z" used by top military commanders in Mexico.

But unlike Zorro, the Mexican outlaw hero who also used the "Z" alias, Los Zetas steal from everyone, not just the rich. And they certainly don’t give much back to the poor, except the corpses of their relatives. "They are just known for being a different kind of human being," says Bricker.

Frequent defections

The number of initial defectors from GAFE is thought to be somewhere between 30 and 200, but "the exact number is unclear", says Deare. However, the possibility of defections should not have come as a surprise to US trainers.

The Mexican state "does not pay soldiers enough" Deare says. "I am not saying they [the government] have to pay as much as the cartels, but they [security forces] must be paid decently if they aren’t going to be susceptible to corruption."

The GAFE’s desertion rate of an estimated 25 per cent is high, even by the low standards of Mexico’s security forces. Between 2000 and 2005 more than 1,300 of the elite troops defected, La Journada newspaper reported.

"The US really needs to examine their vetting procedures and manuals to see why so many people who they train do so many terrible things when they go back home," Bricker said.

But just blaming Uncle Sam for the rise of the Zetas and increasing drug violence is too simplistic, says Bricker.

"It wasn't just US training. The GAFE were also trained by the Kaibiles of Guatemala, a notoriously brutal special operations force from that country’s dirty war in the 1980s," said Bricker.

And even without special training for cartels, there is little trust that Mexican security forces can deal with the drug trade.

In May 2006, "La Barbie" a leader of the rival Sinaloa cartel, took out a full page advert in a Mexico City daily newspaper, to allege that Mexican police were protecting the Zetas.

For their part, the Zetas have long complained that the Sinaloa cartel enjoys police protection.

Despite debacles surrounding the Zetas and increasing violence, Deare - who physically resembles the tough but fair minded under-secretary of defence played by Harrison Ford in the fictional drug war thriller Patriot Games - thinks Mexico needs more, not less, US involvement.

America has pledged some $1.3bn to assist Mexico in the drug war through the 2007 Merida initiative, but much of that cash hasn’t been spent because it has been stalled in Congress, Deare says.

Other analysts are critical of the initiative because it allows the US to "meddle" in Mexico’s affairs and has not garnered the desired results.

To read the rest of this article by Al Jazeera's Chris Arsenault- visit: US-trained cartel terrorises Mexico Chris Arsenault-Al Jazeera

This is the first in a two part series examining the issues behind Mexico's drug violence. Follow Chris Arsenault On Twitter: @AJEchris

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Nico December 2, 2019 9:40 am (Pacific time)

The training the Mexican military received was conducted during a 6 month period at Ft Bragg NC, in 1998. Not under Bush, under Clinton. US Special Forces were NOT deployed to Mexico. and "white men"? 3% of US population commits 40% of violent crime in US. Check out the FBI statistics. "Ponzi schemes" yeah, white dudes, but you've gotta be pretty blind (biased) to say that whites commit 90%+ of the crime in the US, Ed.

Anonymous October 23, 2010 1:59 pm (Pacific time)

People from around the world are trained by our military, overseas and here in our various military installations. When countries buy our military equipment, from advanced fighter jets to small arms, we train them in their use. At Ft. Bragg, a place called Smoke Bomb Hill is where the HQ of Special Forces is. People from foreign countries are never privy to our most advanced equipment or training methodologies, no matter who is president or politically connected. What we must do, and quickly, is to stage military training exercises all along our southern and northern borders. Our troops should have live ammo along with air support when entering areas of our land that is being used for illicit purposes. Why they will not do this is not too tough to figure out, but when you have a family member maimed, raped or becomes a victim of any kind of crime by an illegal alien, you know who is responsible. Being politically correct gets you in some serious hot water sometimes.

Editor: Maybe that's because Bush started immense tragic false flag wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, do you think maybe?  Sorry all of your family members are being raped and maimed and murdered by illegal aliens, fortunately that is a pretty unique situation. Most crime I am familiar with is committed by U.S. born white men.  They commit petty and major street crimes, but they also have turned this country upside down by manipulating the average man's cost of living.  Show me an illegal alien who has ripped off people in situations like the S&L scandal.  Nope, all white men all the time, almost no exceptions.  Your suggestion that we reduce ourselves to even more barbaric levels by patrolling the Mexican and Canadian borders with live ammo is sick.  As for the Mexican cartel training, we learned that Mexico stands in strong denial of this: Oct-05-2010: Mexico Denies US Special Forces Presence South of the Border - Tim King  So the story is very interesting.  Perhaps you accept corruption and needless violence, but real human beings do not, and that puts you in a tiny little minority class of your own    

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