The terrorists swept into Cananea in a convoy of 15 vehicles. They were on a brazen, murderous mission.
They kidnapped seven policemen and two civilians. Outside town, they shot and killed four of the policemen and dumped their bodies in a park.
Local police who had not been kidnapped deserted their posts to a man. "When the state police arrived, there was not a single municipal police officer," the local governor later told The Associated Press. "We had to take over the command. There wasn't anyone there. They had all left."
Government forces tracked the terrorists into the nearby mountains. A pitched battle ensued. Fifteen terrorists were reported killed. Others got away, melting into the local population or deeper into the hills.
So went another sad episode in a region of the world where anarchy reigns. Assessing the day's carnage, the mayor of the targeted village spoke with bitter candor. "Our municipality has become the victim of the violence that pervades this entire country," he said in a statement. "The events of this morning are beyond shocking."
Where is this placed called Cananea? Is it in Iraq? Afghanistan?
No. It is almost in Arizona. Specifically, it is about 20 miles south of the U.S. border in the Mexican state of Sonora. Pull it up on Google Earth, as I did this week, and you will see that the nearest town of any size is Nogales, Ariz. The nearest big city is Tucson.
Cananea is in the war zone next door. It is a place where Mexican criminal syndicates, bolstered by Mexican army deserters, fight one another for control of the best smuggling routes into the United States.
The terrorist raid on Cananea, which took place on May 16, points to a monstrous strategic blunder by our government.
More than six years have transpired since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the quest to make our nation safer, we have sent armies halfway around the world to occupy and attempt to create democracies in both Afghanistan and Iraq. But our government still has not secured our own border.
The Government Accountability Office last week presented testimony to the House Foreign Relations Committee that demonstrated just how porous our southern frontier remains.
"Mexico," said the GAO, "is the conduit for most of the cocaine reaching the United States, the source for much of the heroin consumed in the United States, and the largest foreign supplier of marijuana and methamphetamine to the U.S. market."
In the years since 9-11, the drug cartels that trade in South American cocaine have found Mexico to be a more -- not less -- attractive route for smuggling their product into American cities and towns to sell to American kids.
Citing an annual U.S. government analysis called the Interagency Assessment of Cocaine Movement (IACM), the GAO said: "From 2000 to 2006, the IACM reported an increase in the estimated amount of cocaine flowing through Mexico to the United States -- from 66 percent in 2000 to 77 percent in 2003 to 90 in 2006."
"Despite the apparent increases in cocaine arriving in Mexico, the amount of cocaine reported seized in Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border for 2000-2006 did not increase proportionately," said GAO. On average during this period, GAO said, only about 13 percent of this cocaine was seized.
The record was worse for heroin. "Reported heroin seizures in Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border averaged less than 1 metric ton or less than 5 percent a year of the estimated export quality heroin produced in Mexico between 2000 and 2005," said GAO.
Americans have and will pay many prices for the failure of our president and Congress to secure our border. In 2005 alone, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, people using cocaine visited emergency rooms 448,481 times, while people using heroin visited emergency rooms 164,572 times. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates that in 2002 Americans paid $180.9 billion to cover the negative consequences of drug use, which includes health costs, criminal justice costs, disability and death-related costs, and the cost of lost productivity.
Then, of course, there are the criminals that cross our borders to conduct business here for the cartels. Mexican drug trafficking organizations, GAO said in an August report, have "regional managers throughout the country and rely on Mexican street gangs to distribute illicit drugs at the retail level."
If, one day, the powder that comes across our border is not heroin or cocaine but something even deadlier, and the thugs who bring it through are not drug dealers but al-Qaida terrorists, the current president and Congress will not be able to say: No one saw it coming.