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How Would the US Military Take on the Mexican Cartels?

Brennan Linsley

Republican lawmakers are calling for the U.S. military to be used to take the fight directly to the Mexican drug cartels in the aftermath of four American citizens being kidnapped just across the border in Matamoros. Two of the victims were killed, while the others have since been rescued.

The abduction was most likely carried out by the Gulf Cartel since Matamoros is one of the main cities it controls. The incident has highlighted how brazen the criminal organizations have become since they have gained more control of our southern border thanks to the Biden administration.

So, how would the U.S. military confront the cartels? In short, it already has, but not in any meaningful way. For years, the military has been used at observation posts, tracking people illegally entering the country and relaying information for Border Patrol to respond. With Operation Lone Star in Texas, the National Guard has come under fire from gunmen in Mexico shooting into America. To my knowledge, the soldiers did not shoot back. 

But being on the offensive is a whole other beast. An actual invasion is off the table, not that anyone is seriously putting that forward. It might seem tired, but the primary option would be to use special operations and covert means to take out cartel leadership and disrupt their business flow. The problem with leaning heavily on operators in the field, as good as they are, is that they have been worn down after being used in the Middle East for many years. Granted, the missions would be similar since the cartel would revert to conducting an insurgency.

It is very possible for the U.S. to carry out these types of operations, but two main problems come to mind. The Mexican government and the cartels' response. There is no sugarcoating that the Mexican government, on many levels, is beholden to whatever group is the strongest in their respective areas. They do fight the cartels in some areas, but, depending on the group, other times, it looks as though they are posted simply for the cameras, not actually to conduct operations against them. Under a stronger presidential administration, the U.S. could say, "You don't need to actively participate, just don't get in our way." Mexico, not one to turn a blind eye, could very well take that offer, but they will only do so for as long as the pressure from the cartels is not on them. That being said, it would be hard for the Mexican government to allow a foreign military to be in their country without express permission should operations start resulting in civilian casualties. Depending on how out of control battles might get, it could also disrupt the legal business that takes place between our two countries.

And should the cartels be mainly focused on the U.S., that presents a problem back here at home. Let's be clear, cartels have no problem pushing back against anyone who fights them. They have been conducting open warfare against the Mexican government and other cartels for many years. They may not be a first-world army, but they are combat-hardened. It is not out of the question they would conduct terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland in response to their groups being targeted by the U.S. military. 

With our southern border being as open as it is now, we are in a weak position to counter them there, not to mention the cartels have their operatives already here in different parts of our country. The question we have to ask ourselves is, how much are we willing to take should we go on the offensive? Make no mistake, they will conduct insurgency operations inside the U.S. if we go down this path, and U.S. civilians will be targeted, not caught in the crossfire. Think of the execution and torture videos cartels film, but instead of taking place in a jungle, it would be in a forest. 

I recently spoke with a member of Congress about this issue, going over the pros and cons of officially declaring cartels as terrorist groups. What stuck with me is what they said, that I knew but never fully realized, about how we are already at war with them. They are right for sure, but if we go down this path, we have to be ready to fight an enemy that has been fighting for more than 10 years in some of the most brutal ways imaginable. Our advantage is the cartels are set up to make money, not fight prolonged wars. Success would be disrupting their money-making schemes in Mexico to the point where they are no longer financially viable. 

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