A San Diego fusion center bulletin says ambushes on law enforcement personnel show high levels of sophistication and training.
In his annual state of the nation address Friday, Mexican president Felipe Calderon said that an important part of combating cartels is purging the system of corrupt law enforcement officers. The process started this summer with the dismissal of more than 400 police officers and investigators.
The bulletin, labeled “law enforcement sensitive” and “not releasable to foreign nationals” was issued last November but published online this week by the hacker collective Anonymous, along with several other law enforcement documents.
“A San Diego Police Department investigation revealed credible information that Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO) in collaboration with San Diego street gangs are using sophisticated counter surveillance techniques and are willing to use armed ambush assaults to protect drug shipments,” the bulletin reads.
Armed with modified AK-47s and M4s, DTOs have launched numerous successful attacks on law enforcement in Tijuana. In 2009, there were 43 documented attacks on law enforcement in Tijuana that resulted in homicides.
The bulletin tells of an undated incident involving a convoy of Tijuana Cartel and San Diego street gang members. The group was assigned to protect a shipment of narcotics that was headed north. Mistaking undercover San Diego police for a rival crew, the cell used push-to-talk communications to call for additional gang members to retrieve weapons from a stash house and set up at a preplanned location in another part of San Diego. The convoy then tried to lead the undercover police into the ambush.
In this incident, law enforcement weren’t specifically targeted, but it’s a testament to the organization and rapid response capabilities of DTO enforcement cells.
Case studies showed that tactics used by DTOs to attack Mexican law enforcement show a high level of training and preoperational planning. One study showed that most were at preplanned locations and targeted specific members of law enforcement.
Most of the attacks were vehicle borne attacks launched from one or multiple vehicles. Cartels, which often travel in armed convoys, are using point vehicles and rear security and phones with push-to-talk capabilities or walkie-talkies. In the following video, a 50-vehicle convoy boldly drives through a city in Michoacán armed with assault rifles and what look like mounted .50 caliber rifles.
The cartels typically set up ambushes on streets with two lanes in both directions. Wider roads allow for more space between vehicles to maneuver into their specific roles during an ambush, such has blocking streets and clearing escape routes.
The San Diego Law Enforcement Coordination Center says these attack methods and shot patterns indicate the cartels have been trained in small unit tactics and use of firearms. Interviews of suspects have revealed that both former military and law enforcement personnel are involved in training the cartels. In some cases law enforcement uniforms and body armor used by the cartels has been recovered after attacks.
A review of the types of ambushes used in 2009 showed three tactics used consistently to ambush officers – the Blind Spot, the Laying in Wait, and the Complex Mobile Ambush. “All three types of attacks are designed to take the victims by surprise, limit the victim’s mobility, and engage with overwhelming fire-power. These factors isolate victims or drive them into a ‘kill zone,’ decreasing the victim’s ability to respond to the assault,” the bulletin states.
In the Blind Spot, cartel members approach a target and fire into the vehicles from the blind spot on the driver’s side. The Laying in Wait involves “moderate level preoperational surveillance and intelligence collection in order to become familiar with routes, identify choke points, and escape route.” The attackers find out where law enforcement personnel will be at a specific time in order to organize the assault. Laying in Wait attacks usually target police patrols on trafficking routes, law enforcement members who have refused recruitment to cartels, and municipal police (by making a fake 911 call).
The boldest of the attacks, the Complex Mobile Ambush, involves a small convoy of vehicles that sets up to create a kill zone around a target. Additional vehicles block off escape routes.
Calderon says the recent captures of top level cartel members are a sign of weakening DTOs. But critics, like former Mexican president Vicente Fox, say Calderon should seek a truce with the cartels and offer amnesty.
In his address, Calderon told Mexican officials that there would be no let up in the fight against the cartels, Reuters reported on Friday.
"This will not happen, not while we continue to face them with firmness, which my government is completely committed to and will remain so until the last day of my term," he said.