AC: "Essentially, this war is akin to an insurgency."
March 23, 2009
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Anderson discusses the cartel situation with Michael in preparation for two days of live broadcasts from the Mexican border later this week.
ANDERSON COOPER: Getting ready for the battle on the border. President Obama may soon send more federal agents and equipment to try and keep Mexico's war with murderous drug cartels from slipping into the United States more than it already has.
One senior official tells CNN they are trying to prevent a spill over. But it may already be too late. Mexican drug gangs are in hundreds of U.S. cities, according to the Justice Department, some 230 as a matter of fact. They say Mexican gangs are, in fact, the largest organized crime threat in this country.
Scores of gang members were captured just in a recent sweep. And just today "The New York Times" reporting on a brutal home invasion in Tucson -- Mexican traffickers pistol-whipping the homeowner, demanding money. The guy's wife was bathing their 3-month-old son when the thugs burst in.
The violence has killed thousands in Mexico. Victims have been beheaded, kidnapped. It's also led the State Department to issue a travel alert to the country.
We're going to be broadcasting from the border later this week, on Wednesday and Thursday. Michael Ware is just back from a recent trip to the very dangerous city of Juarez, right next door to El Paso, Texas.
He joins us now. How bad is it down there?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a war. It is a war of sorts. Now, you have to make clear distinctions between, say, the war on terror. This is -- this is an insurgency over there, and this is a holy war. This --
COOPER: The Mexican government has sent in the army, the federal police...
WARE: -- this is a war over profit. So it's got an entirely different dynamic. And you can't trust the local police, because they're either so scared or they're so corrupt. You can't trust the federal police. So the Mexican president, within weeks of coming into office in late 2006, sent troops across his own country, more than 45,000 Mexican army soldiers are out there doing what the police should be doing.
And just after my trip to Juarez, there was already 2,000-odd soldiers. Now there's something like 7,000 in the three weeks since I left.
COOPER: The Obama administration has talked about beefing up DEA agents, federal agents on the border. We're already sending down -- I think we've committed $1.3 or $1.4 billion --
WARE: One point four.
COOPER: -- right, in the Merida Accords, which are largely for equipment to bring the federal police up to international standards.
WARE: Well, this is $1.4 billion spread out over three or four years, which is less than what we spend in a week in Iraq. And this is a battle that's been raging on America's border, virtually neglected for years.
Now, we hear that President Obama is preparing to up the support. He's going to send additional DEA and ATF agents, increase in intelligence sharing. He's trying to prevent the American weapons being smuggled in, arming both sides. Has now kicked off a trade dispute.
But, I mean, where has all this been for the last seven years?
COOPER: Tactically what are the options now, though?
WARE: Well, it's a tough, tough fight. And the way it's being fought right now, it can't be won.
WARE: Essentially, this war is akin to an insurgency. The cartels across the country on most estimates have about 100,000 foot soldiers, many of them better armed than the police and the military.
So what's at stake here are the people, the hearts and minds of the people. You start making people feel -- in cities like Juarez and Tijuana feel safe, then they can point out the cartels. The cartels will have to shift and move. But that's not going to happen.
So you've got two extremes, Anderson. This war is being fueled by America's demand for illicit drugs. You either curb that demand or you legalize it. That takes away the profit motive. Or you have to militarize.
COOPER: The attorney general of Mexico says, "Look, you're not going to be able to stop demand in the United States."
COOPER: There's no way you're going to be able to do that. It's most likely not going to be legalized.
What they're saying -- and they're saying that they are seeing some success, that they are breaking down these larger cartels and trying to make it no longer a Mexican national security issue and make it just smaller drug gangs and make it more of a police issue, which can be handled by police.
WARE: Well, meanwhile, we're seeing the development of a thing called the "Federacion," the federation. I mean, this is some of the biggest drug cartels, who are operating independently, form a union.
Then we see the Gulf cartel and this other group called the Los Zetas. The Los Zetas were formed by Mexican military Green Berets, who deserted and then became the for-hire hit men. And now they're running their own cartel with the Gulf cartel.
I'm telling you, the Obama administration has to find a third way between settling demands and essentially assuming military responsibility.
COOPER: Recent Pentagon report says Mexico, like Pakistan, could be a failed state. It could be on the brink of that.
We're going to be down there Wednesday and Thursday, broadcasting a special 360. Michael, thanks. We'll have Michael there, as well.
This week we're not just reporting from here, as I said. We're going to be reporting on "The War Next Door" from the border starting Wednesday night. We'll be live at the front lines. Also from Mexico, a country, as we've been talking about, on the edge.