Mexican soldiers detaining and disarming our active-duty soldiers on our own soil is a bigger story than what either the government or media is making of it. We spend roughly $716 billion on the military every year and spent trillions in the Middle East, but our own territory remains unsafe not only for our ranchers, but evidently for our own active-duty military.
Here’s what we know so far from NORTHCOM and from the serious incident report obtained by Newsweek. On April 13, in broad daylight, five or six Mexican soldiers crossed over the Rio Grande River, which is our definitive international border, forced two U.S. Army soldiers out of an unmarked Customs and Border Protection (CBP) truck, disarmed one of them, asserted that the U.S. soldiers were on Mexico’s territory, and left. Our government is very clear that our soldiers were on our side of the river, but they suggest that Mexican soldiers might have been confused about the border line. The State Department, CBP, and the Department of Defense (DOD) have all declined to comment on whether our government has solicited a response or an apology from the government in Mexico City.
While government officials will not provide more details, what we know raises some disturbing questions about both the intentions of these Mexican soldiers and the readiness, strategy, mindset, and rules of engagement of our military at the border. This incident further raises some uncomfortable questions about our government’s understanding of the border and willingness to confront the severity of the problem of the cartels and the rogue Mexican army units covering for them, according to two Texas border experts who spoke to CR.
Jaeson Jones, a retired captain of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division, told CR that he is deeply concerned about this incident. “While those of us who have been stationed in west Texas and worked the border for decades understand the regular reality of Mexican military incursions and ops testing our positions, this latest incident is in fact more alarming,” he said.
Jones emphatically believes that these were rogue Mexican soldiers engaged in operations on behalf of the cartels to test the strength and tactics of our recently deployed military.
“I can assure you that cartel leadership working the area were debriefed as to the type of weapons and communications our soldiers were carrying: [Whether] the vehicle was armored and the level of resistance the Mexican military received from our soldiers. The response time would have also been measured as to how long it took for backup to arrive post-incident. Cartel operations on U.S. soil are very calculated. They involve tradecraft and the utilization of encrypted communications to monitor all U.S law enforcement in the area.”
What did the Mexican military and cartels learn from this incident? Jones told me that from years of debriefing top cartel members, he is confident they are “testing our defensive capabilities at the border and protecting shipments of contraband for the cartels.”
“We have seen again and again where corrupt Mexican military units working for the Mexican cartels provide counter surveillance, intelligence, tradecraft, and technical equipment to protect narcotics being smuggled into the United States.”
Jones was very critical of the lack of preparation of our military and said the cartels have now learned that even when we send down active-duty troops, “our U.S. soldiers on the border are a paper tiger.”
“Most concerning is that our soldiers are not given the weapons needed to protect themselves, nor are they granted the authority to conduct detentions while assigned to the border. I have said this for years as someone who has assigned my intelligence officers to train our incredible soldiers with the National Guard and Counterdrug National Guard forces on the cartels’ capabilities prior to deployment. If we as Americans are going to send these great soldiers into harm’s way, we need to give all of them the equipment to protect themselves and the authority to do the job.”
Col. Dan Steiner, a retired Air Force veteran who served as the director of joint operations for Texas military forces until 2010, is equally concerned about this development. As a man who directed coordination between the Texas Military Forces and NORTHCOM for many years, which included joint coordination with Mexican military units, Steiner is not buying the narrative that these were non-corrupted Mexican soldiers who just happened to get lost in the brush and mistakenly thought our soldiers were on their soil.
First of all, this was 2:00 p.m., not midnight in a rainstorm. How do Mexican soldiers dismount their vehicle, cross the river, encounter a vehicle, and then get called back to their vehicle, and the whole thing was just “confusion”?
He noted that given the size of the unit and location of the soldiers, “They were probably infantry, if not special ops, in a small-team unit movement, which means it’s bullcrap that they didn’t know they crossed the river.”
Steiner observes that the fact that none of the soldiers had markings or patches indicating they were part of the military is a “dead giveaway” that this was likely a “sanitized mission” as part of a special operation to cover for the cartels.
“Why did five to six Mexican soldiers not have all their proper identification on their uniforms? In our world, that’s called a sanitized mission. So, if we are to assume that SEDENA [the Mexican army] was running a sanitized operation on the border, then we must assume that the kind of soldiers that will do that mission are trained to the point that they sure as hell would have known if they crossed that river or not. So, there’s something else to the story. And it sure the hell is not accidental encounter.”
Steiner also ruled out the idea that this could have been some routine patrol scouting out drug routes against the cartels and that they just crossed wires with our military. “If they were on routine patrol, think about how you put an operational mission together. If you design an op and your operation is designed upon eight four-man teams who are going to check the border in this sector to do this, this, and this, well … SEDENA has a deconfliction team at NORTHCOM to sort that out. Why wouldn’t NORTHCOM know that from, say, the 21st to the fifth of the month, we’re going to do this operation in this area, and NORTHCOM says, ‘Cool, we’ll do an operation in that same area as you guys are doing it to help you out.’”
“If NORTHCOM is sitting there saying it was just a misunderstanding and confusion, then tell me the rest of the story – were you guys doing a joint operation and the ground soldiers got it screwed up, or did you not know about it and now you’re just making up some lame-ass story about bushes and barely any water and these guys walk across the river at two o’clock in the afternoon?”
“Come on, if you’re gonna do a cover story, you gotta do better than that,” said the skeptical Steiner.
Regardless of the intent and strategy of the Mexican soldiers, Steiner was also befuddled by the strategy of our military to set up a mobile observational listening post in such a vulnerable position. “Why were our soldiers in an unmarked vehicle when they were trying to be a physical deterrent with their physical presence? I never wrote a mission that way. Why were they only armed with a handgun for their rules of engagement with the probability of running into drug cartels who are armed to the teeth? … I don’t understand that. That was a stupid politically driven decision, probably at the operational level.”
When Steiner coordinated a Texas National Guard operation in 2008, he made it clear that “our starting point was that any soldier who goes to the border goes with a long gun and a handgun.”
“I can guarantee you we never had guys on the border in an unmarked vehicle with nothing but a handgun. That part of that story hit me square in the face. That tells you how reluctant everyone is to really press the issue.”
The tepid response is most concerning to Steiner from the standpoint of international deterrent to Russia, China, and other enemies who will seek to further entrench themselves in our backyard to destabilize our sovereignty. “The most dangerous thing is that our enemies understand and look for our vulnerabilities. And if I want you out [of] the Pacific, if I want you to stop worrying about the future of NATO, or anything else, I’m going to create a fire in your backyard.”
The ultimate question is this: Why hasn’t our military taken control of our border and established a buffer zone, where the central Mexican government clearly lacks control anyway, so that not a single inch of American soil is unsafe or vulnerable to external security threats? This is a question Rep. Chip Roy, who represents part of south central Texas, asked on Twitter in response to this Mexican incursion into our territory.
Here’s what confounds me – it was north of the river. This is backwards. It’s about time to establish a perimeter south of the river… on our terms.
— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) April 23, 2019
We spend $46 billion a year on Afghanistan at the drop of a hat, but won’t do what needs to be done at our own border against those who directly threaten us. Sadly, things will likely have to get worse until it becomes politically viable to treat our own border with the same seriousness with which we regard the security of the perimeter around Kabul.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.