Thursday, November 3, 2011

Border Insecurity: The War in Texas

When presidential candidates casually toss out a talking point about “the need to secure our border,” that bland phrase doesn’t even remotely convey the catastrophic reality of life along the Rio Grande. Our rhetoric needs to catch up.

The Texas Department of Agriculture released a fascinating but alarming report late last month entitled Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment. It confirms what rural Texan farmers and ranchers already know: that our fight against narco-terrorism has taken on “the classic trappings of a real war” and that “all of Central and South America have become an interconnected source of violence and terrorism,” with Texas as “operational ground zero.”

The fact that the Department of Agriculture is now conducting strategic military assessments instead of crop reports is in itself an eye-opening indication of how serious the war being waged at our southern border has become. Compiled by 4-star General Barry McCaffrey, former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and former Commander of all U.S. troops in Central and South America, and Major-General Robert Scales, former Commandant of the U.S. Army War College, the report offers “sobering evidence of cartel criminals gaining ground on Texas soil.”

Driven by astronomical profits (between $19 billion and $39 billion in illicit proceeds move though smuggling operations to Mexico each year), the cartels are waging what is essentially a civil war for control of Mexico, and a simultaneous invasion – that word is not too strong to describe it – of Texas. The report’s crime statistics are jaw-dropping. Six of seven cartels have established command and control facilities in Texas cities that rival even the most sophisticated battalion- or brigade-level combat headquarters.

The report notes that the strategic intent of the ruthless, heavily armed drug cartels is essentially to create a “sanitary zone” one county deep inside the Texas border, which would provide sanctuary from Mexican law enforcement. It would also simultaneously enable the cartels to transform Texas’ border counties into narcotics transshipment points for transport and distribution into the continental United States.

The foot soldiers of the cartels waging this war in Texas are “transnational gang members,” many of them drawn from prison gangs. These gangs not only have long been expanding in Texas (225 different documented gangs in the Houston area alone) and across the U.S., but constitute a tightly knit network of cooperation and connectivity that has been growing between prison gangs and the Mexican cartels.

A Reuters report last week notes that the cartels, which now have operations in all major Texas cities, have even begun recruiting children as young as eleven – whom they refer to as “expendables” – to carry out errands for them like running drugs or acting as lookouts. They know that children are less suspicious than adults, are easily seduced by relatively small sums of money, and face less severe penalties than adults if arrested.

What’s it like for the ranchers and farmers living in the crossfire of these border counties abutting the failed Mexican state?

Living and conducting business in a Texas border county is tantamount to living in a war zone in which civil authorities, law enforcement agencies as well as citizens are under attack around the clock... News of shootings, murders, kidnappings, beheadings, mass graves and other acts of violence coming across the border go far beyond any definition of “spillover violence.”

Many farmers and ranchers are intimidated into silence by the cartels that operate openly on their land; many have even quit their livelihood and moved away. The report includes a cavalcade of “fearful and deeply concerned” statements from local ranchers and farmers like these:

Been ranching since 1923. Most farmers and ranchers around the nation they find a dead cow, and that’s one thing, but just to find dead people, and lots of them, is really something else.

We have had several instances where the guys, the bad guys take bolt cutters and just cut our locks off and do whatever they want. Come in the farm.

I’m afraid that I’ll be down here with my daughter or my wife checking on something and somebody comes out and shoots somebody. There have been incidents along the river where they have found machine guns. They’ve seen people with machine guns.
We are in a war. We are in a war and I’m not going to sugar coat it by any means. We are in a war and it is what it is.

What’s being done to confront the cartels on a military level? The Texas Rangers lead a cooperative program that brings together federal, state and local agencies into a force with ground, air and marine assault capability. Ranger Reconnaissance Teams are the tactical combat elements. But budget cuts have severely constrained the ability of Texas to rely on its federal partners and their resources to expand border operations against an increasingly ruthless and adaptive enemy.

The report offers recommendations in several areas:

Communications and networking: All the players must be connected by an integrated system that networks all land, air and maritime communications.

Operations: Federal border security agencies must continue to support the joint operational framework being implemented by the Texas Rangers. More “boots on the ground” are needed, including greater participation by the National Guard. All agencies involved should establish an alliance for planning, intelligence sharing, communications and synchronized operations.

Intelligence: More sophisticated cross-border technical and human intelligence collection about the enemy must be coupled with a clearer digital picture of the battlefield.

Technology: Centralized technologies must be developed to detect, track, assess, interdict and prosecute criminals along the border region.
Education: Texas and its federal partners must bring together all participants into a single virtual classroom to learn the detailed procedures, statutes, doctrine, organizations, tactical methods and rules of engagement.

At a time when the Obama administration is sending $5.3 billion for 2012 to our Pakistani “allies” against terrorism, aiding Islamic militants in Libya to the tune of about a billion dollars (two billion by some estimates), failing to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan, and sending military advisors to Uganda, it’s critical that the administration comprehend the need for and provide the resources and support necessary to win our border war in Texas.

(This article first appeared here at FrontPage Mag, 11/4/11)