Mexico launches new army operation against “Zetas”

Thousands of Mexican army troops and federal police have been mobilized to the Texas border in a new offensive against the “Zetas,” paramilitary wing of the powerful Gulf Cartel. Authorities pledge to hunt down the Zetas and raid their safe-houses. “Since the first of January we have changed our operations,” said Patricio Patiño Arias, deputy minister for intelligence and strategy at Mexico’s Public Security Ministry. “It’s no longer just patrolling, but rather a direct fight, a direct fight against specific objects, against specific targets that has grown out of important intelligence work.”

Federal agents killed three presumed Zetas and captured ten others in Rio Bravo Jan. 7. The detained suspects—including two residents of Detroit and one from Texas—were taken to Mexico City and paraded before the media before being jailed to await trial. Five soldiers and five federal police officers were wounded in the shoot-out, which began when federal agents chased down a van full of men carrying assault weapons. The suspects took shelter and began throwing grenades, Patiño said.

The Monitor newspaper of McAllen, TX, reported that relatives of the man from Texas, identified as Esteban Valdez de los Santos of Pharr, say he was an innocent bystander and are demanding his release.

The day after the Rio Bravo shoot-out, two federal agents were killed and two wounded when armed men attacked a patrol of the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI) in Reynosa. The suspects escaped and remain at large.

On Jan. 9, President Felipe Calderón met with police chiefs from around the country and held a minute of silence for the hundreds of police and soldiers killed in the war on cartels. “There have already been a lot of federal, state and municipal police, soldiers and marines who have lost their lives, especially in the last year, to guarantee the security of Mexicans,” Calderón said.

“These events show us that the battle, as we predicted, would not be easy and that much remains to be done,” Calderon said in the Mexico City meeting, vowing his administration will fight on “until taking back complete control of public life in the country.”

Since the Reynosa shoot-out, some 15 supposed Zetas have been detained. The newspaper Hoy Tamaulipas reports that the northern zone of the state along the Texas border is “covered in federal forces.”

“We are working closely with the armed forces,” Patiño Arias said. “There are 2,300 troops, and they are redeployed at highway checkpoints and urban checkpoints in order to have a presence throughout the state. There is air power in Tamaulipas – planes, helicopters.” (Hoy Tamaulipas, Jan. 12; Dallas Morning News, La Jornada, El Universal, Jan. 10; AP via Houston Chronicle, Jan. 9)

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