Neighborhood Watch

By Carlo Muñoz / March 2, 2009 at 5:00 AM

This week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon will begin providing military support to counternarcotics operations led by the Mexican government. During an interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Gates said the Defense Department will conduct training for Mexican counternarcotics officials, as well as provide intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities to those forces.

"I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past. Some of the old biases against cooperation between our militaries and so on, I think, are being satisfied," Gates said. Those biases have declined, he added, due to Mexican President Felipe Calderon's increased efforts to take on the cartels operating in the country.

Last month's execution of Mexican Brig. Gen. Marco Enrique Tello Quinonez, which was linked to cartel leaders, was the latest event in a recent escalation of violence between the cartels and Mexican officials.

Those cartels pose a serious threat to U.S. national security, according to U.S. Joint Forces Command's 2008 Joint Operating Environment assessment released late last year. In the report, JFCOM strategists stated the destabilizing effect of Mexico's drug traffickers had put the country on par with Pakistan in terms of the possibility of a "rapid and sudden collapse."

The "sustained assault" on the Mexican government by the cartels has weakened Calderon's control over the country, the report states. "Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone," it adds.

Last month, Inside the Pentagon reported that JFCOM commander Gen. James Mattis planned to sit down with Mexican diplomats to discuss the JOE's findings.

While noting the ongoing war between the cartels and the Mexican government is "clearly a serious problem," Gates said the increased violence is an unfortunate side effect to Calderon's successful counternarcotics campaign. "I think people need to point out is the courage that Calderon has shown in taking this on," Gates said. "Because one of the reasons it's gotten as bad as it has is because his predecessors basically refused to do that."