Photos: Mexico Under Siege

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  1. A tattooed man stands on a hill overlooking Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, on Dec. 20, 2008. Cartels have launched a wave of violence against the government of President Felipe Calderon since it began a crackdown on organized crime in 2006. According to the attorney general’s office there were 5,370 drug-related homicides in the year to Dec. 2, 2008. That is double the 2007 number. Juarez alone saw an estimated 1,600 such slayings. And the deaths can be horrific – victims have been tortured, beheaded or dissolved in acid. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Inside the car where Marisela Granados de Molinar was killed on Dec. 3 alongside her boss, Jesus Martin Huerta Hiedra, a deputy prosecutor in the Mexican city of Juarez. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Federal police search cars at an impromptu checkpoint near the U.S. border on Nov. 10, 2008. In the late 1980s the United States stemmed the flow of cocaine from South America through the traditional trade routes in the Caribbean. Looking for alternate ways into the U.S., South American cartels began to run drugs through Central America and Mexico, and now the vast majority of illegal drugs flow through this corridor. Facing the recent slew of deaths and corruption scandals among all levels of the police, the government has deployed 45,000 soldiers to fight the cartels as well. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Missing person signs litter the walls of local police stations in Juarez. Kidnapping is integral to the drug-running business and the general lawlessness accompanying it. Before the latest surge in drug violence, Juarez was infamous for another gruesome string of crimes – the kidnapping and murder of young women. There have been 508 such incidents since 1993, according to the state government. When the bodies do show up, many have been raped and mutilated. Many believe that most of these deaths are related to gang initiation rituals. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. El Diario newspaper's Armando Rodriquez was murdered outside his home while warming up his car on Nov. 13, 2008. The 40-year-old crime reporter was killed in front of his 8-year-old daughter who he was about to drive to school. Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Since 2000, 25 have been killed there. In addition, seven journalists have disappeared since 2005. Many reporters refuse to put their bylines on stories, and many newspapers have stopped covering the drug gangs altogether. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The body of El Diario's Rodriquez -- killed in his car outside his house while his family watched in November 2008 -- is taken away in a body bag by an ambulance. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A U.S. official stands beside a recently discovered cache of drugs on the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border crossing. In December, the United States delivered $197 million to Mexico, the first stage of a $400-million package to buy high-tech surveillance aircraft, airport inspection equipment, and case-tracking software to help police share intelligence. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Men and boys shoot heroin in a "picadero," or shooting gallery, in Ciudad Juarez on the banks of the Rio Grande, just across from the United States. Thousands of picaderos, some serving as many as 100 customers a day, are said to exist in Juarez alone. Drug use and addiction among Mexicans has exploded recently, with the number of known addicts almost doubling to 307,000 in six years. Most experts assume these numbers dramatically undercount the problem. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Patrons and workers mingle at Hollywood strip club in downtown Juarez. With American sex tourism on the decline due to the dramatic increase in murder and violence, the few remaining strip clubs have become common hangouts for narcotics traffickers, or ‘narcos.’ (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A man walks in front of 24-hour funeral parlor. The death industry is booming in Juarez where an estimated 1,600 people were murdered in 2008. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Neighbors and family of slain Alberto Rodriquez, 28, watch and cry as the authorities descend on the crime scene. Rodriguez was killed in his car outside his house while his family watched. (Shaul Schwarz) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A bus carrying women and children drives by the site where David Rodriguez Gardea, 42, and Antonio Bustillos Fierro, 38, were gunned down on Nov. 12, 2008. The agents had led an investigation resulting in the arrests of gang members suspected in dozens of murders. The cartels are killing police officers at an unprecedented rate, especially at the border. Gangs have been breaking into police radio frequencies to issue death threats. "You're next, bastard ... We're going to get you," an unidentified drug gang member said over the police radio in the city of Tijuana after naming a policeman, Reuters reported recently. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A U.S. border patrol officer stands behind bullet-scared bullet-proof glass on the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border. Although border agents do not get shot at often they are self-described "sitting ducks." The cartels and drug traffickers send messages of terror through such examples. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The casket of David Miranda Ramirez, 36, is carried by fellow police at his funeral on Nov. 13, 2008. An estimated 50 of Ciudad Juarez’s police officers were killed in 2008 in incidents blamed on drug gangs. Many officers have quit out of fear for their lives, often after their names have appeared on hit lists left in public. While some police have been killed, others are being lured into cooperating with the cartels. Theses gangs have “enormous economic power, and behind that, enormous power to corrupt and intimidate,” says Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Family of slain police officer Miranda Ramirez mourn his loss at his funeral. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 3/24/2009 8:29:16 PM ET 2009-03-25T00:29:16

Hundreds of federal agents, along with high-tech surveillance gear and drug-sniffing dogs, are headed to the Southwest to help Mexico fight drug cartels and keep violence from spilling across the U.S.-Mexico border, Obama administration officials said Tuesday.

The border security initiative, which expands on efforts begun during the Bush administration, is aimed at drug traffickers who have wreaked havoc in Mexico in recent years and are blamed for a spate of kidnappings and home invasions in some U.S. cities.

The plan was announced as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton prepares to travel Wednesday to Mexico for the start of several weeks of high-level meetings between the two countries on the drug violence issue. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder are expected to meet with Mexican officials in early April.

The Obama administration's multi-agency plan includes nearly 500 agents and support personnel. However, officials did not say where the additional agents would come from or how long they would stay at the border.

Napolitano said officials were still considering whether to deploy the National Guard to the Arizona and Texas borders with Mexico, which the governors had requested.

Concern from GOP
Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said the combined efforts of the U.S. and Mexican governments would "destroy these criminal organizations."

Rep. Lamar Smith, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said he was happy to see the administration getting more aggressive with the cartels, but he worried about what would see less attention in the U.S.

"I am concerned that when you're taking almost 500 law enforcement agents from one place to another, wherever place they're leaving is going to be understaffed and will mean that some laws are not being enforced," said Smith, R-Texas.

Authorities said they will increase the number of immigrations and customs agents, drug agents and antigun trafficking agents operating along the border. The government also will allow federal funds to be used to pay for local law enforcement involved in southwestern border operations, and send more U.S. officials to work inside Mexico.

A fight in U.S., not just Mexico
Prosecutors say they will make a greater effort to go after those smuggling guns and drug profits from the U.S. into Mexico.

Napolitano acknowledged that the fight against the drug cartels is not just in Mexico but in the U.S. where the drugs are sold.

"This is a supply issue, and it's a demand issue," she said. To address the demand, she cited funding set aside for drug courts in the recent stimulus package. She said these drug courts "have been very effective in reducing recidivism among drug offenders."

The administration is also highlighting $700 million that Congress has already approved to support Mexico's efforts to fight the cartels.

Officials said President Barack Obama is particularly concerned about killings in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, and that he wants to prevent such violence from spilling over into the United States.

Among the moves the government is making:

Napolitano said her department has already seen success with stepped-up efforts.

"For example, the communities — the border towns themselves — some of them are actually reporting a decrease in violent crime," she said.

In Texas, border counties and cities have largely escaped the spillover of violence that has affected cities such as Phoenix and Atlanta.

In El Paso, for instance, police responded to fewer than 20 homicides in 2008, while their counterparts across the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez have handled more than 2,000 killings since January 2008. The situation is similar in Laredo, which shares a border with Nuevo Laredo, and McAllen, just across the Rio Grande from Reynosa.

The plans announced Tuesday fall short of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's request last month that 1,000 troops be sent to bolster border security in his state.

Perry said Tuesday that Washington has ignored the border for too long.

"We have been successful in spite of Washington's lack of focus on the border," said Perry, a Republican.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, also a Republican, praised the government's plan as "a great first step."

Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, said the additional federal agents and technology will help, but National Guard troops are needed. In addition, the Obama administration should boost funding for local governments and tribal governments "to respond to the clearly increased threat of violence and kidnappings," Brewer said.

While Mexico wants the U.S. take more responsibility in the drug fight, officials south of the border have also bristled at the increasing "militarization" of the border.

Mexico officials are likely to welcome the stepped up efforts north of the border, but they have argued that much of the border security added recently has made illegal immigration more dangerous and done little to nothing to crack down on the illegal weapons trade.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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