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Video: The War Next Door: Mexico's vicious battle

  1. Transcript of: The War Next Door: Mexico's vicious battle

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Now to a war going on right next door to this country in Mexico , where the government is in a fierce fight with the drug cartels , which also have operations in at least what's estimated to be 270 American cities and where they're bringing in up to $39 billion a year from the drug trade in the US. We'll be focusing on this dangerous and violent war next door in Mexico in an ongoing series of special reports. Tonight, NBC 's Mark Potter on the extent of the narco insurgency.

    MARK POTTER reporting: With terror in the streets just south of the US border, the Mexican government is struggling to keep a lid on the rapidly escalating violence that has now claimed 28,000 lives in a nearly four-year drug war , pitting cartel against cartel and against the government . The savagery is hard to imagine, with mass killings, beheadings and corpses strewn in public as traffickers lash out against rivals and the authorities. Tony Payan of the University of Texas at El Paso is an expert on Mexican drug cartels .

    Mr. TONY PAYAN (University of Texas At El Paso): You could say they're a kind of an insurgency. They're beginning to learn and to use tactics that are generally associated with insurgency.

    Mr. ANTHONY COULSON (Former Drug Enforcement Administration Supervisor): It's getting worse. I have never seen it at this level before.

    POTTER: Anthony Coulson is a recently retired DEA supervisor in Tuscon , Arizona . He says the Mexican traffickers produce more drugs and are stronger now than ever.

    Mr. COULSON: And they're flourishing as an -- as almost an empire, a drug empire.

    POTTER: Mexican President Felipe Calderon is waging an unprecedented war against the drug cartels , and warns the traffickers threaten civil order and the state. So far five mayors have been killed this year, and a gubernatorial candidate was shot dead on a highway.

    Mr. JOSE REYES FERRIZ (Juarez, Mexico, Mayor): The state is not prepared to handle that type of situation. The police forces in Mexico are too small.

    POTTER: Jose Reyes Ferriz is the mayor of Juarez , Mexico , where 2800 people were killed in drug violence last year. He travels with tight security. How many threats do you get, and how seriously are they taken?

    Mr. FERRIZ: Oh, well, we take them very seriously. We started getting threats right after I took office.

    POTTER: In downtown Juarez , next to El Paso , Texas ...

    Mr. FERRIZ: This is the place where the -- where the bomb exploded.

    POTTER: ...Mayor Reyes showed us where a car bomb aimed at police killed three people. This -- when this car bomb went off, this was a real ratcheting up of the violence here, correct?

    Mr. FERRIZ: It was. It was. There was -- had never been used in Juarez .

    POTTER: To lure police to the scene, traffickers shot a man, dressed him in a police uniform, laid him on the street, called for help, then when federal police arrived set off a remote controlled bomb caught on tape. Since then there have been other car bombs in Mexico , and traffickers threaten more. The horrific violence here in Juarez and elsewhere in Mexico is directly linked to the United States , as traffickers fight for control of smuggling routes to the United States . Anyone standing in the way is a target for murder. In Creole , Mexico , a police security camera revealed the brazenness of drug traffickers , who shut down a highway, threatened drivers and kill nine people here. Many villages near the border have become ghost towns after the traffickers threatened or killed the residents to clear the way for drug loads bound for US cities .

    Mr. DAVID GADDIS (Drug Enforcement Administration): We, too, have to look at it seriously in our country. It is our country's number one organized crime threat.

    POTTER: A hard-fought war by the Mexican government , supported by the US, but still far from being won. Mark Potter , NBC News, Juarez , Mexico .

    WILLIAMS: By the way, there's more of Mark 's reporting on this topic. It's on our Web

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