MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government said Wednesday it has allowed U.S. drones to fly over its territory to gather intelligence on drug traffickers, but insisted the operations were under its control.
The country's National Security Council said in a statement that the unmanned aircraft have flown over Mexico on specific occasions, mainly along the border with the U.S., to gather information at the request of the Mexican government.
The flights expand the U.S. role in the drug war, in which Americans already have been training Mexican soldiers and police as well as cooperating on other intelligence.
"When these operations are carried out, they are always done with the authorization, oversight and supervision of national agencies, including the Mexican Air Force," the council said.
It said Mexico always defines the objectives, the information to be gathered and the specific tasks in which the drones will be used and insisted that the operations respected Mexican law, civil and human rights.
The drones "have been particularly useful in achieving various objectives of combating crime and have significantly increased Mexican authorities' capabilities and technological superiority in its fight against crime," the council said.
The drone operations were first reported Wednesday by The New York Times.
Mexican politicians have often criticized the involvement of U.S. agencies on Mexican soil. Last week, the Mexican Senate voted to summon Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, to talk about allegations that U.S. agents allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico as part of investigations into drug trafficking.
Mexican Sen. Luis Alberto Villareal said direct U.S. involvement "violates trust and undermines national sovereignty."
More than 35,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon launched a stepped-up offensive against the cartels in late 2006.
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