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Mexico sends 1,500 extra soldiers to border city

Mexico has deployed 1,500 more troops to Ciudad Juarez following a surge in homicides in the border city related to the drug trade.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Mexico has deployed 1,500 more troops to the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, where homicides related to the drug trade have surged in recent weeks.

The resurgent bloodshed raises doubts about the government's goal of returning law enforcement and security duties to a reconstituted Ciudad Juarez police force later this year.

The extra soldiers will begin patrolling the city Monday, said Enrique Torres Valadez, the spokesman for the joint security operation of soldiers and state police in Ciudad Juarez.

A total of 2,500 troops arrived Saturday night in the city across the border from El Paso, Texas, Torres said, though about 1,000 of them are relieving soldiers already on duty there.

Drug-related killings in Ciudad Juarez declined to about one per day after the army sent some 5,000 troops there in March, bringing the number of soldiers patrolling the streets to about 7,000.

More intelligence work needed
As homicides declined, some troops withdrew. But last week, the Chihuahua state attorney general's office said killings in Ciudad Juarez have risen again to an average of eight to nine per day. State officials haven't given a reason for the increase.

But Victor Clark, an drug-trafficking expert based in the northern city of Tijuana, said it shows the troop deployment is not working. While soldiers have stepped up street patrols, there has been little intelligence work aimed at capturing the top drug lords in Ciudad Juarez — or the corrupt politicians and businessmen who protect and finance them.

"I see two wars, the visible and the invisible one. The visible one is the dead that the media reports on every day, but the dead are just cheap labor," said Clark, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana. "The invisible one is ... the business class and the politicians who really benefit from the millions that the drug trade generates."

"The army had not carried out profound intelligence work," he added. "In Juarez, they have not dared to touch that level of organized crime."

President Felipe Calderon has relied heavily on the military in his frontal attack on drug trafficking, deploying more than 45,000 troops across the country to crush brutal cartels.

The offensive has led to the capture of several drug kingpins, and last month, federal agents took the battle to an unprecedented level with the arrest of 10 mayors in western Michoacan state on suspicion of protecting La Familia cartel.

Few high-profile arrests so far
So far, however, few high-profile arrests have taken place in Ciudad Juarez, even though it had about 1,600 drug-related killings last year, more than any other Mexican city. Through mid-June of this year, there have been 800 killings in the city of about 1.3 million people.

Nationwide, more than 10,800 people have been killed in drug violence since Calderon launched his offensive in December 2006.

With the deployment Saturday, 5,500 troops are now in Ciudad Juarez with another 1,300 patrolling surrounding areas.

Local, state and federal forces will step up patrols in the most dangerous parts of the city and increase checks of suspicious vehicles, Chihuahua state Public Safety Secretary Victor Valencia said last week.

Local police have been working alongside the army, which is scheduled to begin withdrawing later this year.

The federal government is recruiting, equipping and training Ciudad Juarez police with the goal of bringing the force to about 2,500 by September and 3,000 by the end of the year.

But the force, which currently numbers 1,200 officers, has lost people faster than it can replace them. More than 900 agents were fired, resigned or retired last year.

Some were dismissed after failing psychological, background and other checks as part of a campaign to clean up the department. But others quit after watching colleagues gunned down by drug gangs or seeing their names turn up on hit lists left in public.