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Military Support to Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies



Violence perpetrated by Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) increased dramatically in 2006 and continued to rise dramatically through 2010.  According to the National Drug Intelligence Center’s “National Drug Threat Assessment, 2010”, published in February 2010, “Mexican DTOs dominate the transportation of illicit drugs across the Southwest Border.  They typically use commercial trucks and private and rental vehicles to smuggle cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin…” (National Drug Threat Assessment, 2010).  The increase in DTO activity has resulted in an increase of military involvement in counterdrug operations along the U.S. southwestern border region.  The tables in the appendices outline the statistical extent of the problem and the geographic penetration of Mexican DTOs within the United States.  America’s densely populated southern border with Mexico stretches nearly 2,000 miles in length and possesses several established crossing points.  In areas along northern Mexico, DTOs organize and equip themselves with resources that out match Mexican military forces (McCaffrey 2009).  With these developments, it is necessary to consider increased U.S. military support to drug interdiction along the southwest border, as DTOs are a national security threat that directly plays a role in destabilizing the heavily trafficked areas in both the U.S. and Mexico.

Problem Statement

The problem is to determine what Military Support to Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies (MSCLEA) should be brought to bear against Mexican DTOs to interdict and reduce the flow of drugs across the Southwest Border.

Research Objective

This research aimed at answering and elucidating the following objectives:

  1. What capabilities does the U.S. military already have in the southwest border region to counter drug trafficking?
  2. What is the DTOs current capability to interdict drugs across the border (e.g. weapons, funding, resources)?
  3. What are the American laws and regulations governing the use of MSCLEA?
  4. Is it financially feasible to increase MSCLEA?


The main premise to this research is based on the assumption that increasing the resources used to interdict the drug trafficking in the southwest border region will have a positive impact in disrupting DTOs operations, decreasing the amount of drugs trafficked and aiding in stabilizing the southwest border region.  Some groups advocate other approaches to the problem such as legalization and establishing additional treatment programs for users and abusers of illegal drugs.  Moreover, on the supply side, the assumption is diplomatic pressure on the countries that produce the drugs or assistance to their military and police organizations is necessary to increase the effectiveness.  This proposal assumes that enhanced interdiction efforts on the Southwest border will negatively impact Mexican DTOs and reduce use of illegal drugs within the United States.

Additionally, the results and recommendations for this research assumed that all military assistance falls within Title 32 Duty and Article I, § 8 of the Constitution that allows the National Guard to be used under the command and control of the governor to execute the laws of the Union, in order to suppress rebellion and deter invasions (Withers, 2010 p. 6).

Definition of Terms

Military Support to Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies (MSCLEA):  Technical assistance rendered to civilian law enforcement agencies.  This can include military resources that are not available to civilians such as aerial surveillance, technical assistance with these resources, and tactical advice.  It does not include actual law enforcement powers (Sergienko, 2006, p. 395).

Interdiction efforts:   All efforts used to reduce the flow of illegal drugs into the United States on the ground (or underground) across the Southwest border.  Success equals increased levels of drug seizures.

Southwest border:  The land border between the U.S. and Mexico; also called the U.S.-Mexico border.

Limitations and delimitations

This study is limited to ground interdiction.  Drug smuggling is an incredibly profitable enterprise.  If ground interdiction efforts are to prove effective, it presumes that DTOs would attempt to move their operations into marine and aerial operations.  However, this study will only consider the deployment of marine and aerial assets as they relate to ground operations.  This study will limit its focus of the Southwest to the three major DTO interdiction routes located in Texas, New Mexico, and California.

The strategies proposed or dismissed in this research may or may not be appropriate to compare with the interdiction efforts on other borders such as the northern border with Canada.

This study will be limited to cooperation with civilian law enforcement agencies within the United States.  It will not consider support for Mexican civilian law enforcement agencies nor will it consider cooperation with the Mexican military although it will acknowledge that they are now the lead agency in struggle with DTOs within Mexico.

All proposals for MSCLEA will be governed by the U.S Constitution, relevant U.S. laws and the USNORTHCOM directives on MSCLEA, “Military support to civilian law enforcement is carried out in strict compliance with the Constitution and U.S. laws and under the direction of the president and secretary of defense” (USNORTHCOM).

CHAPTER II: Literature Review

This chapter provides an overview of the literature examined.  It identifies the dominant literature and sources that will provide arguments addressing DTOs drug smuggling, MSCLEAs and the current situation along the Southwest border.  The academic debate concerning MSCLEA on the border focuses primarily on the issue of illegal immigration and second on drug interdiction.  There are only a few books on the topic.  Therefore, research will focus on scholarly articles, government studies, and statistical data available through the U.S. Border Patrol and Department of Enforcement Administration.

Timothy Dunn’s 1996 book, The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1978-1992: Low Intensity Conflict Doctrine Comes Home is a study that compares data collected through interviews with military doctrine, law enforcement, congressional documents, and personal observations.  Dunn’s intent is to illustrate that increased activity along the southwest border escalated forcing military involvement in immigration and drug enforcement to a level unintended by Congress and defense officials.  Dunn provides insight to the difficulty associated with MSCLEA along the southwest border.  This historical data requires comparison to the post 9/11 challenges.

There are numerous government studies and reports related to previous and current U.S. counterdrug program.  The Congressional Research Service (CRS) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) prepared most reports for members of Congress.  The National Drug and Control Policy also have a number of useful products.  Stephen Vina CRS report in 2006, Border Security and Military Support: Legal Authorizations and Restrictions outlines military support legal and policy limitations with in the U.S.  His study states military support to DTO is feasible however, it must be restricted to the employment of Nation Guard for border security missions vice the employment of active duty (GAO, 2003).

The 2010 report Department of Defense Needs to Improve Its Performance Measurement System to Better Manage and oversee Its Counternarcotics Activities demonstrates congressional interest in measures of effectiveness to justify MSCLEA in the early 1990s.  The 1993 Heavy Investment in Military Surveillance is Not Paying Off  report  findings suggest some military assets, such as rotary wing transport and lower-end unmanned aerial vehicles are relatively inexpensive and within the potential budget of federal law enforcement.  Other assets such as large multi-role aircraft and naval vessels, are very expensive operate and maintain.  The GAO (2009) study concluded that military surveillance is costly particularly when modern technology systems designed to detect and control highly sophisticated weapon systems in combat situations are employed against a DTO smuggling threat.

Together, these two reports support content from the recent Washington Office on Latin America report that strongly suggest there must be a separation of military and police roles in America.  George Withers would agree there is a lack of measures of effectiveness justifying military support on the border.

The GAO study, Secure Border Initiative: Observations on Deployment Challenges discusses the challenges of integrating sensors and obstacles along the 2000-mile Southwest border.  Conversely,  the 2007 report, U.S. Assistance Has Helped Mexican Counternarcotics Efforts, but Tons of Illicit Drugs Continue to Flow Into the United States clearly demonstrates the difficulties of combating the supply of drugs.  This study bring about discussion to identify the gaps in capability could be leveraged with unique available military resources.

The Rise of Mexican Drug Cartel and U.S. National Security hearing conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice illustrated the success of interagency cooperation against targeting DTOs.  The report provides an overview of the capability of the DTOs operating along the southwest border and describes their ability to conduct drug trafficking, kidnapping, bribery, extortion, money laundering and smuggling of profits, and trafficking and use of dangerous firearms.  The report concludes that the best strategy to combat the full spectrum of the drug cartels’ operations is a holistic approach that employs the full spectrum of our law enforcement agencies and its resources, expertise, and statutory authorities.

The Mexican border states have become much like a war zone with heavily armed military units on the street (since the President deemed local police too corrupt to deal with the cartels) and frequent firefights between the military and the cartels.  According to L.A. Times, as of November 29, 2010, 28,288 people have died in Mexico since January 2007 because of the drug wars.  In relative terms, that number is higher than the number of American troops that have died in Iraq in the last seven years (Mexico under Siege – The Drug War on Our Doorstep, 2010).

“Mexico Under Siege – The Drug War on Our Doorstep”, is an L.A. Times website that includes all of their coverage of drug smuggling along the Southwest border along with interactive maps, links to television coverage and a host of other information.  This website is the principle primary source for details of recent events and media coverage of the situation.  Additionally, the website “Drug Trafficking in Mexico” maintained by traces the history of the drug trafficking between Mexico and the U. S. from 1998-2009.  This website provides links to hundreds of other articles on the subject as well.

The Congressional Reporting Service publication “Terrorism: Some Legal Restrictions on Military Assistance to Domestic Authorities Following a Terrorist Attack” by Charles Doyle and Jennifer Elsea presents the legal definition of MSCLEAs in the wake of post 9/11 developments (Doyle and Elsea, 2005).

Increased MSCLEA issues emerged in the 1980s and 1990s with regard to the interdiction of drugs.  However, since 9/11 they have largely revolved around the role of MSCLEA around terrorism related incidents.  The official policy of the United States Army on MSCLEA is contained in the Catastrophic Disaster Response Staff Officer’s Handbook “Appendix I: Legal Considerations/Law Enforcement” published by the United States Army Combined Arms Center in May 2006.  This document is supplemented by a paper prepared by Colonel Thomas W. McShane entitled, “United States Northern Command’s Mission to Provide Military Support to Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies: The Challenge to keep Homeland Security and Civil Liberty Dancing in Step with the Current Legal Music” (2004).

There are varieties of publications that deal with the history of MSCLEA for Counter-drug Operations.  Most of the U.S. policy affecting domestic counterdrug MSCLEA require updates and fails to reflect the realities of the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.  Two of these stand out as having particular importance for this proposal.  The first is The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1978-1992: Low-Intensity Conflict Doctrine Comes Home by Timothy J Dunn, published in 1996.  The second is a Rand Corporation report entitled Sealing the Borders: The Effects of Increased Military Participation in Drug Interdiction written by Peter Reuter, Gordon Crawford, and Jonathan Cave published in 1988.  Both of the documents are dated however, they will provide a historical context to compare to current operations.  Reuter concludes that military support provided in the war on drugs in the 1980s was costly, ineffective, and distracted military forces from preparing for interstate combat missions.

Both documents are roughly twenty years old and this means that their consideration of everything from the technology of interdiction efforts to the scope and influence of DTOs is dated.  On the other hand, both documents precede the emergence of the overwhelming threat of terrorist attacks and therefore the focus is on MSCLEAs in a pre-9/11 context with the emphasis on drug interdiction, not anti-terrorism operations.

Most importantly, both of these documents present a negative image of interdiction efforts.  The U.S. military interdiction efforts, although criticize provides an approach from two different perspectives.  The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1978-1992: Low-Intensity Conflict Doctrine Comes Home published by the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin focuses on the negative effects of the militarization of the border in terms of lost economic opportunities and threats to civil liberties.

More condemning, however, is the Rand Corporation document, Sealing the Borders: The Effects of Increased Military Participation in Drug Interdiction.  It concludes that interdiction efforts in general have little impact on the flow of drugs into the United States.  Furthermore, it concludes that an increase in military involvement did not improve the interdiction effectiveness efforts and was unlikely to do so in the future.  The Rand study strongly suggests that the military cannot be the primary interdiction agency and that a major increase in military support is unlikely to reduce drug consumption significantly in the United States (Reuter, Crawford and Cave, 1988).

The findings are not practical for exploring renewed efforts to employ enhanced MSCLEA in the interdiction effort in the twenty-first century.  There are numerous reservations about applying this study directly to the current situation.  This study will examine interdiction in terms of interdiction (seizure) rates, not reduced consumption, and the price of illicit drugs as examined by the Rand study.

In addition, the circumstances of the drug trade across the Southwestern border have changed considerably over the past nine years, as have the military resources available to employ against interdiction effort.  The DTOs are now using RPGs and other military type weaponry consequently the military has UAVs and other surveillance equipment that was not available in the 1980s.

The Rand study is incredibly important to understanding the history of military involvement in drug interdiction on the Southwest border.  However, the findings do not constitute the final word on the subject today as it is over twenty years old.

It is imperative to examine literature that relates to the policies and procedures for MSCLEAs and the organization of cooperative efforts between the MSCLEAs.  Doctrine for this already exists for both the military and civilian organizations.  The Joint Task Force North, “JTF-North Operational Support Planning Guide 2010” outlines the military perspective on joint military-civilian operations.  The police understanding of the relationship is outlined in “Civilian and Military Law Enforcement Cooperation” published in The Police Chief (Awtry, 2004).

The study Preach What You Practice: The Separation of Military and Police Roles in the Americas argues that military employment to assist law enforcement agencies falls the Posse Comitatus Act limits however, there is no imminent “threat of attack” on the United States.  Therefore, they question the need for a heightened militarization of the southwest border (Withers, Santos, & Isacsoni, 2010 p 8).  This report suggest that instead of supporting a military response, the U.S. government re align its resources to focus on additional aid for police and law enforcement capabilities within Mexico.  They recommend this aid be in the form strengthening law enforcement training, equipment, and technology rather than merely training in counter-drug tactics.

The JTF North website lists the following capabilities as “operational support” the U. S. military is prepared to provide federal law enforcement agencies: aviation transportation, including both insertion and extraction of personnel; aviation reconnaissance; air and maritime surveillance radar; unmanned aircraft systems; ground surveillance radar; listening post and observation post surveillance; ground sensor operations; and ground transportation.  The consensus within NORTHCOM appears to be the military is capable of supplying resources that enhance law enforcement ability to interdict the threats along the southwest border.  Under USNORTHCOM, the military conducts a variety of domestic exercises aimed at using the military and National Guard under the president’s control in a wide range of U.S. homeland emergencies such as terrorist events and even domestic violence.  Which is the threat currently demonstrated by DTOs.  The exercises do not involve any Mexican entities, NORTHCOM suggest that an exchange of military personnel and cadets with Mexico as a means of gaining Mexican involvement in NORTHCOM, as well as regular talks about cooperation could increase the effectiveness of combating DTO activity along the border.

Jose Palafox addresses militarization of the border and the applicability of military counterdrug operations along the U.S.-Mexican border in 1990.  He closely examines the 1996 structure of JTF-6 and then concludes that a JTF consisting of only a brigade-size unit could effectively conduct sustained operations to interdict border drug trafficking along the two-thousand-mile boundary.  JTF-6 was renamed JTF North in a ceremony Sept. 28, 2004, and its mission was expanded beyond the drug war to include providing homeland security support to the nation’s federal law enforcement agencies.

The article states the Pentagon is spent approximately $800 million a year to help enforce the drug trafficking laws alone.  The missions ranged from ground reconnaissance, training, logistics, and research.  In 1995, the Department of Defense transferred military technology equipment to Border Patrol in order to upgrade legacy Vietnam War error equipment.  Due to a joint effort by the Justice and Treasury Departments and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Border Patrol also has its own high-tech Border Research and Technology Center near San Diego.

The article suggests that JTF-6 operations supporting DTO activity was a success and a necessity for future operations between military and civilian organizations.  Although, Border Patrol received significant upgrades gaps along the porous border remain specifically training and intelligence collection.

Major Mark Van Drie’s 1990 monograph titled Drug Interdiction: Can We Stop the New Pancho Villa, addresses the feasibility of military counterdrug operations along the border in the 1990s.  The study states that drugs are a legitimate national security threat and the vulnerability of drug cartels to military operations.  Drie conclusion supports employment of military forces along the border where legal restraints are not clear and domestic opposition is less likely.  He further articulates that effectively securing the southwest border in 1990 would require a cordon force of 65,000 U.S. troops.

Both the article and monograph fail to mention the 1997 tragic death of a U.S. citizen at the hands of a military service member that exposed the difficulties and inherent risks in employing combat focused forces in training missions in support of domestic counterdrug MSCLEA.  Marine Corps Corporal Manuel Banuelos shot and killed Texas high school student Esequiel Hernandez with a single shot from his service rifle.  The incident inspired a backlash against armed military patrols along the border and resulted in cease of the practice.  The current approach is indirect support to law enforcement such as intelligence, engineering, and surveillance (Dunn, 2001, p 14-17).

In summary, this chapter discusses corroborative information relating to drug cartel along US-Mexico borders and its perpetuation within the region which caused escalation of violence, increasing number of death tool and its serious implication to Mexico’s politico-economy as well as its diplomatic relation with nations, specially United States.

The succeeding chapters will discuss the methodology.

CHAPTER III:  Methodology

This chapter tackles the research methodology that will be used to assess the military resource requirements to counter drug activity along the Southwest border.  The author will conduct analysis of secondary information by using (a) timeline analysis to account the historical context about the war on drugs, (b) evaluate the laws and regulations associated with MSCLEA and current MSCLEA support in order to determine the most appropriate MSCLEA to counter drug trafficking along the Southwest border, (c) illustrate key developments in the war on drugs and military involvement in supporting the domestic counterdrug effort and (d) evaluate the significance, extent, resource capacity and feasibility of deploying MSCLEA to assist in the interdiction of DTO’s across the Southwest border.

Research Design

This chapter will examine the issue by means of qualitative and quantitative analyses using variety of sources from media accounts, government reports, academic works, and historical documents.  To a lesser extent, opinion pieces will be used when the information is valid and appropriate opposing viewpoints are available for inclusion. Analysis of the results will provide statistical validity to the interpretation of results for the military and for the other agencies such as drug threats provided by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC).


Sampling is irrelevant in this study. Researcher is not using survey method but will be maximizing secondary information from government reports and earlier studies conducted related to the issue on Mexican drug interdiction. Other related relevant sources will also be inclusively considered.


The study will be conducted within American soil although it will also make use of documents from Mexican government which will be accessed, reviewed and evaluated accordingly.


This is a qualitative and quantitative longitudinal case study that will use a combination of timeline mapping, conflict-analysis, and triangulation to understand the complex and unending illegal drug trade within the region that has been affecting neighboring and the international communities worldwide due to increasing violence within the area despite security management measures. All historical accounts, records, testimonies and researchers from incessant intervention done by the United States of America will be reviewed, analyzed and be maximized in crafting conclusions and recommendations at the end of the study.

Data Collection

To address research objective number three, DTOs current ability to interdict drugs across the border, the author will review publicly available information from books, journal articles, and corroborated news media accounts.  The book, Drug Smugglers on Drug Smuggling, will be used to substantiate data from the perspective, motivation and experiences of DTO smugglers. This book interviews experienced smugglers who at one time successfully in defeated drug interdiction measures.  The purpose of this research objective is to identify the nature and extent of DTO exploitation of US Southwest border. Specifically, this question serves to identify DTO resources and methods that are uniquely vulnerable to US military capabilities or where the US military resources can augment civilian law enforcement agencies.

Researcher will further use all information that can be sourced from government agencies, libraries, online research institutions, magazines, journals, court documents, magazines and journals.

Data Analysis

The author will use historical mapping as an instrument to gather information to assess the length of period and extent of the drug trafficking problem within the region. Historical mapping will also be used to determine the MSCLEA method(s) of involvement introduced by US Southwest region, including the outcome and impact of these interdictions.  Historical mapping will also be used to outline the laws and policies governing MSCLEA that were legislated as a response to countering illegal drug trade in the region. Additionally, analysis of government documents produced by Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) will be analyzed to determine the MSCLEA ability to adequately curtail drug trafficking across the southwest border.

Lastly, the author will identify and compare the relative combat power of DTO’s and US law enforcement personnel operating along the Southwest border.  Determining the capability gap will exhibit the necessary MSCLEA requirement(s) to effectively reinforce the combat power of law enforcement agencies in order to adequately curtail drug trafficking in the region.

As a mixed quantitative and qualitative study, researcher will present an integrated analysis and inferences into coherent conclusions toward a comprehensive and meaningful explication of the subject studied.

Validity and Reliability

This research is undertaken with serious consideration of the international and professional standard. Inferences and sequential presentation of information are drawn from primary and secondary sources that are critically evaluated based on acceptable standards of sources. Some information used came from government authorities and decision-making bodies who are honored with their credibility as authorities of the state. Readers who may conduct follow-up research may triangulate information and database used here to further validate reports.

Ethical Considerations

Researcher observes the highest standard of professional ethics required by the institution. Matters of confidentiality are held sacred while authors, writers, and agencies whose contributions to these subjects are wisely utilized were credited and recognized in the references.

The succeeding chapter will substantially discuss the theme of this study.


Resolving the complex issues on narcotics in the south west border require in-depth reflection on historic interventions made by USA which help increase interdiction on illegal drug-related cartel; evaluate the political capacity of DTO to sustain its illegal operations; triangulate policies of USA in its decision to assist in decreasing the movements of illegal drug trade; and assess the fiscal capacity of the American government to allocate against increasing demand of budget for operations.

US Military Capacity vs Drug Trafficking

In mid-19th century, United States deployed US Army on its southern border and was mandated to protect the border, interdict bandits, secure lives and properties, conduct regular patrolling and support civil law enforcement against illegal drug cartel business (Matthews, 1959). More than a century have passed, USA is still deploying National Guard Soldiers to the Mexican border as post-9/11 politico-military undertakings (Matthews, 1959).

To reckon, from 1846 towards this millennium, US Army sustained its security mandates at the border’s hard and rugged terrain (Matthews, 1959).  Reports mentioned that amid disputes, there is also a demand to increase numbers of soldiers (Matthews, 1959).  This is further compounded with critical Mexican politics and US-Mexican diplomatic relations that is affecting Army’s operations (Matthews, 1959).  Contextualized in such distinct social character, Army’s role was fitted to support to local, state, and Federal civilian agencies. Such nature of intervention is already evident since 1920s (Matthews, 1959).

During President George W. Bush’s administration decided to deploy about 6,000 Army National Guard Soldiers in 2006 to conduct security border patrol as issues relating to potential terrorist infiltration, increase of illegal drug syndicates activity, and leveling-up of apprehension about illegal immigration to United States en route through Mexico (Matthews, 1959). Though this was regarded with disapproval, there is however recognition to improve border security works albeit controversial use of military personnel to support law enforcement (Matthews, 1959). Both America and Mexico shared ambivalent relations since the former tightened its political control in that shared border coupled with cross-border violent aggressions done by Indians and bandits which accordingly increased the level of enmity (Matthews, 1959).

There was however a historic epoch when America and the Mexican governments explored revitalization of goodwill when Major General Philip H. Sheridan waged a campaign against the French.  That provided an opportunity to resolve issues relating to US Army’s disposition at the border from 1870 to 1886, including its inherent weakness about lack of personnel and passive defenses against cross-border raids. It also discussed the raid in Mexico in 1873 led by Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie’s  and that pre-emptive strike led by Lieutenant Colonel William “Pecos Bill” Shafter’s. There was subsequent reduction of attacks but this generated political conflict which grind down American and Mexican goodwill (Matthews, 1959).

In 1911 to 1917, the Mexican Revolution caused insecurity in the border and US soldiers realized that static defenses and patrolling couldn’t cease terrorist raiders who maintained interest to cross the border. This was also same period when Major General Frederick Funston’s attempted to stop the Plan of San Diego plotters and Brigadier General John J. Pershing launched punitive action against Francisco “Pancho” Villa. The military strategies enforced hot pursuits and preemptive strikes into Mexico to restore order to the border (Matthews, 1959). US Army have also conducted responses to WETBACK Operation in 1954 until they increased their presence in 1978 in Mexican border as a response to same issue on illegal US immigration and anti-drug cartel. The military supports for law enforcement at southern border have also evolved (Matthews, 1959). The historic problem remained in these 20th centuries and the issues pertaining to military’s disposition reverberates (Matthews, 1959). It still re-echo the need for defensive position and the discussion on conducting cou

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