People are bad. Anyone who believes otherwise has clearly never met one. To find evidence supporting this assertion one needs to go no further than our neighbors to the South. For a bit more than a decade, much of Mexico has been quietly devolving into a genuine shooting war. In the past dozen years, this war has claimed more than 126,000 lives. This is roughly twice as many deaths as we incurred during the war in Vietnam.
The recipe has actually been strikingly simple. Take a large population of people living at or near the poverty line, add a truly unimaginable volume of illicit cash, and sprinkle liberally with a little corrupt police, military, and civilian government. Simmer for a few years and voila–a proper bloodbath.
We actually know precisely when it all started. Colombia was the engine behind the festivities in the 1980s. However, while Colombia is certainly still exciting in its own right, many to most of those original players are dead, incarcerated, or burned out. Mexico’s unfortunate geography made it the superhighway across which untold tons of illegal drugs flowed. There were minor skirmishes here and there as a result, but nothing that could be called truly epic in the way of violence. Then on December 11, 2006, newly-elected Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched Operation Michoacan, and everything changed.
Things are Different Down There
Much hay has been made of the purportedly tenuous relationship between Law Enforcement and minority groups in the United States. However, north of the border if you get into serious trouble and dial 911 you can reliably expect some altruistic soul to show up and help you. That is not necessarily the case elsewhere.
A college student acquaintance of mine with more balls than brains found himself wandering Juarez with a pal some years back just soaking up the sights. These two idiots ambled off the beaten path and got lost. Frustrated and more than a bit frightened they were relieved to encounter a pair of uniformed Mexican police officers. They innocently approached these two on-duty cops and asked directions.
The two Mexican policemen presented their weapons and stole everything of value these two young men possessed, leaving them with nothing more than their clothes and their passports. Truth be known they were fortunate to escape without becoming somebody’s dinner.
Truly Breathtaking in Scope
There are about a dozen major cartels, and armed internecine squabbles foment most of the carnage. Names like Sinaloa, the Knights Templar, Jalisco New Generation, Los Zetas, La Familia, and Juarez dominate the headlines. With the support of the likes of MS-13, themselves an ISIS-grade mob of butchers, these organized crime syndicates carve up and defend territory with military-grade ordnance. While most of the casualties are cartel soldiers, a great many innocent civilians get caught up in the chaos as well.
The amount of money involved is difficult to comprehend. Experts estimate that between $18 and 39 billion dollars are removed from the US and laundered each year. With funding on that scale, there is quite literally nothing these guys cannot afford.
Mexican citizens technically have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. However, practically speaking private firearms ownership is illegal south of the border. The entire country has a single authorized gun shop near Mexico City, and the administrative burden associated with legally buying a gun is intentionally prohibitive. That has not stopped Mexico from becoming awash in state-of-the-art military ordnance. Guns flow south from the US and north from Guatemala. Sundry Central and South American brushfire wars of ages past serve to source much of the iron. The cartels are sufficiently well funded to afford the Truly Good Stuff as well.
Things Get Serious
It is tough for us to imagine exactly how powerful some of these cartels have become. Their willingness to use slavery, torture, extortion, and wanton murder to advance their goals shocks the civilized mind. However, on May 1, 2015, the world got to see up close exactly how went the war.
The Bad Guys, in this case, were operators from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). Anxious to prevent the capture of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, the cartel jefe or boss, cartel gunmen staged a spectacular day of chaos. Cervantes is an ex-policeman turned bloodthirsty killer with the nom de guerre of “El Mencho.”
They burned vehicles, set roadblocks, and generally sowed mayhem across the Mexico state of Jalisco and throughout the state capital Guadalajara. Cartel criminals incinerated eleven bank branches and five gas stations. In response, the Mexican government mobilized the military.
Mexico is not encumbered by its own Posse Comitatus Act, so it is apparently a straightforward thing for the civilian leadership to unleash the Mexican military against cartel forces. In the pre-dawn darkness of May 1, four helicopters from the Mexican Air Force and Federal Police Force were tracking a heavily armed convoy believed to be carrying El Mencho. Convoy vehicles were operated blacked out in an effort at avoiding detection.
As the Mexican helicopters approached the convoy, CJNG gunmen opened fire. The nature of cartel armaments was a shocking surprise to the Mexican government forces. In a scene reminiscent of Blackhawk Down, Mexican aviators suddenly found themselves lyrically outgunned.
One of the government aircraft, a Eurocopter EC725 Cougar, carried eighteen federal troops. The Cougar is a twin-engine combat assault aircraft that can be configured for a variety of missions. The aircraft has a max gross weight of more than 24,000 pounds and a max speed of 175 knots or 201 mph.
Cartel operators opened up with Russian-made RPG-27 rocket launchers at close range. The shooters fired half a dozen antitank rockets at the aircraft and connected twice. They also fired at a second aircraft but missed. One of the rockets struck the Mexican Cougar in the tail boom and exploded.
After losing tail rotor authority the stricken aircraft began to spin uncontrollably. The pilots tried valiantly to regain control of the helicopter and maneuver it to safety but simultaneously ran out of both altitude and options. The doomed aircraft hit the ground hard and exploded.
The RPG-27 is the ultimate evolutionary development of the family of antitank weapons that included the Vietnam-era RPG-2 as well as the ubiquitous RPG-7. However, whereas these early launchers were reusable designs that could be recharged with individual rockets, the RPG-27 is a disposable single-shot affair philosophically similar to the American M72 Light Antitank Weapon (LAW) or AT4.
The Russians call the RPG-27 Tavolga which loosely translates “Meadow Grass.” Developed by the State Research and Production Enterprise Bazalt, the RPG-27 was first issued in 1989. This self-contained weapon weighs just south of 17 pounds and has an effective range of around 200 meters. Muzzle velocity is around 400 feet per second, and the 105mm tandem charge HEAT (High Explosive Antitank) warhead will burn through 600 mm of rolled homogenous steel armor, 1500mm of brick or concrete, or 3700mm of earth. The Mexican Cougar never stood a chance.
The RPG-27 is obviously a fairly short-range weapon and as a result, features a pair of simple flip-up sights front and back. Putting the weapon into its firing condition takes maybe ten seconds. Basic cartoon instructions for the use of the RPG-27 are printed on the outside of the disposable tube. It’s so simple a child could do it.
The RPG-27 is in active use with the Russian Army and is, like most Russian military hardware, widely available for export. Exactly how these state-of-the-art anti-armor weapons found their way to Mexico is anybody’s guess.
The Rest of the Story
Nine people eventually lost their lives in the crash, one female cop and eight Mexican soldiers. Several other Mexican soldiers died in associated combat action. As a result, the Mexican government made the CJNG their prime target. Three years after the shootdown Mexican forces closed in on a ranch east of the crash site.
Holed up in the ranch were six cartel soldiers suspected of having been involved in shooting down the helicopter. Arrayed in age between 25 and 50, these half dozen suspects were arrested without incident. Their associated stash of military-grade ordnance was undeniably impressive.
The Mexican Police seized eight rifles, one of which was an M82A1 Barrett anti-materiel weapon. They also captured an M60 belt-fed machinegun along with plenty of ammunition and magazines. Two stolen cars seized in the assault had been modified to mount M60’s.
The state of the southern border in the United States is obviously a thorny subject these days. The President wants a wall, while his political opponents would prefer a gigantic welcome mat.
Disconnected Leftists firmly residing in some world other than my own somehow believe that it would be a good idea to allow unfettered access between the United States and the likes of the CJNG. Wow.