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US Military Says Drug Violence Spreading Through Central America

Guatemalan police escort suspected members of the Zetas drug cartel at the air force base in Guatemala City, March 8, 2012.
Guatemalan police escort suspected members of the Zetas drug cartel at the air force base in Guatemala City, March 8, 2012.

Two high-ranking U.S. military commanders say Mexico's violent war against drug cartels has moved into other parts of Central America.

Air Force General Douglas Fraser, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that transnational organized crime rings are threatening to overwhelm law enforcement and are "seriously impacting civilian safety" in the area.

"Senator, it is - is an effort that we see is moving down through Central America," Gen. Fraser said.  "As Mexico increases their pressure, we see that the networks from especially Los Zetas and Sinaloa are moving into Central America.  Guatemala is obviously that first location, but we see their - their footprints further down into Central America as well."

More than 50,000 people have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a massive military crackdown against the cartels in 2006.

But U.S. Army General Charles Jacoby, the head of the U.S. Northern Command, told the committee the violence has risen despite Mr. Calderon's strategy of strategy of targeting the leaders of the cartels.

"I also believe the decapitation strategy - they've been successful at that: 22 out of the top 37 trafficking figures that the Mexican government has gone after have been taken off - taken off the board, but it has not had an appreciable effect - an appreciable positive effect," he said.

General Fraser also testified about Iran's increasing diplomatic role in Central America, along with the activities of the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups in region.  Fraser says there is concern Tehran sees the region as a way to circumvent international sanctions over its nuclear program.

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