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Mexico Makes Progress in War on Drug Cartels

Mexico battles drug cartels

On December 16, Mexican troops stormed a luxury apartment in Cuernavaca, near Mexico City, and killed Arturo Beltran Leyva, head of one of the country's largest drug trafficking organizations. A couple of weeks later, authorities arrested his brother, Carlos, further disrupting the criminal enterprise.

These developments were portrayed as important victories for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose war on drug gangs has been blamed for a wave of violence in the past few years. U.S. officials are applauding Calderon's effort and offering him as much support as they can.

The December assault by Mexican troops left one of the country's most wanted drug traffickers, Arturo Beltran Leyva, dead.

The raid is one of many that have taken place in recent years - as Mexico battles the drug cartels.

The outcome directly affects the United States. The spillover of violence into some U.S. cities near the border has alarmed U.S. authorities.

In the U.S., the effort to fight drug trafficking from Mexico is spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Administration's Houston field division.

DEA Intelligence Chief Gary Hale says helping Mexico is the best way to protect the United States.

"To be realistic, we will never get rid of drug trafficking, per se, but we can have an effect on the overall business and the best effect that we have determined we can have is to disrupt and dismantle," he said. "And how do you do that? You go after command and control, you go after the leadership."

President Calderon's three-year war against drug trafficking organizations, says Hale, is stopping large amounts of cocaine and other narcotics from South America from making it over the U.S. border.

"The same amount of drugs are reaching Mexico, but they are having a difficult time, because of Calderon's policies, moving those drugs through Mexico and into the United States," Hale said.

Mexican troops have been deployed to battle the cartels as concern grows that the traffickers are establishing de facto control over some parts of the country.

Hale says this has motivated the rank and file among Mexican troops.

"They are not doing it because they are forced to do it," he explained. "They are not doing it because they make a lot of money, they're doing it because they are patriots."

What's crucial, in Hale's view, will be a sustained effort by both Mexico and the United States, working in cooperation, to further disrupt and cripple the criminal enterprises that threaten the security of both nations.