Sinaloa Cartel Sought Anti-Aircraft Missiles

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In a sign of the increasing level of sophistication of Mexico’s drug cartels, two men admitted in court this week that they attempted to purchase military-grade weaponry — including surface-to-air missiles — on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, two Mexican citizens have pleaded guilty (while a third was found guilty) of taking part in a scheme to trade drugs and cash for military-grade weapons. The men were arrested in February 2010 as part of an undercover operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The case dates back to late 2009, when one of the men, a suspected weapons broker named David Diaz-Sosa, approached an undercover ATF agent about purchasing weapons for the Sinaloa Cartel. As down payments, Diaz-Sosa and the other two suspects gave the agent nearly five pounds of crystal meth and $139,000 in cash. On the day that the arms were to be transferred, the group brought ten more pounds of meth to seal the deal.

As a copy of their indictment reveals, the men were after a laundry list of weaponry, the sophistication of which is alarming. Among the weapons they sought were an M47 anti-tank weapon, two AT-4 anti-tank missiles, shoulder-fired light anti-tank rocket, a variety of grenade launchers, two M-60 machine guns and three cases of hand grenades. Perhaps the most formidable weapon on their list, however, was an FIM-92 Stinger, a surface-to-air missile similar to those used by the Taliban in their campaign against the Soviets in the 1980s.

This choice is highly significant. The timing of the attempted purchase coincides with the period when the U.S. began to employ Predator B drone flights over Mexican territory. These unmanned drones generally fly at an altitude of 5,000 meters, which is within the range of surface-to-air Stinger missiles.

Ultimately, the fact that the Sinaloa Cartel is seeking military weaponry may reveal a change in its strategic operations. Traditionally the group has been the largest and most secure of Mexico’s criminal syndicates, and usually limits armed confrontations to shootouts with other cartels.

Anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles have very little application to this kind of strategy. Rather, this arsenal seems to indicate that Sinaloans are gearing up for a conflict with the Mexican government, or even with the U.S., which does not bode well for the future of anti-narcotics operations in the country.

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