Falling Death Toll in Mexico Military Operations Reflects New Tactics

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Both attacks against Mexico’s soldiers and the number of alleged criminals killed by military personnel have plummeted over the last 18 months, reflecting tactical shifts in how the country’s drug war is fought. 

According to government documents obtained by Milenio, the Mexican military killed 242 alleged criminals between January 2013 and March 30, 2014. In comparison, a total of 3,274 suspected criminals were killed by military personnel between 2009 and 2012 — an average of over 800 a year — with the number peaking at 1,297 in 2011.  

The Mexican army has also faced fewer attacks from criminal organizations and has decreased the number of combat operations in the country.

Although these figures include casualties from military deployments in the state of Michoacan, they do not include the current military operation in Tamaulipas, which began after the period measured.  

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The figures obtained by Milenio appear to provide empirical evidence of the shift in security policy promoted by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, which has called for a moderation of deadly force and recently published the first manual on the use of force in the military.

Like his predecessor, however, Peña Nieto has used federal troops to bolster security operations in violence-stricken regions of the country, including the states of Michoacan and Tamaulipas. The Mexican government deployed federal troops in November 2013 to take control of the port of Lazaro Cardenas, a Knights Templar stronghold in Michoacan, and a recent increase in violence in Tamaulipas has led to similar operations in the state

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While the decrease in attacks on military personnel may be a result of this shift in tactics, it could also reflect a decline in the type of paramilitary tactics employed by cartels like the Zetas, who have been known to provoke firefights with security forces and target the state in their attacks. Indeed, according to Milenio, the majority of the alleged criminals who have been killed in confrontations with the military over the last seven years have died in areas controlled by the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, two groups that appear to have lost a significant amount of power.   

Once the deployment of federal troops in Tamaulipas ends, figures from this operation may paint a different picture for 2014. Over the last five years, 1,795 armed civilians — nearly 40 percent of the registered total — have been killed in Tamaulipas, which also continues to be the most dangerous state for federal troops.    

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