The United States will set up a new special operations headquarters to train Mexican security forces in counter-terrorism techniques, an offshoot of the military aid package, the Merida Initiative, with the potential for troubling consequences.
The new site, based in the Colorado, will be used to train Mexican military, intelligence, and law enforcement officials to track drug cartel members using the same techniques used to hunt Al-Qaida operatives, reported the AP.
The project builds upon an existing program, in which Mexican security officals studied the experience of the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially with regards to counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts. The US special operations team behind the program will be given a permanent base and will be able to significantly expand its scope.
Military officials on both sides have played down the expansion of the program. “We are merely placing a component commander in charge of things we are already doing,” said military spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis in a written statement to the AP.
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The timing of the decision to expand the special operations training program is surprising. According to the AP, the program is an offshoot of the Merida Initiative, a bilateral security cooperation agreement between the US and Mexico, that has been criticized for prioritizing military funding over promoting institutional development. The effectiveness of the initiative has been questioned by the Mexican government, while US officials recently made implicit criticisms of its military-centric aproach when the Defense Secretary admonished Mexico and other Latin American countries for an over-reliance on the military in fighting organized crime.
The expansion of the program also comes at a time when the US has made large cuts in its military aid budget for Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Training Mexican security forces in counter-terrorism techniques also carries an implicit risk over how that training will be used. In the recent past, Mexican special forces have gone on to use their skills to work as drug cartel hit-squads and enforcers and — in the case of the Zetas — form their own cartel.