WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The United States will send more agents and high-tech gear to its southern border to crack down on smuggling of illegal drugs, guns and money by Mexican gangs whose bloody wars threaten security on both sides of the frontier, U.S. officials said.
The strategy aims to fight the growing power and violence of Mexican cartels, which ship billions of dollars worth of drugs into the United States and bring back weapons and cash.
The plan redirects more than $200 million to add more than 500 federal agents to border posts and the Mexican interior.
It will intensify inspections of southbound traffic, with 100 percent inspections of rail lines, mobile X-ray units for cars, and advanced license-plate readers to identify smugglers. It also aims to improve the tracing of guns used in Mexican crimes back to U.S. dealers.
“What we want to do is to better secure the border area against further violence and make it a safe and secure area where the rule of law is upheld and enforced,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano who unveiled the plan at the White House.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves today for talks in Mexico on border, economic and climate-change issues.
“We are going to continue to monitor the situation, and if the steps that we’ve taken do not get the job done, then we will do more,” President Barack Obama said in a nationally televised news conference.
Turf wars between the cartels and battles with law enforcement killed more than 6,000 people in Mexico last year. The traffickers spread fear in much of Mexico and have heightened Washington’s concerns about the stability of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s government and the violence spilling into the United States.
Calderon has made controlling the violence his top priority and sent 45,000 troops across the country to fight the gangs.
The U.S. plan adds to $700 million already appropriated by Congress to help Mexican law enforcement and military.
Mexican foreign minister Patricia Espinosa called the plan consistent with both governments’ determination “to stamp out the trafficking of weapons, illegal chemicals and cash from the United States to Mexico.”
After Clinton’s trip, Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama are all planning to visit Mexico next month.