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Are Mexican drug cartels escalating attacks against US border officials?

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Alejandro Cossio/AP

(Read caption) Mexican police and forensic experts examine the scene after a US border patrol agent shot and killed a man at the US- Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, on June 21, 2011. Two men assaulted two Border Patrol agents after crossing the border illegally, a Border Patrol spokesman said.

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According to an article in Mexico’s El Universal, the Border Patrol and other US law enforcement agencies that work along the border have seen an increase in the number of attacks by Mexican drug cartels in recent months. This claim is bolstered by a 2010 Congressional Research Service report on border violence, which indicates that such attacks have increased from 773 recorded incidents in 2005 to 1,073 in 2009.

The Mexican paper cites Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), who provides even more dramatic statistics. Mr. McCraw says there were only 356 attacks in 2004, meaning that their frequency may have tripled in a five year period.

According to McCraw, this is partly due to the fact that cartels are under increased pressure to limit the amount of their product that is seized by authorities. At one time, members of drug cartels threw out their drug shipments or abandoned their vehicles when confronted by US agents, according to McCraw. But today, drug cartels have less tolerance for failure. The DPS official claimed that shipments of drugs and undocumented migrants are now vigorously protected, with gangs using high-speed automobiles and being prepared for direct confrontations with the authorities.

As evidence, McCraw referred El Universal to an incident that occurred on June 9, in which Border Patrol officers in Texas came upon several men unloading more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana on the Mexican side of the border who began to throw rocks and sticks at the agents. The officials said that, after they heard “at least six” gunshots, they opened fire on the men. As the Houston Chronicle noted, the American agents allegedly shot around 300 rounds in the incident.

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