Mexican soldiers and civilian smugglers engaged in an armed standoff with nearly 30 American law enforcement officials on the southern U.S. border, according to Texas police and the FBI.
At a spot more than 200 yards inside the U.S., Mexican Army troops set up several mounted machine guns when U.S. Border Patrol agents called for backup Monday, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario, Calif., reported.
The paper said Mexican military Humvees were towing what appeared to be thousands of pounds of marijuana across the border into the U.S., according to Chief Deputy Mike Doyal of the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Department.
The incident took place on the Rio Grande near Neely’s Crossing, about 50 miles east of El Paso.
“It’s been so bred into everyone not to start an international incident with Mexico that it’s been going on for years,” Doyal told the Daily Bulletin. “When you’re up against mounted machine guns, what can you do? Who wants to pull the trigger first? Certainly not us.”
Confirming the afternoon encounter, FBI spokeswoman Andrea Simmons told the paper, “Bad guys in three vehicles ended up on the border. People with Humvees, who appeared to be with the Mexican Army, were involved with the three vehicles in getting them back across.”
Deputies captured one vehicle and found 1,477 pounds of marijuana inside, according to Doyal, who added Mexican soldiers set fire to one of the Humvees stuck in the river.
Such incidents are common, Doyal told the Daily Bulletin. Last November, his deputies were called on to back up agents from the Fort Hancock border patrol station in Texas after confronting more than six fully armed men dressed in Mexican military uniforms.
Armed with machine guns, the men were trying to bring more than three tons of marijuana across the border in military vehicles.
Doyal insisted the federal government must do something about the incursions, pointing out the deputies and border agents are not equipped for combat.
But Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff today played down the reports of Mexican military incursions, suggesting many could have been mistakes or criminals dressed in military garb. Last week, Mexican officials denied their military made any incursions.
The Daily Bulletin reported, however, border agents interviewed over the past year believe the confrontations were with Mexican military personnel.
A story by the paper last year highlighted a Department of Homeland Security document reporting 216 incursions by Mexican soldiers during the previous 10 years.
Chertoff downplayed the reports at that time, as well, calling them “overblown.”
But border agents contend otherwise.
“We’re sitting ducks,” said one who spoke to the Daily Bulletin on condition of anonymity. “The government has our hands tied.”
In February 2006, an American law enforcement officer and news crew in Hudspeth County, Texas, witnessed an armed incursion into the U.S. by men dressed in Mexican army attire, the second such incident in two weeks.
Mexican officials have said their military is forbidden from traveling within three miles of the border, though U.S. border residents repeatedly have spotted mobile patrols of Mexican military units traversing roads that run directly parallel to the international boundary. Mexico says the armed men crossing into the U.S. are paramilitary forces loyal to drug-smuggling cartels.
Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter and David Drier of California last week asked Chertoff, the House Judiciary Committee, the House Homeland Security Committee and the House International Relations Committee to investigate the incursions.