Several episodes of drug-related violence have claimed dozens of lives in Mexico in recent days, but the detonation of a car bomb of the type that has afflicted U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has law enforcement officials on both sides of the border especially concerned.
The detonation in Ciudad Juarez late last week that killed three people lured into an ambush is expected to be only the beginning of an escalating war that has moved from gun battles to remote controlled explosives, officials said.
"In Iraq the game changed after the first [Improvised Explosive Device] was detonated," said a military official who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. "We saw the same thing in Afghanistan. I expect the drug cartels in Mexico will follow in the same footsteps. It's only going to get worse when they get so brazen, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if we see this being done more often."
Drug Enforcement Agency Deputy Chief of Operations David L. Gaddis told The Washington Examiner, "I do feel an attack like this crosses a new line in the ruthlessness of their tactics. When we saw [cartels] attacking and ambushing police units, police caravans, then we saw them beheading one another and mutilating each others bodies, that was bad enough. Now we're seeing this. It's another line in the absolute brutality in trying to influence the counter drug apparatus, the security officials dedicated to dismantling the [drug trafficking organizations]."
The three Mexican federal officers were lured into the trap after the cartel dressed an injured person in a police uniform and left him on the street for dead. Among those killed was a doctor who went to the scene with police.
A senior U.S. law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the bombing investigation said that La Linea, the enforcement wing of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes drug cartel based in Juarez, Mexico, is believed to be behind the bombing.
He said the increased violence is a result of President Felipe Calderon's stepped up operations against drug trafficking organizations in conjunction with U.S. law enforcement.
"But who within that group is responsible we don't know," the senior official said. "The U.S. is working bilaterally with the Mexican security forces to find out."
The car bombing last week was only one among numerous bloody incidents across Mexico this past week.
Five factory workers near the U.S. border and four police officers in Acapulco were killed over the weekend.
Another 17 people were gunned down and more than 18 others injured at a birthday party in Torreon in Northern Mexico on Friday. Armed gunmen began a rampage, firing at guests indiscriminately, according to reports in the Mexican press.
More than 7,000 people have been killed so far this year in drug-related violence in Mexico, an escalation of the violence that claimed 9,000 lives for all of 2009.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday in a guest column in the Arizona Republic that she will assign hundreds of additional Border Patrol agents and Immigration and Customs officers to the Arizona border, in addition to 1,200 National Guard troops due to arrive on the border in September.
"In all honesty, what is the National Guard really going to do out here?" said a Border Patrol agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"It's completely out of control, and now they want to act like something is being done. Mexico needs to do their part as well. Who knows when the car bombs will be directed at us?"
Drug czars in Mexico have had four decades to establish enormous resources, such as foot soldiers, weapons and billions of dollars in contraband to buy loyalty in the government and in law enforcement, officials said.
Gaddis said current operations to dismantle the most powerful drug Mexican czars are underway and that they will be caught. He said as law enforcement continues to take away the drug traffickers' area of operations, they will have less space to operate and "they don't play well in the sandbox together."
He added, "It's difficult to see this violence as being an indicator of success, but it is."