Mexican drug gangs grow bold in fighting

The president plans a special ops force.

Published May 15, 2007

APATZINGAN, Mexico - Mexican drug cartels armed with powerful weapons and angered by a nationwide military crackdown are striking back, killing soldiers in bold, daily attacks that threaten the one force strong enough to take on the gangs.

The daily bloodshed includes the slaying Monday of a top federal intelligence official who was shot in the face in his car outside his office in Mexico City.

Mexicans were particularly shocked last week by televised images of kindergartners fleeing their school during a grenade-and-gun battle between traffickers and soldiers in this small town in Michoacan.

The unrelenting bloodshed has forced a change in strategy for President Felipe Calderon, who sent more than 24, 000 federal police and soldiers out in December to reoccupy territory from drug cartels. Now, to supplement the massive presence of soldiers and tanks in small towns, he has ordered the creation of an elite military special operations force capable of surgical strikes.

The Calderon administration insists the crackdown is working - the government has detained more than 1, 000 gunmen and burned millions of dollars in marijuana plants. Traffickers are being extradited to the United States more rapidly than ever, and police recently made the world's biggest seizure of drug cash, $207-million neatly stacked inside a Mexico City mansion.

Violence nationwide in Mexico seems to be increasing. The country's three leading newspapers estimate shootouts, decapitations and execution-style killings have claimed the lives of about 1, 000 people this year, on track to surpass last year's count of 2, 000.

This month's death toll for soldiers and sailors is the worst for the military in more than a decade.