The US military may have inadvertently taught one of Mexico's most notorious drug cartels advanced military tactics, an al-Jazeera investigation alleges.
In the early 1990s, members of an elite Mexican military squad were trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics techniques. Ironically, somewhere between 30 and 200 of the approximately 500 Mexican soldiers who trained there went on to form the Zetas drug cartel, al-Jazeera reports.
Craig Deare, whom al-Jazeera describes as "a former US special operations commander," told the news network that the Mexican soldiers "were given map reading courses, communications, standard special forces training, light to heavy weapons, machine guns and automatic weapons."
The Mexican personnel who received US training and later formed the Zetas came from the Airmobile Special Forces Group (GAFE), which is considered an elite division of the Mexican military....
After US training, GAFE operatives defected from the Mexican military to become hired guns, providing security to the Gulf cartel, a well established trafficking organization, according to Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas program of the International Relations Center.
"They split from the Gulf cartel and formed as a cartel in their own right," Carlsen, based in Mexico City, told Al Jazeera.
The Zetas' alleged current leaders, Heriberto Lazcano, known as Z-3 and Miguel Trevino, or Z-40, were first recruited by Osiel Cardenas, the now-jailed leader of the Gulf cartel. The name "Zetas" originates from the radio code "Z" used by top military commanders in Mexico.
"Military forces from around the world train at Ft. Bragg, so there is nothing unique about Mexican operatives learning counter-insurgency tactics at the facility," the news network notes. "However, critics say the specific skills learned by the Zetas primed them for careers as contract killers and drug dealers."
An estimated 29,000 people have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in 2006.
In recent months the war has been marked with increasingly brazen and violent attacks, such as the slaughter of 72 migrants on the US-Mexico border in August. Police say the massacre may have been related to a dispute between the Zetas cartel and the group they spawned from, the Gulf Cartel.
In September, 27 gunmen believed to have links to cartels were found dead in Ciudad Mier. They were on property owned by the Zetas.