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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Drug cartels are sharply increasing use of bomb-dropping drones, Mexican army says

The Mexican army said Tuesday that drug cartels have increased their use of roadside bombs or improvised explosive devices — especially bomb-dropping drones — this year, with 42 soldiers, police and suspects wounded by IEDs so far in 2023, up from 16 in 2022.

The figures provided by Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval appeared to include only those wounded by explosive devices, but officials have already acknowledged that at least one National Guard officer and four state police officers have been killed in two separate explosive attacks this year.

Particularly on the rise were drone-carried bombs, which were unknown in Mexico prior to 2020. So far this year, 260 such incidents have been recorded. However, even that number may be an underestimate: residents in some parts of the western state of Michoacan say that attacks by bomb-dropping drones are a near-daily occurrence.

Six car bombs have been found so far in 2023, up from one in 2022. However, car bombs were also occasionally used years ago in northern Mexico.

Overall, 556 improvised explosive devices of all types – roadside, drone-carried and car bombs – were found in 2023. A total of 2,803 have been found during the current administration, which took office in December 2018, the army said in a news release.

“The Armed Forces have teams that assist the authorities [and] civilians for the deactivation and destruction of these devices used by members of organized crime,” officials said in the news release.

More than half of all the explosive devices found during the current administration – 1,411 – were found in Michoacan, where the Jalisco cartel has been fighting a bloody, yearslong turf war against a coalition of local gangs. Most of the rest were found in the states of Guanajuato and Jalisco.

It was not clear whether the figures for the number of explosive devices found includes only those that failed to explode.

Sandoval said that the explosive devices frequently failed to explode.

“All of these explosive devices are homemade, based on tutorials that can be found on the internet,” he said.

Sandoval said most of the devices appear to have been made with black powder “which is available in the marketplace,” or more powerful blasting compounds stolen from mines.

In July, a drug cartel set off a coordinated series of seven roadway bombs in western Mexico that killed four police officers and two civilians. The governor of Jalisco state said the explosions were a trap set by the cartel to kill law enforcement personnel.

“This is an unprecedented act that shows what these drug cartels are capable of,” Jalisco Gov. Enrique Alfarowroteon his social media accounts.

Alfaro did not say who he suspected of setting the bomb, but the Jalisco drug cartel — which the U.S. Department of Justice has called “one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world” — has significant experience in using improvised explosive devices, as well as bomb-dropping drones.

In June, another cartel used a car bomb to kill a National Guard officer in the neighboring state of Guanajuato.

Explosives also wounded 10 soldiers in the neighboring state of Michoacan in 2022 and killed a civilian.

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