President Donald Trump has extended an offer to help Mexico wage a “war” to eliminate drug cartels, after at least nine Americans were killed during a cartel shooting in the Mexican border state of Sonora.
“A wonderful family and friends from Utah got caught between two vicious drug cartels, who were shooting at each other, with the result being many great American people killed, including young children, and some missing,” Trump wrote in a Nov. 5 tweet.
“If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively. The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!”
A few minutes later, he added: “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he would speak with Trump about possible cooperation on security, provided Mexico’s sovereignty was upheld.
“I’ll speak with President Trump to thank him for his support, and to see if, in cooperation agreements, there’s the possibility of getting help,” he told a news conference. “I don’t think we need the intervention of a foreign government to deal with these cases.”
Trump spoke to López Obrador on Nov. 5, “to discuss the recent violence in Mexico and efforts to combat the growing violent behavior of cartels and criminal groups in the region,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a release.
Three women and six children were gunned down, with others injured on Nov. 4, when cartel members attacked their vehicles on a dirt road between the states of Chihuahua and Sonora, both bordering the United States. The dead belonged to the LeBaron family, a breakaway Mormon community that settled in the hills and plains of northern Mexico decades ago.
Mexico Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said there was a possibility of mistaken identity, given the high number of violent confrontations among warring drug gangs in the area.
“The convoy made up of suburban vans could have been confused with criminal groups that fight for control in the region,” Durazo said, alongside López Obrador.
While Mexico has used its military to fight cartels for more than a decade, drug violence hasn’t abated.
The government has recorded more than 250,000 homicides in the past dozen years, including more than 30,000 in the first seven months of 2019, most of them related to the drug war. And that excludes an unknown number of disappearances.
The violence spills over to the United States, with a large part of shootings and murders across the country related to drug-dealing gangs.
On top of that, the drugs smuggled from Mexico are a major driver behind the overdose epidemic in the United States that cost almost 70,000 lives in 2018.
The drug trade proceeds from the United States are then funding the cartel operations, allowing them to procure heavy armaments.
“We’re talking about surface-to-air missiles, grenades. They have armored vehicles. They have big machine guns on the top of the vehicles,” Derek Maltz, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s special operations division, previously told The Epoch Times.
A video posted on social media showed the charred and smoking remains of a vehicle riddled with bullet holes that was apparently carrying the victims when the attack happened.
“This is for the record,” says a male voice off-camera in an American accent, choking up with emotion. “Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up.”
A family relative, Julian LeBaron, called the incident a “massacre” and said some family members were burned alive.
In a text message to Reuters, he wrote that four boys, two girls, and three women were killed. Several children who fled the attack were lost for hours in the countryside before being located, he said.
He said it was unclear who carried out the attack.
“We don’t know why, though they had received indirect threats. We don’t know who did it,” he told Reuters.
“My cousin was murdered with her children in the truck,” said Alex LeBaron, another relative in one of the villages inhabited by the extended family. He said all the victims were U.S. citizens, and most also held dual citizenship with Mexico.
Five children injured in the attack were transferred to hospitals in the United States, U.S. and Mexican authorities said.
Mormons versus Cartels
Mormons set up a colony in Chihuahua, Mexico, some 150 years ago when the United States outlawed their practice of polygamy.
The colony has had run-ins with the cartels for years, facing murder, kidnappings, and other crimes.
In 2010, two members of the Mormon community, including one from the LeBaron family, were killed in apparent revenge after the Mormons pressured authorities to secure the release of another member of their community kidnapped by the cartels.
The situation was so serious that the Mormons eventually broke Mexican laws and armed themselves for defense, Vice reported in 2012.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Update: The article has been updated with further information about the drug and violence problems in Mexico and the United States.