Mexico Says Cartels Are Obtaining US Military-Grade Machine Guns, Rocket Launchers

Mexico Says Cartels Are Obtaining US Military-Grade Machine Guns, Rocket Launchers
A damaged pickup marked with the initials C.D.N., that in Spanish stand for Cartel of the Northeast, is on the streets after a gun battle between Mexican security forces and suspected cartel gunmen, in Villa Union, Mexico, on Nov. 30, 2019. (Gerardo Sanchez/AP Photo)
Ryan Morgan

The Mexican government is alleging military-grade weapons are making their way from U.S. stocks into the hands of the criminal cartels, and it’s calling on the United States to urgently investigate the matter.

While the Mexican government has alleged many civilian-grade firearms have made their way across the U.S. southern border into the hands of criminals, the Mexican military has also reported finding weapons that aren’t readily available in the U.S. civilian market, such as belt-fed machine guns, rocket launchers, and grenades.

“The [Mexican] Defense Department has warned the United States about weapons entering Mexico that are for the exclusive use of the U.S. army,” Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Alicia Bárcena said this week. “It is very urgent that an investigation into this be carried out.”

In June 2023, the Mexican military reported that it had seized 221 fully automatic weapons, 56 grenade launchers, and a dozen rocket launchers from drug cartels since the end of 2018.

The fact that the cartels may have access to these powerful weapons has caused alarm within the Mexican government, as its military and law enforcement have struggled to overpower and suppress the cartels. The cartels have already shown a level of resourcefulness, creating homemade armored vehicles by affixing heavy metal plates to their trucks, developing improvised explosive devices and burying them along roadways, and using drones to drop explosives onto their enemies.

Armed Resistance to Mexican Authorities

A combined Mexican military and law enforcement operation to arrest Ovidio Guzmán López, the son of convicted Sinaloa drug cartel kingpin Joaquín Archivaldo “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, turned into a pitched battle throughout the streets of Culiacán last year as cartel members contested the arrest with a heavily armed response.

Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said cartel gunmen opened fire on the Mexican military troops and law enforcement officers with a half-dozen .50-caliber machine guns during last year’s arrest operation in Culiacán. Mr. Sandoval said the Mexican army was eventually forced to call in Black Hawk helicopters to target more than two dozen cartel vehicles, including trucks mounted with gun platforms. Mr. Sandoval said cartel fighters still managed to force down two of the military helicopters with “a significant number of impacts” to both aircraft.

Ten Mexican military troops and a Culiacán police officer were killed in last year’s battle, along with 19 suspected gang members.

Ken Salazar, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, confirmed on Jan. 22 that Mexican officials had brought up the issue during meetings last week. Mr. Salazar said he hadn’t been aware of the problem beforehand, but he pledged the United States would take measures to address the concerns of Mexican counterparts.

“We are going to look into it, we are committed to working with [Mexico’s Defense Department] to see what’s going on,” Mr. Salazar said.

In a statement on Jan. 20, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller announced that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Mexican counterpart, Ms. Bárcena, had discussed “bilateral efforts to counter human smuggling and arms trafficking” during their meeting last week. Mr. Miller didn’t provide any further mention of the arms trafficking issue, and neither did he indicate that these discussions involved concerns of military-grade weapons ending up in the hands of the cartels.

NTD reached out to the U.S. State Department for more details about the allegations coming from the Mexican government but didn’t receive a response by press time.

NTD also reached out to the U.S. Department of Defense for comment, including to ask whether the Mexican government had provided any documentation from weapons they had recovered that might match them to U.S. weapons stocks, but the department didn’t respond by press time.

The Mexican government’s concerns about military-grade weapons flowing to the cartels from the United States come as the Mexican government is also suing civilian firearms manufacturers for allegedly enabling firearms trafficking.

On Jan. 22, a U.S. appeals court ruled that the Mexican government’s lawsuit could proceed against a series of U.S. gunmakers and distributors, overturning a lower court’s ruling that the gunmakers and distributors were shielded from liability by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
From NTD