Fourteen gunmen and five soldiers were killed in three separate clashes in the northeastern state of Coahuila, Mexican authorities said Friday.
Troops assigned to the 6th Military Zone came under attack twice Thursday by criminals while on a “terrestrial reconnaissance” mission in the La Palma neighborhood of Saltillo, the state capital, the Defense Secretariat said in a statement.
One gunman was killed in the first clash and eight others perished in the second shootout, which also left one soldier dead and another wounded in the arm.
After the fighting concluded, the soldiers confiscated 12 rifles, seven vehicles, ammunition and ammunition clips, the secretariat said.
In a third clash Thursday in the border city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, five gunmen and four soldiers were killed and three other troops were wounded, a municipal government spokesperson told Efe.
After the clash, authorities seized four vehicles and 16 weapons and detained six people who were turned over to federal prosecutors.
Army soldiers have been deployed to the states of Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Coahuila and San Luis Potosi as part of “Operation Northeast,” whose objective is to weaken organized crime gangs.
The Gulf drug cartel, which has an alliance with the Sinaloa mob, has been waging a turf war in that crime-racked region against Los Zetas, a band of army special forces deserters turned hired guns and drug traffickers.
After several years as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
President Felipe Calderon militarized the struggle against the nation’s heavily armed, well-funded drug cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006, deploying tens of thousands of army soldiers and federal police to drug-war flashpoints.
The strategy has led to headline-grabbing captures of cartel kingpins, but drug-related violence has skyrocketed and claimed over 50,000 lives nationwide over the five-year period.