Posted on Borderland Beat Forum by Athena
MEXICO CITY - The U.S. government has dispatched a career Navy SEAL and anti-terrorism expert to the U.S. embassy in Mexico City to serve as liaison with Mexican troops waging war on gangsters.
Rear Adm. Colin Kilrain a former senior commander of the U.S. Navy’s special forces who last year worked on anti-terrorism for the National Security Council, recently took up the post of military attaché. He arrives amid a rising debate over the role and effectiveness of Mexico's military in President Felipe Calderon's anti-gangster campaign.
"It is an interesting choice," U.S. political scientist Roderic Camp, who has specialized in Mexico's military, said of Kilrain's appointment. "From the U.S. point of view, it is placing someone there who has special skills and experiences complementary to battling the cartels."
A champion wrestler at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Kilrain joined the SEALs after graduating in the early 1980s. Since 2001, he's been involved in counterterrorism activities, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere
It is an interesting choice," U.S. political scientist Roderic Camp, who has specialized in Mexico's military, said of Kilrain's appointment. "From the U.S. point of view, it is placing someone there who has special skills and experiences complementary to battling the cartels."
A champion wrestler at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Kilrain joined the SEALs after graduating in the early 1980s. Since 2001, he's been involved in counterterrorism activities, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.
Prior to his assignment at the National Security Council, Kilrain was commander of Naval Special Warfare Group Two in Norfolk, Va., which coordinates SEAL activities in Europe and the Americas. Married to a former Navy flier and NASA astronaut, he was promoted last year to rear admiral.
While they report to an ambassador, U.S. military attachés are managed by the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency. Their job is to monitor a country's armed forces, said Army Lt. Col. Robert Kirkland, who wrote a book about Cold War-era U.S. military attachés in Latin America.
Generals or admirals traditionally have been assigned as embassy attachés only in Russia and China, Kirkland said. For that reason alone, Kilrain's posting to Mexico "is significant," he said.
Kilrain will serve in Mexico under Ambassador Anthony Wayne, who arrived here last summer after a stint as second-in-command of the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan.
"It's a development that is part and parcel of the larger concern and focus on Mexico by the United States," said Kirkland, who teaches military science at the University of Southern California.
Under the Merida Initiative begun under the Bush Administration, the U.S. government has committed $1.6 billion to support Calderon's anti-crime efforts. Most of that aid has been earmarked for military-style equipment and training for Mexico's federal security forces.
Calderon leaves office Dec. 1. The three candidates vying to replace him have all signaled they favor scaling back, if not ending, military involvement in gang wars. The drug war carnage has claimed more than 50,000 lives - most in gangland-style executions and shootouts - since Calderon unleashed troops against the criminal syndicates five years ago.
With Mexico's local and state police often bought off or otherwise overwhelmed by the gangsters, as many as 60,000 Mexican soldiers and marines have been deployed against the criminal gangs. In the past several years, elite units of Mexico's naval infantry, or marines, have been used as shock troops against the gangsters, especially priority targets.
The marines killed top gang boss Arturo Beltran Leyva in December 2009 in a U.S.-assisted operation in Cuernavaca, 50 miles from Mexico City.
A secret memo from the Mexico City embassy, published 15 months ago by WikiLeaks, was critical of the Mexican army's performance in anti-gang operations while praising naval efforts. The memo, written by the embassy's recently departed second in command, reportedly infuriated Mexican army commanders. Then-U.S. Ambassador Pasqual’s was removed last year at Calderon's request.