Updating Saturday's story on the Choix, Sinaloa firefights, which can be found here
By Chris Covert
A total of 20 individuals were killed in two separate gunfights in the far northeastern Sinaloa state municipality of Choix Saturday and Sunday, according to Mexican news accounts.
Earlier reports of as many as 50 dead armed suspects have been officially discounted, however, the latest news is that Mexican security forces including Mexican Army, and Sinaloa state police forces are still in the area.
The first encounter took place early Saturday morning at around 0200 hrs in near the village of Yecorato, where soldiers fought armed suspects killing six. A Mexican Army news release from a command element with the 9th Military Zone said the unit was on patrol in Rancho El Carrizo when the battle commenced. The location was reportedly between the village of San Simon and Yecorato.
One unidentified Mexican Air Force non-commissioned officer, presumably serving as an observer aboard a Mexican Air Force helicopter was hit by gunfire, but later died in a local hospital.
In the encounter one army officer and one enlisted rifleman was wounded and evacuated from the area by military helicopter. Unofficial reports at the time were that a Mexican Air Force helicopter had been shot down by ground fire, but later news reports said the Mexican Air force bird had been hit but was operable. At least two reports say as many as three Mexican Air Force helicopters, probably Bell 206s, were involved in the operation including as observation platforms. The helicopter which had been hit was one of the birds that had been called in by one detail commander to provide air support.
According to several accounts, the Mexican Army unit on Saturday had been fired on by one of two armed groups which were fighting one another in the area. Although none of the groups have yet to be officially identified, one of the criminal groups is said to be a ground element of the Beltra-Leyva drug cartel. The area is considered to be Beltran-Leyva cartel territory, and is also a location where drugs are cultivated.
Saturday ended with a total of 11 dead, including nine unidentified armed suspects, one unidentified Mexican Air Force NCO and a Choix municipal police agent identified as Hector Ruiz Villar, 43.
By 1930 hrs Sunday, nine more dead were reportedly evacuated from the battle area which had extended to a village named Los Carricitos. Including in the death toll was one Mexican army soldier who died from his wounds after being evacuated by air. Reports say that several more dead had been recovered by criminal groups in the area so the death toll is likely much higher than the official death toll.
Some Mexican armed criminal groups, most notably Los Zetas, make it a practice of recovering their dead in the aftermath of battle to prevent security forces and rival armed groups from gaining intelligence on their group.
Materiel seized in the aftermath of the first encounter included five AK-47 rifles, one .50 caliber Barrett rifle, 36 weapons magazines for AK-47, four disc magazines for AK-47, one Barrett weapons magazine, four rifles, 1,500 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 28 rounds of .22 caliber ammunition, five .45 caliber rounds of ammunition, one fragmentary hand grenade (pineapple style) and six weapons magazines.
In Sunday's encounter, materiel recovered included 12 rifles, four handguns, 2,158 rounds of ammunition and 67 weapons magazines.
Reports also say that an armed group had dug in in the mountains and have shifted forces to relieve fighters presumably exhausted from fighting Saturday and Sunday.
Last reports say the Mexican Army and Sinaloa state police forces were still in the area to prevent criminal groups from coming down from the mountains and demanding tribute from local residents. Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango states are all in the throes of a severe drought which has affected subsistence crops as well as drug crops. The drought is expected to adversely affect indigent farmers' health as the spring and summer months wear on.
A report published in an online edition of El Diario, Mexican naval infantry units have also been dispatched to the area as well. The report also said that a military unit has moved into the village of Casas Viejas in Choix, and that security operations are into their third day
Drug cartels treat indigent farmers in the Mexican Sierras as medieval serfs using threats of arson and murder to force them to grow drug cash crops.
The area where the fighting took place has the only "break" to the eastern part of Choix municipality which borders Chihuahua state to the east. The area is occupied by armed cartel groups.
In another late report published in an online edition of El Diario, western zone Fiscalia General del Estado or district attorney general of the state, Jesus Chavez Saenz and commander of the Chihuahua state Policia Ministerial Investigadora Leonardo Calzada, announced that their offices have been placed on high alert owing to what is described as the "cockroach effect" presumably where armed groups will scatter into Chihuahua state following an adverse encounter with security forces.
The report also added that Mexican Army units also routinely patrol the approaches to the border area.
Far western Chihuahua state has its own problems dealing with what has been termed in Mexican leftist press as a structural famine and the accompanying drought, as well as criminal groups operating in the area.
Chris Covert writes Mexican Drug War and national political news for Rantburg.com