Two armed Mexican soldiers crossed into the Arizona and drew their guns during a concerning stand off with Border Patrol agents back in January, the Mexican government and U.S. officials have confirmed.
In the most recent of more than 20 instances since 2010, in which Mexican soldiers have crossed into southern Arizona, the Los Angeles Times reports that the Jan. 26 confrontation ended only after the Mexican soldiers retreated back to Mexico, when Border Patrol drew their weapons and called for backup.
Documents obtained by the The Times/Tribune Washington Bureau confirmed the incident which found Mexican soldiers 50 yards inside the U.S., misidentifying themselves to Border Patrol, which resulted in a 35 minute confrontation. No shots, however, were fired.
According to the report, U.S. officials are characterizing the standoff as one of the most serious border incursions in years.
And while Mexico denied for weeks that their soldiers were involved — saying instead that the two men were drug smugglers in Mexican uniforms — it confirmed to the Times Tuesday that Mexican soldiers were involved in the incident.
“Those individuals were part of a counter-narcotics operation, which had taken place a few minutes prior on the Mexican side of the border,” Ariel Moutsatsos, Mexican Embassy spokesman, told the LA Times. “The two members of the Mexican army did not see any sign notifying them that they were crossing the border.”
Moutsatsos added that is was an isolated incident and that U.S. officials sometimes accidentally cross into Mexico too.
“Both U.S. and Mexican agents have sporadically and accidentally crossed our common border during their patrols,” he said. “Both countries understand that this is something that happens as part of normal activities.”
U.S. officials have put the incursion into the accident column as well.
“We have raised the issue of incursions onto U.S. territory with Mexican authorities both in Washington and in Mexico,” a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Mexico told the Times. “We will continue to do so. There have been incursions by the Mexican military but they were unintentional. U.S. border officials work closely with their Mexican counterparts to ensure respect for the border and to return them quickly to Mexican territory. The bilateral collaboration in these incidents testifies to the strength of our security cooperation.”
While both the U.S. and Mexico did not report a reason to believe the pair were involved in any wrongdoing, border experts told The Times that Mexican military personnel are often hired by cartels to help smuggle drugs.
“It’s pretty easy to co-opt them,” James Phelps, a security studies professor at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, said according to The Times. “Many are essentially a functional asset of the cartels.”