QUAY: Drone Strike The Cartels

(Photo by JUAN CARLOS CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Grayson Quay News Editor
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There’s a crisis on our border, an overdose epidemic to the north of it and a war to the south. To address all three, it’s time to start drone striking the cartels.

Migrant apprehensions at the southern border exceeded a record-high 2.3 million in the 2022 fiscal year, which ended in September, and have already reached more than 230,000 for the 2023 fiscal year. The cartels make huge profits smuggling these migrants north — raping, robbing and beating them as they go.

In the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data suggests that some 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending in July 2022. Numbers from the previous year, which had an equally bad death toll, suggest that synthetic opioids like fentanyl are responsible for about three-quarters of those irreplaceable losses. In February 2022, the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking reported that Mexico had overtaken China as the number-one source of fentanyl.

And finally, the war. On Thursday, Mexican forces captured Ovidio Guzmán, the son of imprisoned Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and a major fentanyl trafficker. The operation that led to his arrest involved some 900 troops and kicked off a pitched battle in the streets of Culiacán, Sinaloa.

Videos posted to social media show Mexican military helicopters unloading on residential areas, cartel members shooting back with Barrett .50 caliber rifles and airplane passengers cowering in the aisles after their plane took gunfire while sitting on the tarmac. The American and Canadian governments issued travel warnings for Sinaloa after tourists from both countries were trapped there by the ongoing violence. Mexican Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval said Friday that 10 Mexican soldiers had already died along with 21 cartel members.

Despite all the chaos, Guzmán’s arrest is something of a PR win for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). That’s because his country’s forces already captured Guzmán in 2019 but released him on AMLO’s orders when the cartel came out shooting. It was humiliating, especially considering that Obrador had campaigned on a “hugs not bullets” approach to stopping organized crime.

It remains to be seen if Obrador will keep his backbone this time, but even if Mexican authorities manage to hold onto Guzmán, it’s unlikely to affect the flow of drugs. Security experts told Vice that Oviedo is actually a fairly minor player in the cartel. It’s his brothers — Iván and Jesús — who really call the shots.

President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are in Mexico City this week to meet with Obrador (it’s possible this affected the timing of the raid), and AMLO is likely to tout Guzmán’s capture as evidence that Mexico can handle the cartels on its own, thank you very much. That message was also the thrust of a 2020 amendment to Mexico’s national security law that curtailed cooperation with foreign agents, including those from the American CIA, DEA and FBI.

It’s admirable that the Mexicans want to handle the problem on their own. The problem is that they’re not handling it, and we don’t have time to wait while migrants stack up at our border and bodies stack up in our streets. (RELATED: WILLIAMSON: America Needs To Get Serious About Solving The Opioid Epidemic Before It’s Too Late)

The procedure to initiate drone strikes against the cartels would involve designating them as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), a process former President Donald Trump initiated in 2019 before backing off. “Mexico will never admit any action that would be a violation of its national sovereignty,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said in response to Trump’s comments. 

Any attempt to resurrect talk of FTO designations would likely draw similar protests, but it’s unclear how sincere they would be. National pride demands that the Mexican government object, but behind the outrage they might just feel some relief. The cartels would be less likely to turn cities into warzones if the government could blame the gringos for taking out a cartel leader. Also, there’s a reason AMLO arrested Guzmán instead of just blowing him up. He’s under pressure to portray his conflict with the cartels as law enforcement rather than what it is — war. American drone pilots would have no such qualms. 

There are risks involved in starting a drone war with the cartels. One is the risk of civilian deaths, which could make the cartels more popular and generate blowback against the U.S. A December 2021 New York Times report on drone warfare against ISIS showed just how bad civilian casualties can get when operators are given free rein. To avoid repeating those mistakes, any proposed strikes against the cartels must be subjected to a rigorous vetting process. U.S. forces could also make use of weapons like the Hellfire R9X. This so-called “Ninja bomb” carries no warhead and instead uses rotating blades to shred its target. Back in summer 2022, the U.S. probably used one to kill Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on the balcony of his Kabul villa without harming anyone else inside. 

Another risk is that strikes on cartel leaders could lead to an increased flow of migrants to the U.S. border, whether by destabilizing parts of Mexico where the cartels perform government functions or by sparking intra-cartel wars of succession. Of course, killing cartel members would also disrupt their human trafficking operations. It might be less costly — in terms of both resources and human suffering — for the U.S. to absorb the refugees its drone war creates than to allow the coyotes to continue their reign of terror. (RELATED: Biden Blames Republicans, Defends Illegal Immigrants In Speech Announcing Border Restrictions)

A third risk would be that the cartels could declare war against U.S. authorities, targeting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents or even their families. The only response to this would be that the cartels are already at war with this country. Just days before Biden’s first-ever visit to the border, a CBP agent was shot during a traffic stop, National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd told the Daily Caller News Foundation on Thursday.

Attacks against these agents could increase if we take the fight to the cartels. Those costs, however, must be weighed against the mounting death toll from Mexican fentanyl, which has killed more Americans than the Vietnam War.

Grayson Quay is an editor at the Daily Caller.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.