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Stratfor

By Peter Zeihan

STRATFOR often discusses how Russia is on a bit of a roll. The U.S. distraction in the Middle East has offered Russia a golden opportunity to re-establish its spheres of influence in the region, steadily expanding the Russian zone of control into a shape that is eerily reminiscent of the old Soviet Union. Since 2005, when this process began, Russia has clearly reasserted itself as the dominant power in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine, and has intimidated places like Georgia and Turkmenistan into a sort of silent acquiescence.

But we have not spent a great amount of time explaining why this is the case. It is undeniable that Russia is a Great Power, but few things in geopolitics are immutable, and Russia is no exception.

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While the world's best football (soccer) players kick around the ball for a month, the citizens of their respective countries may be distracted from their geopolitical concerns. It should be noted, however, that the highs and lows of football passions have sent countries into fits of bliss as well as occasionally exacerbating geopolitical conflicts – from the dissolution of Yugoslavia and ethnic tensions in Spain to a war between Honduras and El Salvador. STRATFOR isn't predicting that the World Cup will cause any conflicts this year. But we'll be watching geopolitics play out at the same time that we're keeping an eye on the football matches.

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A war among nations erupted at precisely 4 pm, South Africa time, today, June 11th. This war will last exactly 31 days, ending on July 11th.

As experts in global geopolitics and security, STRATFOR knows it's normally difficult to so definitively predict the duration of a global struggle. In this instance, however, we're talking about the FIFA World Cup. The climactic battle in this world war – the final match - will be witnessed by an estimated one billion people watching on TV, computers and mobile devices.

While the world's best football (soccer) players kick around the ball for a month, the citizens of their respective countries may be distracted from their geopolitical concerns. It should be noted, however, that the highs and lows of football passions have sent countries into fits of bliss as well as occasionally exacerbating geopolitical conflicts – from the dissolution of Yugoslavia and ethnic tensions in Spain to a war between Honduras and El Salvador. STRATFOR isn't predicting that the World Cup will cause any conflicts this year. But we'll be watching
geopolitics play out at the same time that we're keeping an eye on the football matches.

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By George Friedman

Last week's events off the coast of Israel continue to resonate. Turkish-Israeli relations have not quite collapsed since then but are at their lowest level since Israel's founding. U.S.-Israeli tensions have emerged, and European hostility toward Israel continues to intensify. The question has now become whether substantial consequences will follow from the incident. Put differently, the question is whether and how it will be exploited beyond the arena of public opinion.

The most significant threat to Israel would, of course, be military. International criticism is not without significance, but nations do not change direction absent direct threats to their interests. But powers outside the region are unlikely to exert military power against Israel, and even significant economic or political sanctions are unlikely to happen. Apart from the desire of outside powers to limit their involvement, this is rooted in the fact that significant actions are unlikely from inside the region either.

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By Scott Stewart

On the afternoon of Sunday, May 30, an Aeromexico flight from Paris to Mexico City was forced to land in Montreal after authorities discovered that a man who was on the U.S. no-fly list was aboard. The aircraft was denied permission to enter U.S. airspace, and the aircraft was diverted to Trudeau International Airport in Montreal. The man, a Somali named Abdirahman Ali Gaall, was removed from the plane and arrested by Canadian authorities on an outstanding U.S. warrant. After a search of all the remaining passengers and their baggage, the flight was allowed to continue to its original destination.

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By George Friedman

On Sunday, Israeli naval forces intercepted the ships of a Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO) delivering humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Israel had demanded that the vessels not go directly to Gaza but instead dock in Israeli ports, where the supplies would be offloaded and delivered to Gaza. The Turkish NGO refused, insisting on going directly to Gaza. Gunfire ensued when Israeli naval personnel boarded one of the vessels, and a significant number of the passengers and crew on the ship were killed or wounded.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon charged that the mission was simply an attempt to provoke the Israelis. That was certainly the case. The mission was designed to demonstrate that the Israelis were unreasonable and brutal. The hope was that Israel would be provoked to extreme action, further alienating Israel from the global community and possibly driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. The operation's planners also hoped this would trigger a political crisis in Israel.

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By Scott Stewart

One of the things we like to do in our Global Security and Intelligence Report from time to time is examine the convergence of a number of separate and unrelated developments and then analyze that convergence and craft a forecast. In recent months we have seen such a convergence occur.

The most recent development is the interview with the American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki that was released to jihadist Internet chat rooms May 23 by al-Malahim Media, the public relations arm of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In the interview, al-Awlaki encouraged strikes against American civilians. He also has been tied to Maj. Nidal Hasan, who was charged in the November 2009 Fort Hood shooting, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the perpetrator of the failed Christmas Day 2009 airline bombing. And al-Awlaki reportedly helped inspire Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested in connection with the attempted Times Square attack in May.

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By Scott Stewart

Looking at the world from a protective-intelligence perspective, the theme for the past week has not been improvised explosive devices or potential mass-casualty attacks. While there have been suicide bombings in Afghanistan, alleged threats to the World Cup and seemingly endless post-mortem discussions of the failed May 1 Times Square attack, one recurring and under-reported theme in a number of regions around the world has been kidnapping.

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By Scott Stewart

In the wake of the botched May 1 Times Square attack, some observers have begun to characterize Faisal Shahzad and the threat he posed as some sort of new or different approach to terrorism in the United States. Indeed, one media story on Sunday quoted terrorism experts who claimed that recent cases such as those involving Shahzad and Najibullah Zazi indicate that jihadists in the United States are "moving toward the "British model." This model was described in the story as that of a Muslim who immigrates to the United Kingdom for an education, builds a life there and, after being radicalized, travels to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and then returns to the United Kingdom to launch an attack.

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By George Friedman

The European financial crisis is moving to a new level. The Germans have finally consented to lead a bailout effort for Greece. The effort has angered the German public, which has acceded with sullen reluctance. It does not accept the idea that it is Germans' responsibility to save Greeks from their own actions. The Greeks are enraged at the reluctance, having understood that membership in the European Union meant that Greece's problems were Europe's.

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By George Friedman

Financial panics are an integral part of capitalism. So are economic recessions. The system generates them and it becomes stronger because of them. Like forest fires, they are painful when they occur, yet without them, the forest could not survive. They impose discipline, punishing the reckless, rewarding the cautious. They do so imperfectly, of course, as at times the reckless are rewarded and the cautious penalized. Political crises — as opposed to normal financial panics — emerge when the reckless appear to be the beneficiaries of the crisis they have caused, while the rest of society bears the burdens of their recklessness. At that point, the crisis ceases to be financial or economic. It becomes political.

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By Scott Stewart

On April 25, The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) posted a statement on the Internet confirming that two of its top leaders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri, had been killed April 18 in a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation in Salahuddin province. Al-Baghdadi (an Iraqi also known as Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi), was the head of the ISI, an al Qaeda-led jihadist alliance in Iraq, and went by the title "Leader of the Faithful." Al-Masri (an Egyptian national also known as Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir), was the military leader of the ISI and head of the group's military wing, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

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By Peter Zeihan

In recent weeks, STRATFOR has explored how the U.S. government has been seeing its interests in the Middle East and South Asia shift. When it comes down to it, the United States is interested in stability at the highest level — a sort of cold equilibrium among the region's major players that prevents any one of them, or a coalition of them — from overpowering the others and projecting power outward.

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By George Friedman

U.S. President Barack Obama announced the broad structure of his Afghanistan strategy in a speech at West Point on Tuesday evening. The strategy had three core elements. First, he intends to maintain pressure on al Qaeda on the Afghan-Pakistani border and in other regions of the world. Second, he intends to blunt the Taliban offensive by sending an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan, along with an unspecified number of NATO troops he hopes will join them. Third, he will use the space created by the counteroffensive against the Taliban and the resulting security in some regions of Afghanistan to train and build Afghan military forces and civilian structures to assume responsibility after the United States withdraws. Obama added that the U.S. withdrawal will begin in July 2011, but provided neither information on the magnitude of the withdrawal nor the date when the withdrawal would conclude. He made it clear that these will depend on the situation on the ground, adding that the U.S. commitment is finite.

In understanding this strategy, we must begin with an obvious but unstated point: The extra forces that will be deployed to Afghanistan are not expected to defeat the Taliban. Instead, their mission is to reverse the momentum of previous years and to create the circumstances under which an Afghan force can take over the mission. The U.S. presence is therefore a stopgap measure, not the ultimate solution.

The ultimate solution is training an Afghan force to engage the Taliban over the long haul, undermining support for the Taliban, and dealing with al Qaeda forces along the Pakistani border and in the rest of Afghanistan. If the United States withdraws all of its forces as Obama intends, the Afghan military would have to assume all of these missions. Therefore, we must consider the condition of the Afghan military to evaluate the strategy's viability.

Afghanistan vs. Vietnam

Obama went to great pains to distinguish Afghanistan from Vietnam, and there are indeed many differences. The core strategy adopted by Richard Nixon (not Lyndon Johnson) in Vietnam, called "Vietnamization," saw U.S. forces working to blunt and disrupt the main North Vietnamese forces while the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) would be trained, motivated and deployed to replace U.S. forces to be systematically withdrawn from Vietnam. The equivalent of the Afghan surge was the U.S. attack on North Vietnamese Army (NVA) bases in Cambodia and offensives in northern South Vietnam designed to disrupt NVA command and control and logistics and forestall a major offensive by the NVA. Troops were in fact removed in parallel with the Cambodian offensives.

Nixon faced two points Obama now faces. First, the United States could not provide security for South Vietnam indefinitely. Second, the South Vietnamese would have to provide security for themselves. The role of the United States was to create the conditions under which the ARVN would become an effective fighting force; the impending U.S. withdrawal was intended to increase the pressure on the Vietnamese government to reform and on the ARVN to fight.

Many have argued that the core weakness of the strategy was that the ARVN was not motivated to fight. This was certainly true in some cases, but the idea that the South Vietnamese were generally sympathetic to the Communists is untrue. Some were, but many weren't, as shown by the minimal refugee movement into NVA-held territory or into North Vietnam itself contrasted with the substantial refugee movement into U.S./ARVN-held territory and away from NVA forces. The patterns of refugee movement are, we think, highly indicative of true sentiment.

Certainly, there were mixed sentiments, but the failure of the ARVN was not primarily due to hostility or even lack of motivation. Instead, it was due to a problem that must be addressed and overcome if the Afghanistation war is to succeed. That problem is understanding the role that Communist sympathizers and agents played in the formation of the ARVN.

By the time the ARVN expanded — and for that matter from its very foundation — the North Vietnamese intelligence services had created a systematic program for inserting operatives and recruiting sympathizers at every level of the ARVN, from senior staff and command positions down to the squad level. The exploitation of these assets was not random nor merely intended to undermine moral. Instead, it provided the NVA with strategic, operational and tactical intelligence on ARVN operations, and when ARVN and U.S. forces operated together, on U.S. efforts as well.

In any insurgency, the key for insurgent victory is avoiding battles on the enemy's terms and initiating combat only on the insurgents' terms. The NVA was a light infantry force. The ARVN — and the U.S. Army on which it was modeled — was a much heavier, combined-arms force. In any encounter between the NVA and its enemies the NVA would lose unless the encounter was at the time and place of the NVA's choosing. ARVN and U.S. forces had a tremendous advantage in firepower and sheer weight. But they had a significant weakness: The weight they bought to bear meant they were less agile. The NVA had a tremendous weakness. Caught by surprise, it would be defeated. And it had a great advantage: Its intelligence network inside the ARVN generally kept it from being surprised. It also revealed weakness in its enemies' deployment, allowing it to initiate successful offensives.

All war is about intelligence, but nowhere is this truer than in counterinsurgency and guerrilla war, where invisibility to the enemy and maintaining the initiative in all engagements is key. Only clear intelligence on the enemy's capability gives this initiative to an insurgent, and only denying intelligence to the enemy — or knowing what the enemy knows and intends — preserves the insurgent force.

The construction of an Afghan military is an obvious opportunity for Taliban operatives and sympathizers to be inserted into the force. As in Vietnam, such operatives and sympathizers are not readily distinguishable from loyal soldiers; ideology is not something easy to discern. With these operatives in place, the Taliban will know of and avoid Afghan army forces and will identify Afghan army weaknesses. Knowing that the Americans are withdrawing as the NVA did in Vietnam means the rational strategy of the Taliban is to reduce operational tempo, allow the withdrawal to proceed, and then take advantage of superior intelligence and the ability to disrupt the Afghan forces internally to launch the Taliban offensives.

The Western solution is not to prevent Taliban sympathizers from penetrating the Afghan army. Rather, the solution is penetrating the Taliban. In Vietnam, the United States used signals intelligence extensively. The NVA came to understand this and minimized radio communications, accepting inefficient central command and control in return for operational security. The solution to this problem lay in placing South Vietnamese into the NVA. There were many cases in which this worked, but on balance, the NVA had a huge advantage in the length of time it had spent penetrating the ARVN versus U.S. and ARVN counteractions. The intelligence war on the whole went to the North Vietnamese. The United States won almost all engagements, but the NVA made certain that it avoided most engagements until it was ready.

In the case of Afghanistan, the United States has far more sophisticated intelligence-gathering tools than it did in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the basic principle remains: An intelligence tool can be understood, taken into account and evaded. By contrast, deep penetration on multiple levels by human intelligence cannot be avoided.

Pakistan's Role

Obama mentioned Pakistan's critical role. Clearly, he understands the lessons of Vietnam regarding sanctuary, and so he made it clear that he expects Pakistan to engage and destroy Taliban forces on its territory and to deny Afghan Taliban supplies, replacements and refuge. He cited the Swat and South Waziristan offensives as examples of the Pakistanis' growing effectiveness. While this is a significant piece of his strategy, the Pakistanis must play another role with regard to intelligence.

The heart of Obama's strategy lies not in the surge, but rather in turning the war over to the Afghans. As in Vietnam, any simplistic model of loyalties doesn't work. There are Afghans sufficiently motivated to form the core of an effective army. As in Vietnam, the problem is that this army will contain large numbers of Taliban sympathizers; there is no way to prevent this. The Taliban is not stupid: It has and will continue to move its people into as many key positions as possible.

The challenge lies in leveling the playing field by inserting operatives into the Taliban. Since the Afghan intelligence services are inherently insecure, they can't carry out such missions. American personnel bring technical intelligence to bear, but that does not compensate for human intelligence. The only entity that could conceivably penetrate the Taliban and remain secure is the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This would give the Americans and Afghans knowledge of Taliban plans and deployments. This would diminish the ability of the Taliban to evade attacks, and although penetrated as well, the Afghan army would enjoy a chance ARVN never had.

But only the ISI could do this, and thinking of the ISI as secure is hard to do from a historical point of view. The ISI worked closely with the Taliban during the Afghan civil war that brought it to power and afterwards, and the ISI had many Taliban sympathizers. The ISI underwent significant purging and restructuring to eliminate these elements over recent years, but no one knows how successful these efforts were.

The ISI remains the center of gravity of the entire problem. If the war is about creating an Afghan army, and if we accept that the Taliban will penetrate this army heavily no matter what, then the only counter is to penetrate the Taliban equally. Without that, Obama's entire strategy fails as Nixon's did.

In his talk, Obama quite properly avoided discussing the intelligence aspect of the war. He clearly cannot ignore the problem we have laid out, but neither can he simply count on the ISI. He does not need the entire ISI for this mission, however. He needs a carved out portion — compartmentalized and invisible to the greatest possible extent — to recruit and insert operatives into the Taliban and to create and manage communication networks so as to render the Taliban transparent. Given Taliban successes of late, it isn't clear whether he has this intelligence capability. Either way, we would have to assume that some Pakistani solution to the Taliban intelligence issue has been discussed (and such a solution must be Pakistani for ethnic and linguistic reasons).

Every war has its center of gravity, and Obama has made clear that the center of gravity of this war will be the Afghan military's ability to replace the Americans in a very few years. If that is the center of gravity, and if maintaining security against Taliban penetration is impossible, then the single most important enabler to Obama's strategy would seem to be the ability to make the Taliban transparent.

Therefore, Pakistan is important not only as the Cambodia of this war, the place where insurgents go to regroup and resupply, but also as a key element of the solution to the intelligence war. It is all about Pakistan. And that makes Obama's plan difficult to execute. It is far easier to write these words than to execute a plan based on them. But to the extent Obama is serious about the Afghan army taking over, he and his team have had to think about how to do this.

(c) Stratfor www.stratfor.com Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved

 

By Ben West and Fred Burton

In an indictment handed down Nov. 20, the U.S. Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois accused 15 individuals of being involved in the trafficking of cocaine and other narcotics in the Chicago area. The 15 were arrested in a nationwide counter-narcotics operation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) dubbed "Project Coronado," which was aimed at dismantling the drug trafficking network of La Familia Michoacana (LFM), a mid-sized and relatively new drug cartel based in Michoacan state in southwestern Mexico.

The U.S. investigation of LFM has revealed many details about the operation of the group in the United States and answered some important questions about the nature of Mexican drug trafficking and distribution north of the border.

LFM stands out among the various drug cartels that operate throughout Mexico for several reasons. Unlike other drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) that have always been focused on drug trafficking, LFM first arose in Michoacan several years ago as a vigilante response to kidnappers and drug gangs. Before long, however, LFM members were themselves accused of conducting the very crimes they had opposed, including kidnapping for ransom, cocaine and marijuana trafficking and, eventually, methamphetamine production. The group is now the largest and most powerful criminal organization in Michoacan — a largely rural state located on Mexico's southwestern Pacific coast — and maintains a significant presence in several surrounding states.

Beyond its vigilante origins, LFM has also set itself apart from other criminal groups in Mexico by its almost cult-like ideology. LFM leaders are known to distribute documents to the group's members that include codes of conduct and pseudo-religious quotations from Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, also known as "El Mas Loco" ("the craziest one"), who appears to serve as a sort of inspirational leader of the group.

Unanswered questions

In April 2009, STRATFOR published a report on the dynamics of narcotics distribution in the United States. It laid out the differences between trafficking (transporting large quantities of drugs from the suppliers to the buyers over the most efficient routes possible) and distribution (the smaller scale, retail sale of small quantities of drugs over a broader geographic area) as well as the various gangs on the U.S. side that are involved in drug trafficking. The report outlined the differences in the resources and skills required to transport tons of narcotics hundreds of miles through Mexico versus picking up those loads at the border and managing the U.S. retail networks that distribute narcotics to the individual buyers on the street.

In our April analysis, we identified several intelligence gaps in the interface between the Mexican-based drug traffickers (such as the Sinaloa Cartel, the Beltran-Leyva Organization [BLO] and Los Zetas) and the U.S.-based drug distributors (such as MS-13, Barrio Azteca and the Mexican Mafia). One question we were left with was: How deeply involved are the Mexican DTOs in the U.S. distribution network? While it appeared that narcotics changed hands at the border, it wasn't clear how or even whether the relationships between gangs and drug traffickers had an effect on the distribution of narcotics within the United States. Although we suspected it, there was little evidence that showed cartel involvement in the downstream or retail distribution of narcotics in the U.S. market.

Command and control in Chicago

Now there is evidence. The indictment handed down Nov. 20 in Chicago clearly alleges that a criminal group in Chicago was directly conspiring with the drug trafficking organization LFM to distribute shipments of cocaine. The indictment specifically links the criminal group in Chicago to LFM and labels it a "command and control group" run by someone in Michoacan. While the indictment only referred to this person as "individual A," we suspect that the unidentified person was LFM operational manager Servando Gomez Martinez, the second in command of LFM. The manager of the Chicago command and control group, Jorge Luis Torres-Galvan, and the distribution supervisor, Jose Gonzalez-Zavala, were allegedly in regular contact with their manager in Mexico, updating him on accounting issues and relying on him to authorize which wholesale distributors the group could do business with in the United States.

These wholesale distributors also appear to have had close ties to the command and control group. According to the indictment, they were allowed to sell cocaine on consignment — they could wait to pay Zavala once the entire load was sold — an agreement that indicates a great deal of trust between the supplier and the retail distributor. It was likely a matter of the LFM commander in Mexico authorizing their involvement and probably was based on an existing business or extended-family relationship. Due to LFM's ideological basis, its members should be thought of more as adherents than employees. The group does not operate using the same business objectives as most other major DTOs, so we would expect personal relationships to be more valued than strictly business relationships among LFM members.

Another member of the group, Jorge Guadalupe Ayala-German, allegedly operated stash houses in the Chicago area where deliveries of narcotics would come in and shipments of cash would leave. The indictment says Ezequel Hernandez-Patino was responsible for physically delivering the shipments of cocaine to the wholesale distributors, and Ismail Flores with Oscar Bueno were responsible for transporting money south to Dallas, where they would deliver cash proceeds from the sale of cocaine and pick up more cocaine to sell. The indictment does not indicate that Flores or Bueno supplied any other markets between Dallas and Chicago, which suggests that the Chicago-based LFM members were fairly compartmentalized.

Project Coronado

The larger operation from which the Chicago indictment emerged, the DEA-led Project Coronado, was a joint operation with the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and numerous other agencies. It followed several similar nationwide sweeps such as Operation Xcellerator, a multi-year effort to dismantle the Sinaloa cartel's connections in the United States, and Project Reckoning, which went after a Gulf cartel network in the United States that was trafficking cocaine to Italy. Under Project Coronado, the DEA, FBI and ATF, along with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, have made a total of almost 1,200 arrests, seized $32.8 million in U.S. currency and seized 11.7 tons of marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin since the operation began in 2005. Dozens of other indictments and criminal complaints (in addition to the Chicago indictment) have been unsealed against associates of the group across the country since Oct. 22, the official culmination of Project Coronado.

The other cases revealed more details about LFM's operations in the United States: how it trafficked methamphetamines and cocaine from Mexico to Dallas, how a cell in Nashville was supplied by a distribution hub in Atlanta, and how a group in New York had obtained automatic assault rifles, high-caliber pistols and ammunition with the intent to smuggle those weapons back to Mexico to supply LFM. LFM has been responsible for a substantial level of violence in southwestern Mexico, and former Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Morina Mora recently called it the most dangerous cartel in Mexico.

The Northern District of Texas had the most cases as a result of Project Coronado. It appears that Dallas was a major U.S. hub for LFM, where it managed drug shipments from Mexico to other regions (Chicago and Arkansas were specifically mentioned) and the collection of cash from those distributors before shipping the cash back to Mexico. Dallas is a logical hub for such activity because of its proximity to Mexico and its location along Interstate 35 and Interstate 20, which link Dallas to the rest of the United States as well as points to the south. In at least one case, an individual attempting to smuggle four kilograms of methamphetamines to Dallas passed through the McAllen, Texas, border crossing on a passenger bus but was interdicted by police.

Most indictments (including the one in Chicago) pointed out that LFM groups in the United States conducted countersurveillance while moving drug shipments. On one occasion, accused Dallas drug distributor Soto Cervantes changed the location of a meet-up point when he learned that the person he was meeting suspected that he was being followed. The change in location caused the police (who were indeed following the transporter) to call off the surveillance mission in order to not compromise their investigation. As a result, authorities relied primarily on electronic surveillance of the suspects' communications through wiretaps on home and cellular phones — of which the suspects had many and which they changed frequently.

There were other cases when police were unable to follow suspects due to such surveillance detection tactics, when targeted traffickers called off meetings and changed vehicles in an effort to confuse police. While seemingly simple, these tactics indicate a higher degree of tradecraft and professionalism among the suspects linked to LFM, who don't appear to be members of run-of-the-mill street gangs. It is unclear if these tactics have been institutionalized in the LFM network, but judging by the frequency that police encountered them in various U.S. cities during Project Coronado, they appear to be a standard practice for many if not all LFM members.

Implications

The details released in the Nov. 20 indictment provide solid evidence that drug trafficking organizations in Mexico (specifically LFM) have established command and control groups inside the United States that report to and receive orders from commanders in Mexico. And this shows that LFM has had an international presence far beyond what we originally suspected and is not just a small-time trafficking group in southwestern Mexico.

Whereas most drug distribution in the United States is carried out by individual gangs serving their own interests and operating on their own familiar turf, the criminal group in Chicago working for LFM was carrying out orders issued by a drug trafficking organization some 3,000 miles away. And based on the interaction the Chicago group had with its contact in Mexico, the use of such tactics as countersurveillance measures, the coordination among groups in different cities and reports from STRATFOR sources within U.S. counternarcotics agencies, it is likely that the individual in Mexico was managing several groups throughout the United States.

Most criminal enterprises avoid this kind of command and control structure for two reasons. First, distribution in a foreign country is not typically in a Mexican-based drug trafficker's area of expertise. Their interests tend to focus on their own territory, which they can control much more easily due to their familiarity with and proximity to it. Second, as seen in these latest arrests, U.S. law enforcement agencies are much more proficient at thwarting drug distribution operations than Mexican law enforcement agencies are. (LFM has recently proved very proficient indeed at challenging Mexican security forces.) By passing the drugs off to gangs in the United States, major cartels are also able to avoid a great deal of liability at the hands of U.S. law enforcement. In a way, LFM's efforts to move downstream, farther from the source of the cocaine, mirror those of other, larger Mexican DTOs that are expanding their control over the supply of cocaine in South America as they move upstream, closer to the source.

And this raises the question: Why would LFM want to expand its operations so deeply into the United States when other Mexican DTOs maintain a more superficial presence there? One possible answer is that LFM is much smaller than Sinaloa, Los Zetas and BLO, controls much less territory and gets a smaller share of the narcotics being trafficked through Mexico. By expanding business into the United States, LFM is able to leverage what little control it does have in order to gain access to the highly lucrative retail market. And then there is LFM's ideological bent, which makes it behave at times more like a cult than a purely pragmatic business.

Our answer to the above question is only conjecture. What is certain, at this point, is that there is now a precedent for Mexican DTOs to have a greater influence over their lower-level supply-chain operations in the United States. The details released in the Chicago indictment provide a better understanding of how Mexican-based drug traffickers impact the drug distribution network inside the United States and prove that at least one, "La Familia," is taking a very hands-on approach.

(c) Stratfor www.stratfor.com Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved

 

By George Friedman

With U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement of his strategy in Afghanistan, the U.S.-jihadist war has entered a new phase. With its allies, the United States has decided to increase its focus on the Afghan war while continuing to withdraw from Iraq. Along with focusing on Afghanistan, it follows that there will be increased Western attention on Pakistan. Meanwhile, the question of what to do with Iran remains open, and is in turn linked to U.S.-Israeli relations. The region from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush remains in a war or near-war status. In a fundamental sense, U.S. strategy has not shifted under Obama: The United States remains in a spoiling-attack state.

As we have discussed, the primary U.S. interest in this region is twofold. The first aspect is to prevent the organization of further major terrorist attacks on the United States. The second is to prevent al Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups from taking control of any significant countries.

U.S. operations in this region mainly consist of spoiling attacks aimed at frustrating the jihadists' plans rather than at imposing Washington's will in the region. The United States lacks the resources to impose its will, and ultimately doesn't need to. Rather, it needs to wreck its adversaries' plans. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the primary American approach consists of this tack. That is the nature of spoiling attacks. Obama has thus continued the Bush administration's approach to the war, though he has shifted some details.

The Jihadist Viewpoint

It is therefore time to consider the war from the jihadist point of view. This is a difficult task given that the jihadists do not constitute a single, organized force with a command structure and staff that could express that view. It is compounded by the fact that al Qaeda prime, our term for the original al Qaeda that ordered and organized the attacks on 9/11 and in Madrid and London, is now largely shattered.

While bearing this in mind, it must be remembered that this fragmentation is both a strategic necessity and a weapon of war for jihadists. The United States can strike the center of gravity of any jihadist force. It naturally cannot strike what doesn't exist, so the jihadist movement has been organized to deny the United States that center of gravity, or command structure which, if destroyed, would leave the movement wrecked. Thus, even were Osama bin Laden killed or captured, the jihadist movement is set up to continue.

So although we cannot speak of a jihadist viewpoint in the sense that we can speak of an American viewpoint, we can ask this question: If we were a jihadist fighter at the end of 2009, what would the world look like to us, what would we want to achieve and what might we do to try to achieve that?

We must bear in mind that al Qaeda began the war with a core strategic intent, namely, to spark revolutions in the Sunni Muslim world by overthrowing existing regimes and replacing them with jihadist regimes. This was part of the jihadist group's long-term strategy to recreate a multinational Islamist empire united under al Qaeda's interpretation of Shariah.

The means toward this end involved demonstrating to the Muslim masses that their regimes were complicit with the leading Christian power, i.e., the United States, and that only American backing kept these Sunni regimes in power. By striking the United States on Sept. 11, al Qaeda wanted to demonstrate that the United States was far more vulnerable than believed, by extension demonstrating that U.S. client regimes were not as powerful as they appeared. This was meant to give the Islamic masses a sense that uprisings against Muslim regimes not dedicated to Shariah could succeed. In their view, any American military response — an inevitability after 9/11 — would further incite the Muslim masses rather than intimidate them.

The last eight years of war have ultimately been disappointing to the jihadists, however. Rather than a massive uprising in the Muslim world, not a single regime has been replaced with a jihadist regime. The primary reason has been that Muslim regimes allied with the United States decided they had more to fear from the jihadists than from the Americans, and chose to use their intelligence and political power to attack and suppress the jihadists. In other words, rather than trigger an uprising, the jihadists generated a strengthened anti-jihadist response from existing Muslim states. The spoiling attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in other countries in the Horn of Africa and North Africa, generated some support for the jihadists, but that support has since diminished and the spoiling attacks have disrupted these countries sufficiently to make them unsuitable as bases of operation for anything more than local attacks. In other words, the attacks tied the jihadists up in local conflicts, diverting them from operations against the United States and Europe.

Under this intense pressure, the jihadist movement has fragmented, though it continues to exist. Incapable of decisive action at the moment, it has goals beyond surviving as a fragmented entity, albeit with some fairly substantial fragments. And it is caught on the horns of a strategic dilemma.

Operationally, jihadists continue to be engaged against the United States. In Afghanistan, the jihadist movement is relying on the Taliban to tie down and weaken American forces. In Iraq, the remnants of the jihadist movement are doing what they can to shatter the U.S.-sponsored coalition government in Baghdad and further tie down American forces by attacking Shiites and key members of the Sunni community. Outside these two theaters, the jihadists are working to attack existing Muslim governments collaborating with the United States — particularly Pakistan — but with periodic attacks striking other Muslim states.

These attacks represent the fragmentation of the jihadists. Their ability to project power is limited. By default, they have accordingly adopted a strategy of localism, in which their primary intent is to strike existing governments while simultaneously tying down American forces in a hopeless attempt to stabilize the situation.

The strategic dilemma is this: The United States is engaged in a spoiling action with the primary aim of creating conditions in which jihadists are bottled up fighting indigenous forces rather than being free to plan attacks on the United States or systematically try to pull down existing regimes. And the current jihadist strategy plays directly into American hands. First, the attacks recruit Muslim regimes into deploying their intelligence and security forces against the jihadists, which is precisely what the United States wants. Secondly, it shifts jihadist strength away from transnational actions to local actions, which is also what the United States wants. These local attacks, which kill mostly Muslims, also serve to alienate many Muslims from the jihadists.

The jihadists are currently playing directly into U.S. hands because, rhetoric aside, the United States cannot regard instability in the Islamic world as a problem. Let's be more precise on this: An ideal outcome for the United States would be the creation of stable, pro-American regimes in the region eager and able to attack and destroy jihadist networks. There are some regimes in the region like this, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The probability of creating such stable, eager and capable regimes in places like Iraq or Afghanistan is unlikely in the extreme. The second-best outcome for the United States involves a conflict in which the primary forces battling — and neutralizing — each other are Muslim, with the American forces in a secondary role. This has been achieved to some extent in Iraq. Obama's goal is to create a situation in Afghanistan in which Afghan government forces engage Taliban forces with little or no U.S. involvement. Meanwhile, in Pakistan the Americans would like to see an effective effort by Islamabad to suppress jihadists throughout Pakistan. If they cannot get suppression, the United States will settle for a long internal conflict that would tie down the jihadists.

A Self-Defeating Strategy

The jihadists are engaged in a self-defeating strategy when they spread out and act locally. The one goal they must have, and the one outcome the United States fears, is the creation of stable jihadist regimes. The strategy of locally focused terrorism has proved ineffective. It not only fails to mobilize the Islamic masses, it creates substantial coalitions seeking to suppress the jihadists.

The jihadist attack on the United States has failed. The presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has reshaped the behavior of regional governments. Fear of instability generated by the war has generated counteractions by regional governments. Contrary to what the jihadists expected or hoped for, there was no mass uprising and therefore no counter to anti-jihadist actions by regimes seeking to placate the United States. The original fear, that the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan would generate massive hostility, was not wrong. But the hostility did not strengthen the jihadists, and instead generated anti-jihadist actions by governments.

From the jihadist point of view, it would seem essential to get the U.S. military out of the region and to relax anti-jihadist actions by regional security forces. Continued sporadic and ineffective action by jihadists achieves nothing and generates forces with which they can't cope. If the United States withdrew, and existing tensions within countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan were allowed to mature undisturbed, new opportunities might present themselves.

Most significantly, the withdrawal of U.S. troops would strengthen Iran. The jihadists are no friends of Shiite Iran, and neither are Iran's neighbors. In looking for a tool for political mobilization in the Gulf region or in Afghanistan absent a U.S. presence, the Iranian threat would best serve the jihadists. The Iranian threat combined with the weakness of regional Muslim powers would allow the jihadists to join a religious and nationalist opposition to Tehran. The ability to join religion and nationalism would turn the local focus from something that takes the jihadists away from regime change to something that might take them toward it.

The single most powerful motivator for an American withdrawal would be a period of open quiescence. An openly stated consensus for standing down, in particular because of a diminished terrorist threat, would facilitate something the Obama administration wants most of all: a U.S. withdrawal from the region. Providing the Americans with a justification for leaving would open the door for new possibilities. The jihadists played a hand on 9/11 that they hoped would prove a full house. It turned into a bust. When that happens, you fold your hand and play a new one. And there is always a hand being dealt so long as you have some chips left.

The challenge here is that the jihadists have created a situation in which they have defined their own credibility in terms of their ability to carry out terrorist attacks, however poorly executed or counterproductive they have become. Al Qaeda prime's endless calls for action have become the strategic foundation for the jihadists: Action has become an end in itself. The manner in which the jihadists have survived as a series of barely connected pods of individuals scattered across continents has denied the United States a center of gravity to strike. It has also turned the jihadists from a semi-organized force into one incapable of defining strategic shifts.

The jihadists' strategic dilemma is that they have lost the 2001-2008 phase of the war but are not defeated. To begin to recoup, they must shift their strategy. But they lack the means for doing so because of what they have had to do to survive. At the same time, there are other processes in play. The Taliban, which has even more reason to want the United States out of Afghanistan, might shift to an anti-jihadist strategy: It could liquidate al Qaeda, return to power in Afghanistan and then reconsider its strategy later. So, too, in other areas.

From the U.S. point of view, an open retreat by the jihadists would provide short-term relief but long-term problems. The moment when the enemy sues for peace is the moment when the pressure should be increased rather than decreased. But direct U.S. interests in the region are so minimal that a more distant terrorist threat will be handled in a more distant future. As the jihadists are too fragmented to take strategic positions, U.S. pressure will continue in any event.

Oddly enough, as much as the United States is uncomfortable in the position it is in, the jihadists are in a much worse position.

(c) Stratfor www.stratfor.com Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved

 

By Scott Stewart and Alex Posey

There are two cartel wars currently raging in Mexico that have combined to produce record levels of violence in 2009. The first war is the struggle between the government of Mexico and the drug cartels. The second, a parallel war, is the fight among the various cartels as they compete for control of lucrative supply routes. Shortly after his inauguration in December 2006, President Felipe Calderon launched an all-out effort to target the cartels, which he viewed as a major threat to Mexico's security and stability. Over the past three years, the government's effort has weakened and fragmented some of the major cartels (namely the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels), but this government progress has upset the balance of power among the cartels, which has resulted in increased violence. Former cartel allies have been pitted against each other in bloody battles of attrition as rival cartels have tried to take advantage of their weakened competitors and seize control of smuggling routes.

In this year's report on Mexico's drug cartels, we assess the most significant developments of the past year and provide an updated description of the country's powerful drug-trafficking organizations as well as a forecast for 2010. This annual report is a product of the coverage we maintain on a weekly basis through our Mexico Security Memo as well as other analyses we produce throughout the year.

Mexico's Drug Trafficking Organizations

La Familia: This cartel has garnered a great deal of media attention during the past year, especially after being labeled in May "the most violent criminal organization in Mexico" by former Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora. La Familia has grabbed headlines mainly because of its brazen attacks against government forces and its pseudo-ideological roots. In spite of its public image, the La Familia organization still remains relatively small and geographically isolated compared to the larger and more established cartels. The La Familia organization's headquarters and main area of operation is in the southwestern state of Michoacan, hence the name of the principal group: La Familia Michoacana. The organization also has regional franchises that operate in the neighboring states of Guerrero, Guanajuato and Mexico, as well as a limited presence in Jalisco and Queretaro states. The degree to which these groups coordinate with each other and how much autonomy they possess is unclear, though they all reportedly follow the same cult-like ideology. Without direct access to the U.S.-Mexico border, La Familia is geographically constrained and must pay "taxes" to the organizations that control the border corridors through which La Familia's product is moved.

Gulf cartel: At the beginning of Calderon's campaign against the cartels, the Gulf cartel was considered the most powerful drug-trafficking organization in Mexico. After nearly three years of bearing the brunt of Mexican law enforcement and military efforts, however, the Gulf cartel is today only a shell of its former self. At its height, a great deal of the Gulf cartel's power came from its former enforcement arm, Los Zetas. Today the two are separate entities, with Los Zetas being the dominant organization and controlling much of the Gulf cartel's former territory. The relationship between the two organizations reportedly was somewhat strained over the past year when the Gulf cartel leadership refused to take orders from Los Zetas chief Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano. Despite this rift, the two organizations continue to work together when their interests align.

Los Zetas: Over the past year, the group has held firm its position as one of the most powerful cartels operating in Mexico while trying to extend its presence southward into Central America from its core area of operations along Mexico's eastern coast and the Yucatan Peninsula. The organization remains fully under the control of "El Lazca." There have been rumors that Lazcano Lazcano has tried to consolidate control over what is left of the Gulf cartel over the past year and integrate the remaining personnel into Los Zetas' operations, but these reports have not been confirmed. Los Zetas have a well-documented relationship with Los Kaibiles (Guatemalan special forces deserters turned criminal muscle) since at least 2006, which has helped facilitate Los Zetas' expansion into Guatemala. A Guatemalan joint military and law enforcement operation in March raided a Los Zetas camp and air strip in the border department of Ixcan that were being utilized for the tactical training of Los Zeta recruits as well as a destination for aerial deliveries of cocaine — further indication that Los Zetas have an established presence in Guatemala. This push southward has given the organization greater control of its overland cocaine supply line into Mexico and enabled it to control much of the human smuggling from Central America into Mexico and the United States.

Los Zetas have also worked with the Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO) throughout 2009. The two organizations are currently trying to wrest control away from La Familia in the Michoacan and Guerrero regions to gain access to the lucrative Pacific ports of Lazaro Cardenas and Acapulco. There has also been a concerted effort by the Los Zetas leadership to become stakeholders in the BLO over the past year, but currently their role remains that of hired muscle to supplement the BLO's ongoing operations as the organization pursues its own agenda. Los Zetas have also contracted themselves out to the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization, also known as the Juarez cartel, to serve as advisers and trainers for the organization as they both battle their common rival, the Sinaloa cartel, for control over the Juarez border region.

Beltran-Leyva Organization: After a very active 2008, the BLO has kept a relatively low profile throughout much of 2009. After the BLO secured control of its territory in mid-2008 following its split with the Sinaloa cartel (the BLO/Sinaloa battle for territory accounted for a significant portion of the violence in Mexico in early 2008), the cartel was able to concentrate on consolidating and streamlining its narcotics smuggling operations. After the consolidation, the group went on the offensive again in October and November when it teamed up with Los Zetas to target La Familia in Guerrero and Michoacan states. The BLO remains under the command of Arturo Beltran Leyva, who is supported by a well-established network along Mexico's Pacific coast and into northeastern Mexico. The BLO has been in the narcotics business a long time and has perhaps the most sophisticated intelligence capability of any of the cartels.

Sinaloa cartel: In spite of losing some of its former allies like the Carrillo Fuentes Organization and the BLO in 2008, the Sinaloa cartel remains the most formidable and dominant cartel in Mexico today. Headed by the world's most wanted drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, the Sinaloa cartel demonstrated its resiliency in 2009 and remained quite active throughout the year. Guzman's partners, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia, Ignacio "El Nacho" Coronel Villareal and Juan "El Azul" Esparragoza Moreno, each have their own respective networks and continue to work together when necessary to traffic narcotics northward from South America.

The conflict in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua state between the Sinaloa cartel and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization (VCF), also known as the Juarez cartel, has undoubtedly been the primary focus of the Sinaloa cartel over the past year. The conflict has essentially resulted in a stalemate between the two organizations as they battle for control over the lucrative Juarez plaza. The Sinaloa cartel still maintains a significant presence in the territory along the Pacific coast of Mexico and the Sierra Madre Occidental. While violence has lessened significantly between the Sinaloa cartel and the BLO, their overlapping geography continues to generate some conflict between the two organizations, particularly in the state of Sinaloa. The Sinaloa cartel has also remained active in Central and South America throughout 2009 as it attempts to exert greater control over the flow of weapons and narcotics from South America to Mexico.

The Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization/Juarez cartel: The VCF is based out of the northern city of Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua state. The cartel is led by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, who took over after the 1997 death of his brother and cartel founder Amado Carrillo Fuentes. Throughout 2009, the Juarez cartel has maintained its long-standing alliance with the BLO, which is helping the VCF in its vicious battle with the Sinaloa cartel for control of Juarez.

The VCF is yet another Mexican drug trafficking organization (DTO) that has fallen significantly in the past few years. The VCF and its enforcement arm, La Linea, have been locked in a battle for nearly two years with their former partners from the Sinaloa cartel for control over the lucrative Juarez plaza. The prolonged conflict has taken its toll on the VCF and has forced the cartel to resort to other criminal activities to finance its battle for Juarez, primarily kidnapping, human trafficking, prostitution, extortion and the retail sale of drugs to the domestic Mexican market. In its weakened state, the VCF has been forced to focus almost all of its efforts on fighting the Sinaloa cartel and has not been able to effectively project its influence much farther than the greater Juarez area.

Arellano Felix Organization/Tijuana cartel: The Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) — also known as the Tijuana cartel — is based in the far northwestern state of Baja California, across the border from San Diego. With the arrests of all the Arellano Felix brothers and several other high-ranking members, infighting has caused the once-powerful AFO to be split into two competing factions — one led by Arellano Felix nephew Fernando "El Ingeniero" Sanchez Arellano and the other led by Eduardo Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental. Garcia initially sought the support of the rival Sinaloa cartel and it is now thought that the Garcia faction is essentially a Sinaloa proxy in the greater Tijuana area. The Sanchez faction has remained relatively dormant in 2009. The organization has been forced to diversify its operations into other criminal activities, such as kidnapping, human trafficking, prostitution and extortion. This was due in part to increased scrutiny by Mexican law enforcement after an extraordinary spike in violence in 2008 that saw, at its height, more than 100 executions during one week in the greater Tijuana area. Much of the violence that has occurred in Tijuana in 2009 has been a result of clashes between these two rival factions. The overall level of violence in Tijuana has been far lower in 2009 than it was during the height of the conflict in 2008.

Debate Over the Military's Mission

One of the most important facets of the Calderon government's campaign against the drug cartels has been the widespread deployment of Mexican military personnel. While previous presidents have used the military for isolated counternarcotics operations, the level to which Calderon has used Mexico's armed forces in that role is unprecedented. During Calderon's term in office, he has deployed more than 35,000 military personnel to a number of regions throughout Mexico to carry out counternarcotics operations. Because of this, 2009 witnessed a growing debate over the role of the Mexican military in the country's war against the cartels.

Domestic and international human rights organizations have expressed concerns over an increase in alleged civil rights abuses by Mexican military personnel, and U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has even gone so far as to call on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not to certify Mexico's human rights record, which would effectively freeze a portion of the Merida Initiative funds allocated by the United States to aid Mexico in its counternarcotics campaign. Even members of Calderon's own National Action Party have stated that there needs to be a better balance between the needs of the cartel war and the civil rights of Mexican citizens.

The Calderon administration's unprecedented use of the military is due in large part to the seemingly systemic corruption in the ranks of local, state and even federal law enforcement agencies in Mexico. Less corrupted as an institution, the military has been increasingly called upon to handle tasks that would normally fall under the responsibilities of law enforcement such as conducting security patrols, making traffic stops and manning checkpoints. As the military has taken over these traditional law enforcement tasks, it has come into closer contact with the Mexican civilian population, which has resulted in human rights-abuse accusations and the current controversy.

Calderon has defended this strategy saying that the military's large role in the war against the cartels is only a temporary solution and has tried to minimize the criticism by involving the federal police as much as possible. But it has been the armed forces that have provided the bulk of the manpower and coordination that federal police agencies — hampered by rampant corruption and a tumultuous reform process — have not been able to muster.

Calderon is aware that it is not ideal to use the military in this capacity, but the fact is that the military remains the most reliable and versatile security tool presently available to the Mexican government. While Calderon's ultimate goal is to professionalize and completely hand over all the traditional law enforcement tasks to the federal police, the military will be needed to help in Mexico's war against the cartels for the foreseeable future. The Mexican government has no other option. It will be years before the federal police will have the capability and manpower required to take over the missions currently being performed by the military.

Trends in Violence

As noted in last year's cartel report, the last three months of 2008 saw an explosion in violence and a dramatic increase in the number of cartel-related deaths across Mexico. The levels of violence seen at the end of 2008 have persisted into 2009 and have gradually worsened over the course of the year. Estimates of the current death toll for organized crime-related deaths in Mexico at the time this report was written ranged from 6,900 to more than 7,300. The previous yearly record was 5,700 deaths in 2008.

The geography of the violence in Mexico has remained relatively static from the end of the 2008 through 2009. Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Michoacan and Baja California were the five most violent states in 2009 — and all happen to be the top five in terms of violence throughout Calderon's term. Chihuahua state once again sits atop the list as the most violent state, with more than 3,200 deaths so far in 2009, and more than 2,100 in Juarez alone. The extraordinary levels of violence seen in Juarez and Chihuahua state can be directly attributed to the ongoing conflict between the Sinaloa cartel, the Juarez cartel and their street-gang proxies.

High levels of violence returned to Michoacan and Guerrero states in 2009 due in large part to the increased activities and expansion of the La Familia organization. La Familia has launched numerous high-profile attacks against the military and law enforcement personnel operating in Michoacan as well as its rivals in the region. Federal police and military patrols in the region frequently come under fire and are sometimes ambushed by La Familia gunmen. The attacks on security personnel are often associated with the capture of a high-ranking La Familia member.

While Mexican security forces have been able to weaken and divide some of the more powerful cartels, this diminution of cartel power has actually spawned even more violence as the organizations scramble to retain control of their territory or to steal turf from other cartels. Over the past few decades, the only time intercartel violence has diminished has been during periods of stability and equilibrium among the competing cartels, and the Mexican government's anti-drug operations will not allow for such stability and equilibrium. This means we can expect to see the high level of violence continue between the government and the cartels, and among the competing cartels, throughout 2010.

(c) Stratfor www.stratfor.com Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved

 

By George Friedman

The status of Iraq has always framed the strategic challenge of Iran. Until 2003, regional stability — such as it was — was based on the Iran-Iraq balance of power. The United States invaded Iraq on the assumption that it could quickly defeat and dismantle the Iraqi government and armed forces and replace them with a cohesive and effective pro-American government and armed forces, thereby restoring the balance of power. When that expectation proved faulty, the United States was forced into two missions. The first was stabilizing Iraq. The second was providing the force for countering Iran.

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By Scott Stewart and Ben West

On April 9, a woman armed with a pistol and with explosives strapped to her body approached a group of police officers in the northern Caucasus village of Ekazhevo, in the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia. The police officers were preparing to launch an operation to kill or capture militants in the area. The woman shot and wounded one of the officers, at which point other officers drew their weapons and shot the woman. As she fell to the ground, the suicide vest she was wearing detonated. The woman was killed and the man she wounded, the head of the of the Russian Interior Ministry's local office, was rushed to the hospital where he died from his wounds.

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By Scott Stewart

On July 22, special agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FBI arrested Walter Bond in Denver and charged him with conducting the April 30 arson that destroyed a Glendale, Colo., business, the Sheepskin Factory, which sold a variety of sheepskin products. According to an affidavit completed by a special agent assigned to the Denver ATF field office, Bond used the nom de guerre, "ALF Lone Wolf" and boasted to a confidential informant that he not only torched the Sheepskin Factory but also was responsible for a June 5 fire at a leather factory in Salt Lake City and a July 3 fire at a restaurant in Sandy, Utah.

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