The White House yesterday revealed plans for a crime-fighting operation targeting Mexican drug cartels on a scale not seen since the battles against the US mafia.
Washington is dispatching more federal agents and equipment to its south-western border with Mexico to target the cartels. Among them are a newly formed FBI unit, to deal with the ringleaders, and treasury officials who will track drug money. An extra 100 customs officers are to be sent to the border within the next 45 days.
The moves reflect growing concern in Washington that the carnage in Mexico involving the cartels is in danger of spilling over the border. A White House statement said: "The president is concerned by the increased level of violence, particularly in Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana, and the impact that it is having on the communities on both sides of the border."
The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, at a White House press conference yesterday, singled out Houston, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona, as recording increases in violence and kidnapping. Other officials have also mentioned El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, California.
The plan to beef up operations came the day before the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is due to visit Mexico City for discussions about the drug war with the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón. Barack Obama is to visit Mexico next month. As well as sending more agents to the border, the White House is providing $700m (£476m) to the Mexican government for five new helicopters, a surveillance aircraft and other crime-fighting equipment.
Calderón has dispatched more than 45,000 Mexican troops to combat the cartels, which responded with thousands of kidnappings and murders, including beheadings. Despite a string of arrests and drug busts - last week, soldiers captured two drug bosses - a record 6,300 drug-related killings occurred last year.
Other measures announced by the White House yesterday included dispatching more mobile x-ray units to the US side of the border to screen vehicles involved in gun trafficking. Napolitano said that over the last week, the US had stopped 997 firearms en route to Mexico. Absent from the announced plans were high-visibility moves such as deployment of the National Guard or expansion of the border fence started under George Bush. But the Obama administration argues that these are not necessarily effective.
David Ogden, the deputy attorney general, said that the best way to fight the cartels was through intelligence-based operations, "the same approach as we took towards the Cosa Nostra".