On the afternoon of May 27, a convoy transporting a large number of heavily armed gunmen was ambushed on Mexican Highway 15 near Ruiz, Nayarit state, on Mexico’s Pacific coast. When authorities responded they found 28 dead gunmen and another four wounded, one of whom would later die, bringing the death toll to 29. This is a significant number of dead for one incident, even in Mexico.
According to Nayarit state Attorney General Oscar Herrera Lopez, the gunmen ambushed were members of Los Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel. Herrera noted that most of the victims were from Mexico’s Gulf coast, but there were also some Guatemalans mixed into the group, including one of the wounded survivors. While Los Zetas are predominately based on the Gulf coast, they have been working to provide armed support to allied groups, such as the Cartel Pacifico Sur (CPS), a faction of the former Beltran Leyva Organization that is currently battling the Sinaloa Federation and other cartels for control of the lucrative smuggling routes along the Pacific coast. In much the same way, Sinaloa is working with the Gulf cartel to go after Los Zetas in Mexico’s northeast while protecting and expanding its home turf. If the victims in the Ruiz ambush were Zetas, then the Sinaloa Federation was likely the organization that planned and executed this very successful ambush.
Photos from the scene show that the purported Zetas convoy consisted of several pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (two of which were armored). The front right wheel on one of the armored vehicles, a Ford Expedition, had been completely blown off. With no evidence of a crater in the road indicating that the damage had been caused by a mine or improvised explosive device (IED), it would appear that the vehicle was struck and disabled by a well-placed shot from something like a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) or M72 LAW rocket, both of which have been seen in cartel arsenals. Photos also show at least one heavy-duty cattle-style truck with an open cargo compartment that appears to have been used as a troop transport. Many of the victims died in the vehicles they were traveling in, including a large group in the back of the cattle truck, indicating that they did not have time to react and dismount before being killed.
Most of the victims were wearing matching uniforms (what appear to be the current U.S. Marine Corps camouflage pattern) and black boots. Many also wore matching black ballistic vests and what appear to be U.S.-style Kevlar helmets painted black. From the photos, it appears that the victims were carrying a variety of AR-15-variant rifles. Despite the thousands of spent shell casings recovered from the scene, authorities reportedly found only six rifles and one pistol. This would seem to indicate that the ambush team swept the site and grabbed most of the weapons that may have been carried by the victims.
A convoy of this size could have been dispatched by Los Zetas and CPS on a military raid into hostile Sinaloa territory, but there is also a possibility that the gunmen were guarding a significant shipment of CPS narcotics passing through hostile territory. If that was the case, the reason for the ambush may have been not only to kill the gunmen but also to steal a large shipment, which would hurt the CPS and could be resold by Sinaloa for a substantial profit.
Whether the objective of the ambush was simply to trap and kill a Zetas military team conducting a raid or to steal a high-value load of narcotics, a look at this incident from a protective intelligence point of view provides many lessons for security professionals operating in Mexico and elsewhere.
Read more: Protective Intelligence Lessons from an Ambush in Mexico | STRATFOR
Recent examples of both huge weapon caches and armored vehicles seized by the Mexican Army:
Mexican Military Finds Huge Weapons Cache (June 4, 2011)
Authorities said they found more than 150 rifles and shotguns, 92,000 rounds of ammunition, four mortar shells, two rocket-propelled grenades and assorted other weaponry. The cache was found at a ranch near the industrial city Monclova in the northern state Coahuila that borders the United States. They believe the cache belonged to the Zetas cartel, which has been battling the Sinaloa cartel and other drug gangs for control of Coahuila.Army Seizes Armored Vehicles in Northern Mexico (June 6, 2011)
Two armored trucks, known as “monsters,” outfitted with 2.5-centimeter (one-inch) steel plates, two other partially completed trucks and 23 tractor-trailers awaiting modification were found in the garage. The vehicles, which are used for patrols and smuggling drugs into the United States, have air conditioning, armored diesel engines and steel plates to protect occupants, the 4th Military Region said. The armored trucks, which can only be taken out with 20 mm anti-tank grenades, are being used in the war between the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas for control of the border region, the army said.