MEXICO CITY – A top official in Mexico’s new government on Monday harshly criticized the country’s U.S.-backed attack on drug cartel leaders for causing violence to surge, even as the incoming team offered an alternate security strategy largely devoid of details.
Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong opened a meeting of the National Security Council saying that under the strategy of former President Felipe Calderon, who left office Dec. 1, “financial resources dedicated to security have more than doubled but unfortunately crime has increased.”
With the capture of dozens of drug capos, an achievement trumpeted by Calderon, “we have moved from a scheme of vertical leadership to a horizontal one that has made them more violent and much more dangerous,” Osorio told the heads of the military and the governors of Mexico’s 31 states.
“The rate of increase in homicides places us among the highest in the world,” he said. “In recent years, because of the violence linked to organized crime, thousands of people have died and thousands of people have disappeared.”
Calderon repeatedly said before leaving office that his forces had captured 25 of Mexico’s 37 most-wanted drug lords, a strategy backed by the U.S. government with hundreds of millions in funding and close cooperation with American law-enforcement, military and intelligence agencies.
Osorio Chong and President Enrique Pena Nieto have promised to adjust Calderon’s strategy in order to move away from a focus on killing and capturing cartel leaders and toward a focus on reducing crimes against ordinary citizens, most important homicides, kidnappings and extortion.
Nearly three weeks into their administration, they have offered few details on how they will actually do that. At Monday’s meeting, they offered a few more specifics, but there was no indication of any grand readjustment in Mexico’s security policy.
The administration said it would divide Mexico into five regions for the purposes of security planning, allowing them to design tactics specific to problems that vary widely across Mexico. It did not, however, say what those five regions would be.
Pena Nieto told the meeting that he would launch a new body of paramilitary police, based in large part of European forces known as gendarmerie, by enlisting 10,000 officers. He offered no time line, or indication of where those officers would be recruited from.
“I am convinced that we’re opening a new path, a new route and a new way to address the security of the Mexican people,” he said.
The administration has previously estimated the eventual size of the gendarmerie at around 40,000 officers, a force that, if successful, would allow Mexico to reduce the number of soldiers and marines used to fight crime. Calderon’s widespread deployment of the military for traditionally civilian police purposes has been criticized for provoking needless bloodshed and spawning thousands of complaints of human rights violations by troops.
Pena Nieto also said his government would be creating 15 special units of the federal police dedicated to fighting extortion and kidnapping, an apparent vote of confidence in a force tainted by a recent series of scandals. Calderon made the growth and expansion of the federal police a centerpiece of his security strategy. After scandals including a drug-related shootout between federal police at Mexico City’s airport, and an attempt by federal officers to kill two CIA agents outside the city of Cuernavaca, Pena Nieto eliminated the federal police as a free-standing agency and folded the force into Osorio Chong’s Department of the Interior.
Osorio Chong said that under Calderon, kidnapping had increased 83 percent, violent robberies by 65 percent, extortion by 40 percent, sex crimes by 16 percent and highway robberies by 100 percent.
In his address, he offered no figures for the number of dead during the previous presidential term, but a written copy of his remarks said that some 70,000 people had been killed and at least 9,000 unidentified bodies had been found.
Those numbers far exceed the last official figure of 47,500 drug-war dead released under Calderon, whose government stopped releasing an official count in September of last year.
The exact figures were crossed out by hand in copies of Osorio Chong’s speech provided to reporters and replaced by the less specific “thousands of people” dead and disappeared.
Members of Pena Nieto’s staff said the exact figures had been crossed out at the request of Osorio Chong’s office but did not offer details.
The number of drug-related homicides has been a point of contention among the Mexican government and its critics, with human-rights groups and other outside observers saying they believed the number to be far higher than Calderon’s last official figure.
In August, Calderon told the National Public Security Council that homicides linked to organized crime had dropped 15 percent nationwide in the first six months of 2012, without providing any specific figures details on the source of his figures. In response to an open records request from The Associated Press, the Mexican government said Monday that Calderon had based his statement on figures showing a 15 percent reduction in all intentional homicides in only six states with a heavy presence of organized crime — Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Baja California, Sinaloa, Zacatecas and Coahuila.
Calderon has become a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government since leaving office. Asked about Calderon’s use of the apparently misleading figures, the Kennedy School referred questions to Calderon’s former spokesman, who declined to comment.
[She is taking notes on the preparations for WWIII, coming soon to a neighborhood near you.]
The Queen is in Downing Street for the first cabinet meeting of her 60 year reign.
Prime Minister David Cameron greeted the Queen at the door of Number 10, and ushered her inside after posing briefly for photographs.
It is understood that ministers will present her with a gift to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee year.
She sat between the PM and the foreign secretary for part of the regular meeting of top ministers.
It is believed to be the first time a monarch has attended peace-time cabinet since George III in 1781. George I ceased to chair cabinet in 1717.
The Queen’s father, King George VI, attended war cabinet during the Second World War.
Her car, accompanied by motorcycle outriders, arrived shortly after 10:05 GMT.
Members of the cabinet had already arrived, while a man with a broom had swept the red carpet, laid in front of the door of Number 10 for the occasion.
Once inside, the Queen was introduced to each of the government’s senior ministers in turn, as they bowed or curtseyed.
She shared jokes with Chancellor George Osborne, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
After the Queen and the cabinet had taken their seats, Mr Cameron formally welcomed her to the meeting and outlined the items of business on the agenda.
It began with leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley outlining forthcoming parliamentary business, before Ken Clarke spoke about prospective justice measures.
There was a much larger than usual press pack opposite No 10, although no questions were shouted at the Queen as she arrived.
While the Queen is head of state, her involvement in day-to-day political decisions is largely formal.
The prime minister visits her regularly for an audience where he updates her on events, while she is also expected to rubber-stamp ministerial decisions at meetings of the Privy Council.
The Queen plays a central ceremonial role in the state opening of Parliament, when she travels by ornate horse-drawn coach to the House of Lords to read out a speech prepared by ministers unveiling details of their legislative plans.
She also retains the power to appoint the prime minister.
The prime minister’s spokesman said the Queen would spend about 30 minutes at the meeting.
The spokesman said he imagined she would speak, despite being described as an observer.
Rodney Barker, professor of government at the London School of Economics, said the plan was “daft”, because “it will mean potentially the Queen will know things she is not supposed to know and hear things she is not supposed to hear”.
But Professor Jane Ridley, biographer of Edward VII, disagreed, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today it was “testimony of the Queen’s ability to elevate the monarchy above politics” that she could attend cabinet.
It was a “constitutional landmark”, she added.
Former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell told BBC Radio 4 that he thought the visit was the “right thing to do” – the Queen was above politics, “for the whole country, for everyone”.
“I’m sure cabinet want to do this because they want to say thank you. I mean, I’ve always viewed the Queen as kind-of the ultimate public servant. You think what she’s done during her jubilee period and they just want to say thank you,” he added.
He said that there had been other people attending cabinet in the past – such as business bosses during regional cabinet meetings, and someone like Lord Coe for presentations on specific events, in his case the Olympics.
[Four of them were tattooed.]
A tattoo is seen on the back of a Taliban militant who was killed during a gun battle in Peshawar December 16, 2012.Some within the law enforcement officers believe the militants belonged to some particular cult in the Russian Federation before taking up the cause of the “Holy Jihad” to fight the “infidels” “in the land of Jihad”. — Photo by Reuters
PESHAWAR: “My name is Musa’b and I am from Dagestan (Russia),” so wrote one of the militants who ended up fighting, holed up inside an under-construction house, barely a kilometre away from the scene of Saturday night’s brazen attack on the Pakistan Air Force base inside the Bacha Khan International Airport.
The handwritten letter, written in Urdu, was found on Musa’b’s body after he was killed in Pawaka village, along with four others, the day after the assault on the airfield. It gives a rare insight into the mindset of militants indoctrinated to fight Pakistani forces, and also points to the growing role of foreign militants in attacks inside Pakistan.
“I am taking part in these blessed operations because you people do not act upon the divine faith. You people neither act on its teachings nor accept it. Indeed, you follow the laws of the infidels,” he writes. “The heretics are liable to be killed till the evil is eliminated. Killing (them) is obligatory,” he sermonises in the single-page letter.
The letter does not address the Pakistani forces directly, but knowing that he and his fellow fighters would soon be taking on the Pakistani forces in their quest to seize control of the PAF base and the adjoining international airport, it was clear who it was meant for.
The level of motivation and marksmanship of Musa’b and his fellow fighters, two of whom blew themselves up, while three others died fighting police surprised even the most hardened and experienced police officers.
“I could never forget the way Musa’b charged at us, firing and running straight into us,” a senior police officer recalled.
“He still had ammunition left with him and he could have fought on for several hours. And had one of our men not spotted him charging towards us and shot him there and then, he would have killed many of us. Today people would have been observing our Qul,” the officer said.
But more than their motivation and level of preparedness, the element that surprised law enforcement and security officials was the number of foreign militants in the two groups that tried to take control of the PAF base.
Out of the nine bodies, five, they say, have distinctive central Asian and Caucasian features. Musa’b and one of the other militants killed have Caucasian features and some security officials believe they could be brothers.
UZBEK CONNECTION: Law enforcers have long had experience of coming across Uzbeks in course of various encounters and operations, but this is the first time, they say, they have come across so many of them in Peshawar.
That the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have long been collaborating and conducting joint operations inside Pakistan’s tribal areas is no secret. What, however, has come as a surprise is a pronounced and extremely visible role of the IMU in action in the settled districts of Pakistan.
Reams of video footage is available to corroborate the TTP-IMU long association with each other in battles against the Pakistani forces inside the tribal areas, mainly in North and South Waziristan, including recently released visuals of them undertaking joint fire-raids against army posts in the Mahsud heartland.
But the midnight attack on Bannu jail, a joint TTP-IMU operation, was the first such public demonstration of their collaboration in a settled district of Pakistan. The TTP released a video showing scenes of pre- and post-attack on the prison, ostensibly conducted to release the former PAF technician, Adnan Rashid.
The video was the first acknowledgement of the presence of IMU fighters in any attack conducted outside the confines of the tribal region. The IMU followed suit, releasing a version of its own, dubbed in German and Uzbek language.
Why is the TTP relying more now on the IMU for support is not clear, but law enforcement officers who have had the experience of fighting them acknowledge Uzbek fighters for their ferocity, alacrity and training.
For the law enforcement agencies, the increasing and growing role of foreign fighters in audacious and high-profile attacks could well change the dimension of the whole war game in Pakistan.
TATTOO: Already, law enforcers and security officials are trying to make a case for the fight against militants by pointing to tattoos on four of the bodies in their custody.
Two very large tattoos engraved on the back of two foreign fighters have caught their immediate attention. There is an almost a scramble to search to find the meanings behind what they perceive and claimed to be engraved tattoos of the “angel of death” and “Satan”.
Some within the law enforcement officers believe the militants belonged to some particular cult in the Russian Federation before taking up the cause of the “Holy Jihad” to fight the “infidels” “in the land of Jihad”.
Others believe the militants were part of some international network, though tattooing is a common practice in Russia, including Chechnya and Daghistan, and central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
One of the killed foreign militants had a small star-like tattoo on his shoulder and leg, while one had his name “Yusuf” engraved on his arm in Russian alphabet.
The tattoos remain an enigma for investigators, who are working hard to find religious explanation and the symbolism behind the “evil face” and the long-nailed fingers. This may turn into something big and it may also end up in a total fiasco. But what is now known is that the law enforcement agencies are increasingly facing more daring and brazen attacks inside urban populated centres, not just from Pakistani militants under the TTP umbrella but also a horde of foreign militants based in the tribal region.