Mexican army losing soldiers to drug war

The Baltimore Sun

MEXICO CITY -- The number of Mexican soldiers slain has jumped drastically since President Felipe Calderon began using the army to battle drug traffickers, records show.

Since December, when Calderon began the campaign, 89 soldiers have been reported killed, compared with fewer than a dozen from January through November of 2006, according to army records provided to the Times.

The escalation of attacks on soldiers has come as 12,700 troops man roadside checkpoints and patrol cities in nine Mexican states where rival drug gangs battle for control of smuggling routes.

The Mexican army reported that 27 of the killings since December were of soldiers on duty; 37 were killed off-duty, and the circumstances of 25 other deaths remain under investigation.

Calderon dispatched the army, along with several thousand federal police, shortly after taking office because of concerns that incompetence and corruption had hampered local and state police and judges from combating well-financed drug gangs. More than 2,000 killings last year were reportedly drug-related.

The killings include an ambush of five men, including a colonel, in the state of Michoacan earlier this month. In April, the bodies of three soldiers were found with evidence of torture.

The soldier deaths are among more than 1,000 killings so far this year attributed to drug violence, according to tallies by Mexican newspapers. The government doesn't keep an official count.

Calderon's failure to slow the violence has drawn criticism from opposition parties, which have called on him to revise his military strategy. Calderon said Thursday during a speech in the state of Durango that he is not ready to change course.

"Organized crime wants to scare the Mexican people," Calderon said. "It wants to scare the Mexican people so that the government crosses its arms and they go unpunished. ... Our stance is clear: not a step backward."

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