Confrontation In Arizona Between Mexican Soldiers, Border Patrol Confirmed

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Two camouflaged Mexican soldiers crossed into Arizona in January, touching off a standoff with U.S. Border Patrol agents. Both sides drew their weapons before the the Mexican soldiers were detained.

It happened on Jan. 26, prompting a half-hour standoff 2.5 miles west of the Port of Entry at Sasabe, Ariz. After repeated denials that the Mexicans were military personnel, Mexico now says they were indeed soldiers, adding the pair was in pursuit of drug traffickers.

Richard A. Serrano and Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times broke this story. They obtained documents outlining what took place and confirmed the veracity of the documents.

An excerpt from their report:

The Jan. 26 confrontation, described in a Border Patrol foreign military incursion report and confirmed in a separate letter from U.S. Customs and Border ProtectionCommissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, ended when the Mexican soldiers retreated back over the border after U.S. agents — who also drew their weapons — summoned assistance. The soldiers, who misidentified themselves to border agents, claimed to be pursuing drug smugglers, documents show.

“It happens a lot more frequently that you would think,” says border security analyst James Phelps at Angelo State University in Texas. “It happens on an average of once a month.”

“They found themselves in the United States suddenly facing somebody who is also in a dark-colored uniform and armed. And as far as you know they’re the cartels’ recipients on the American side,” he said.

Phelps said American agents sometimes enter Mexico unintentionally. He suggests there might be a simple explanation for the Mexican soldiers walking into Arizona.

“The border is poorly defined. It can be difficult in parts of the Southwest desert to know what side of the border you’re on,” he said.

This time, however, the incident report says the two soldiers wore embroidered name tags that didn’t match who the men said they were. No shots were fired, but questions remain.

Why were the Mexican soldiers on U.S. soil? Were they chasing traffickers? And why did Mexico vehemently deny for three months that the men were soldiers?

Again from Serrano and Wilkinson’s report:

“Those individuals were part of a counter-narcotics operation, which had taken place a few minutes prior on the Mexican side of the border,” said Ariel Moutsatsos, minister for press and public affairs at the Mexican Embassy. “The two members of the Mexican army did not see any sign notifying them that they were crossing the border.”

He called the incident “an isolated and unintended occurrence.” He noted that U.S. border agents also crossed the border from time to time.

Buzzfeed reports that U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is concerned about the incursion. Coburn is the ranking minority member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. From Buzzfeed:

Both Mexican and U.S. border agents have crossed over the border in this area, pursuing suspects. But according to officials familiar with the situation, border crossings by members of either military are rare. In a January letter to the head of Customs and Border Protection about the incident, Sen. Tom Coburn asked if the agency has “concerns that some members of the Mexican Military could be providing security and/or intelligence to Drug Trafficking Organizations.”

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