Armed Drones Are Becoming Mexican Cartels’ Weapon of Choice
Several recent incidents have led US security authorities to believe Mexico’s drug cartels may be turning to armed drones to attack targets impeding their operations. While cartels have used drones for surveillance and drug trafficking, armed drones are a new development.
Two drones were deployed by drug cartels in the US-Mexico border city of Tecate to attack the home of a Baja California official in July this year. One drone provided surveillance of the home of Public Safety Secretary Gerardo Sosa Olachea while the second drone was armed with two improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The IEDs were dropped into Sosa Olachea’s yard but failed to explode, suggesting the attack was meant more as a warning than an actual attack.
Sosa Olachea told officials he believed the attack was because state officials had recently confiscated several drug shipments and destroyed drug labs in the area. Three drug cartels are known to operate in the area – the Tijuana Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG).
Mike Vigil, former Chief of International Operations at the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told Insight Crime the Tecate incident is the first time drug cartels are believed to have used an armed drone to carry out an attack.
In another armed drone incident, towards the end of last year, a weaponized drone was discovered in the arsenal of a Mexican cartel, and officials believe it was meant for use in a violent attack.
Insight Crime reported that drones are growing in popularity with both drug cartels and law enforcement officials alike. Mexico is Latin America’s largest market for drones, and in 2017 the market for drones grew sevenfold. Israel is the largest supplier of drones to Latin America having sold $500 million in drones to the area between 2005 and 2012.
Insight Crime also reported a DEA source told them that since 2014 Mexican cartels have hired local workers to make custom drones for trafficking drugs across the US-Mexico border. To counter this, US and Mexican authorities use their drones to track drug trafficking routes and identify locations where cartels store weapons or drugs.
According to Vigil, armed drones may be the “way of the future” for Mexican cartels engaging in “cartel warfare.” He believed cartels were turning to weaponized drones “simply because it will not require the loss of human personnel, which is difficult to replace especially if they are trained and have a full understanding of the cartel’s operations.”