WASHINGTON — The United States is expanding its role in Mexico's bloody fight against drug trafficking organizations, sending new CIA operatives and retired military personnel to the country, and considering plans to deploy private security contractors in hopes of turning around a multibillion-dollar effort that so far has shown few results.
In recent weeks, small numbers of CIA operatives and U.S. civilian military employees have been posted at a Mexican military base, where, for the first time, security officials from both countries are working side by side in collecting information about drug cartels and helping plan operations. Officials are also looking into embedding a team of U.S. contractors inside a specially vetted Mexican counternarcotics police unit.
Officials said the new efforts have been designed to get around Mexican laws that prohibit foreign military and police from operating on its soil, and to prevent advanced U.S. surveillance technology from falling under the control of Mexican agencies with long histories of corruption.
"A sea change has occurred over the past years in how effective Mexico and U.S. intelligence exchanges have become," said Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the United States. "It is underpinned by the understanding that transnational organized crime can only be successfully confronted by working hand in hand, and that the outcome is as simple as it is compelling: We will together succeed or together fail."
The latest steps come three years after the United States began increasing its security assistance to Mexico with the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative and tens of millions of dollars from the Defense Department. They also come a year before elections in both countries.
In the last three years, officials said, exchanges of intelligence between the United States and Mexico have helped security forces there capture or kill some 30 mid- to high-level drug traffickers, compared with just two in the previous five years.
Still, it is hard to say much real progress has been made . Mexico's justice system remains so weakened by corruption that even the most notorious criminals have not been successfully prosecuted.