Mexico to Receive More Military Training from U.S. & Colombia

Latin America and the Caribbean

A recent article in the Mexican newspaper, Milenio, highlighted the significant amount of military training the United States is providing to Mexican security forces. According to the article, “the Pentagon has been able to influence the education and development of a new generation of Mexican soldiers during the governments of Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, as it has equipped the soldiers with highly lethal knowledge about irregular and asymmetric warfare, urban and undercover operations.”

Based on Milenio’s study of U.S. government documents, the United States taught 7,678 elite courses to nearly 9,000 members of the Mexican military over the last five years, including training in special tactics, anti-narcotics operations and antiterrorism strategies, for a total just under $60 million dollars. Admiral William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, said there has been a 60 percent growth over the last three years in training to Mexican security forces.

In 2009, the number of Mexican trainees jumped from 1,074 to 5,725. The number of trainees fell again to just over 1,000 in 2010, but has steadily increased each year since. In 2013, there were 2,659 trainees and Northern Command expects more than 4,000 trainees in 2015. Mexico is only second to Colombia in Latin America and the Caribbean for the most training received by the United States. No other country in the region has had more than 1,000 annual trainees since Peru in 2012.

Source: Military Times

U.S. special force soldiers from the Army’s Delta Force and Green Beret as well as the U.S. Navy SEALs have all participated in training Mexican security forces either in the United States or Mexico since the implementation of the Mérida initiative in 2009.

The courses encompass a wide range of topics, including sniper training, underwater demolition, special forces, paratroopers and explosives. The United States also provided training for combat doctors, psychological operation (psyops) specialists, intelligence analysts, experts in geospatial analysis and “rapid response soldiers.” 

Here are some key points from the article:
  • The 7,678 courses provided to Mexican soldiers and marines since 2009 were financed through the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program and Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance.
  • Northern Command estimates the number of applications submitted by Mexican armed forces for specialized training in areas like urban operations, asymmetrical conflict, and police checkpoint control, has multiplied by ten.
  • Mexican marines and soldiers have received training from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where American forces such as the Rangers and Green Berets are regularly trained.
  • This year eight commanders of the Mexican Marines and Army were sent to Fort Benning, Georgia to take the Ranger School course. The Ranger School class, sometimes called “the toughest combat course in the world,” is a 61-day leadership course, during which students undergo challenges in physical fitness and survival in aquatic conditions. It is particularly oriented to small-unit operations and tactics.
  • According to documents from the State and Defense Departments, some students have attended the Joint Special Operations University located at the MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. In 2014, an official from the Mexican Air Force was invited to take a course at the University on advanced anti-terrorism special operations, which costs $8,000. 

Two U.S. security programs mostly finance the trainings: the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program and the Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance. Both programs are funded by the Department of Defense. The Counterterrorism Fellowship Program provides funding for foreign military officers to attend U.S. military educational institutions and selected regional centers for non-lethal or lethal training. Section 1004 allows the Defense Department to provide training and arms to foreign security forces for counternarcotics efforts.

According to Security Assistance Monitor, from FY 2009 to FY 2014, the U.S. allocated just over $4.5 million to Mexico under the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program and $350 million for Section 1004.

It is also worth noting that according to the article, many former trainees are now equipped to train new soldiers. With thousands of trained soldiers, Mexico can begin to replicate the U.S. military training within its own ranks.

The numbers reported by Milenio and reflected in Security Assistance Monitor data do not include the number of Mexican security forces trained by Colombian military and police with U.S. support. Since 2009, the United States has financially backed such training all over Latin America. Mexico has far and away been the number one beneficiary of this strategy. In 2009 alone, Colombians trained almost 4,700 Mexican security forces, half of all Mexican forces trained by the U.S. military since 2009. The United States funded some of this training, but due to a lack of reporting, it is unclear to what extent. Helicopter trainings have been a key part of the program, but trainings have also included a host of counternarcotics courses. See this WOLA report for more information on strategy.

This uptick in training (by both U.S. and Colombian forces) has been accompanied by a surge in U.S. arms and military equipment sales to Mexico. According to a recent report from NACLA by John Lindsay-Poland, arms sales to Mexico’s military or police over the last year total at least $1.15 billion, a number that’s increased dramatically since 2011.