The ranch near this border community is isolated, desolate and laced by arroyos an ideal place, experts say, for training drug cartel assassins.
Mexican drug cartels have conducted military-style training camps in at least six such locations in northern Tamaulipas and Nuevo León states, some within a few miles of the Texas border, according to U.S. and Mexican authorities and the printed testimony of five protected witnesses who were trained in the camps.
The camps near the Texas border and at other locations in Mexico are used to train cartel recruits – ranging from Mexican army deserters to American teenagers – who then carry out killings and other cartel assignments on both sides of the border, authorities say.
“Traffickers go to great lengths to prepare themselves for battle,” said a senior U.S. anti-narcotics official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Part of that preparation is live firing ranges and combat training courses. … And that’s not something that we have seen before.”
Many of the camps are temporary, used for a time and then abandoned or used intermittently. Others are hidden on private land behind locked gates and have more permanent facilities, the officials said.
The land is seldom held in the name of known cartel members but is usually purchased through someone fronting for a cartel, authorities said. Sometimes “mobile” training camps are conducted on private land without the owner’s consent.
The camps include locations in Mexico’s interior, but U.S. law enforcement officials said they are acutely concerned about those along the 1,000-mile-long Texas-Mexico border – another example of the escalating drug war among feuding cartels.