Drug cartels are using weaponized drones armed with explosives to attack law enforcement in Mexico and the United States, equipping themselves like terror groups, authorities said.
One drone operator with the Carteles Unidos cartel – who didn’t provide his name – told The Courier-Journal last week that the criminal organization has nearly 100 drones and many carry explosives.
“We have many drone models. They’re not too sophisticated but can carry a considerable amount of explosives,” the cartel member told The Courier-Journal, adding that the equipment comes “legally from the U.S.” via “groups in Michoacán that support us and have legit money to buy the drones.”
In one April incident, Mexican police were removing blockades erected by criminal groups in El Aguaje, a town in Western Mexico, when a drone dropped a gunpower bomb on the operation, wounding two officers, authorities said.
Mexican Secretary of Defense Luis Cresencio Sandoval confirmed that Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), a rival of Carteles Unidos, was responsible for the April attack on police, and said that the drone operator was arrested.
A number of drone attacks have occurred over the last several years, and Mexican officials have launched multiple investigations into terrorism committed by the cartels, confiscating both drones and C-4 explosives, which are frequently used in the attacks. Authorities are concerned that the cartels could expand their use and obtain more deadly technology in the future.
“They’re going to use the latest and greatest technology” to fight their enemies in Mexico, take down law enforcement and battle for territory that provides better trafficking routes to move drugs into the United States, said Derek Maltz, a former agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division.
“I’ve been a strong advocate of designating the Mexican cartels as terrorist groups because they’re acting like terrorist groups. They’re equipped like terrorist groups. They’re distributing record levels of poisonous drugs in America,” said Maltz.
Cárteles Unidos use drones to monitor their territory and to attack their rival cartel, CJNG. Members of the cartel are trained by a man known as “Lord of the Skies,” who has been training them since last year, the cartel member told Courier-Journal.
The cartel member said neither cartel uses drones to transport drugs because it would be an inefficient way to traffic large quantities. Both Cárteles Unidos and CJNG are blamed for the spread of fentanyl, as well as “the overwhelming majority of the heroin available” in the United States, the DEA’s 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment revealed.
In May, government officials in both the United States and Mexico discussed a new joint security policy to combat cartel crime.
“Mexico and the United States reaffirm the commitment to work together against transnational organized crime,” a statement from the Mexico City Foreign Ministry said.