The US Department of Defense is stepping up its aid to the Mexican military for drug war training and joint operations. Funds for the training of Mexican military drug units has increased to $15 million this year, up from just $3 million in 2009.
The Mexican navy and marine corps have been particularly receptive [to US assistance], allowing the United States to expand its training with Mexico's armed forces and build trust.
"Our security agencies have focused heavily on cooperation with the [Mexican] navy and marines," said George Grayson, a professor at William and Mary who has written a book about Mexican drug cartels.
Grayson said Mexico's navy is more willing to use modern intelligence methods, such as surveillance drones, to target kingpins. It is learning many of the techniques from Americans.
The U.S. military has provided a range of training for Mexican forces, ranging from small-unit tactics to helicopter maintenance.
The military training is part of a larger program to support Mexico's war on drugs. The cornerstone of that is the Merida initiative, a $2.1 billion program started in 2007. The program has provided equipment and training for Mexico's judiciary and law enforcement agencies.
That program has opened the door to military contacts, Shirk said. "That really was a watershed moment," he said.
Some estimates put the death toll from the drug war in Mexico at about 120,000 for the six year period between 2006 and 2012, during the reign of former President Calderone. But even that astonishing figure is likely on the very small end, says Mexico drug war expert Molly Molloy. "None of these numbers include even an estimate of the missing, the disappeared, the bodies from mass graves, etc," Molloy said.
By comparison, approximately 60,000 US soldiers were killed in the Vietnam war.