Breitbart Texas obtained video on Friday showing what appears to be a battalion-sized unit of specialized gunmen in heavily armored vehicles with the Cartel Jalisco New Generation (CJNG). The footage presents the group as an elite special forces unit.
A two-minute video shows approximately 100 gunmen in military-style uniforms next to a long line of factory-made armored trucks and SUVs, Breitbart reported. The video also reveals a large contingent of the gunmen armed with specialized military-grade weapons including some belt-fed .50 caliber machine guns. In many ways, this heavy-company sized unit is better armed and equipped than Mexico’s own security forces.
TRIPWIRES & TRIGGERS-VIDEO-This is the ELITE GROUP of CJNG cartel. We have warned for years of the tradecraft and capabilities of these cartels. Our nation must take action, WE MUST DESIGNATE THE MEXICAN CARTELS AS FOREIGN TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS (FTO)… https://t.co/j6JaLHIGuB pic.twitter.com/SQJQNB4S7u
— Jaeson Jones (@jaeson_jones) July 18, 2020
This publicly raises concerns that many in the U.S. intelligence community (IC) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been closely monitoring for years.
For more than a decade prior to both of us retiring, I worked closely with Texas Air National Guard Colonel Daniel Steiner (USAF-TXANG Ret). The colonel and I worked to help secure the Texas border during the Los Zetas and Gulf Cartel war as far back as 2009. Steiner has a vast knowledge of Mexican military tactics and capabilities and worked closely with then-Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) to integrate the Texas National Guard and Texas State Guard forces to support border security operations.
Col. Steiner is a 32-year veteran of the United States military with an extensive background in tactical and strategic threats. His work with civilian authorities on events and issues in Mexico and Central and South America is recognized by federal, state, and local law enforcement communities.
I asked the colonel to analyze the cartel video and describe what should be gleaned from these capabilities not only as a military after-action style review but also, what does it indicate strategically for Mexico and for the security of the United States.
This following interview was edited for clarity and length.
Jaeson Jones (JJ) — Is this video a “show-pony” event?
Colonel Steiner (Steiner) – Yes. It was made to show rival cartels, and the Mexican government the capabilities of the terrorist cartels. It is also a strong recruiting tool, which is something CJNG is having no problem doing.
JJ — Does it indicate this cartel’s evolving capabilities?
Steiner — Yes, and it’s important, vital, to understand just how dangerous the capabilities are becoming.
JJ — Do the “troops” or elite group of CJNG seem disciplined to you?
Steiner — Their body movement and shouting would typically be construed as “undisciplined” to the professional military observer. Here is the problem: as the U.S. learned in Afghanistan and Iraq, the lack of proper “discipline” is not an indicator of capability. The desire to fight–and fight violently–cannot be misconstrued here. Bottom line: they may seem “undisciplined” and appear to just be having a good time, but their ability to be violent and focused is battle-proven.
JJ. – What about the weapons and the standardization we see in the video?
Steiner — All the talk about the standardization of weapons is misleading. Yes, they have military-grade weapons, but there is no real standardization of armaments among these four-person teams — other than each has long gun capabilities.
Most do seem to have standardization of short gun/handgun. It should also be noted, the tactical level of training for proper utilization of all the weapons in this video is not depicted in the video.
For example, “long gun to short gun transition” is a skill that would have to be taught and trained against in order for these members to understand when that transition should be made. This is military-level training that is even lacking in the basic SEDENA (Mexican Army) programs. I believe only Mexico’s special operations units have training on this topic — and even then, it is most likely limited.
JJ – Crew-served weapons operated by infantry include sniper rifles, anti-materiel rifles, machine guns, automatic grenade launchers, mortars, anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, recoil-less rifles, shoulder-launched missile weapons, and static anti-tank/anti-aircraft missiles. What do you see in regards to the crew-served weapons?
Steiner — They seem to be unsupported. This is most likely a valid indicator of low-level training. As an example, the M60, I believe that is the weapon being fired, is designed to be supported with an “A and B Gunner.” It is also designed to be supported by riflemen on both of its position. The fact the weapon is mounted keeps me from seeing either of these issues [as] being proven and it’s clear a mounted weapon is stand alone.
Nonetheless, the weapons themselves are designed to be supported and the teams at each vehicle do not seem to be equipped for such a task. My impression would be, these weapons are not capable of being properly employed, at least not yet. Their main goal is most likely (to be) suppressive fire.
JJ – Do you believe that they can still be effective considering the level of engagements we see the cartels employing daily against Mexican forces and rival cartels?
Steiner — Yes. The mere sound of crew-served guns has a huge impact on those at the receiving end of the fire. So, yes, these weapons are extremely effective against the Mexican authorities.
JJ – What is missing?
Steiner — The 40mm launchers seen with several of these members are effective indirect-fire weapons, but it is unclear how the members are actually trained to utilize them. We have seen them deployed countless times in cartel-on-cartel battles or against Mexican military forces. It appears to be their only indirect-weapon system. I believe these 40mm weapons are leveraged for vehicle denial.
Overall, I would agree the level of weaponry seen in this video is important, based on one issue. The team’s concept that seems to coincide with each vehicle. Fire team configuration and engagement is a real concern as this cartel grows in its capabilities and confidence.
Something else is missing from these unit member’s weapons. Other than simple optical-enhanced equipment such as an off the shelf scope, most of these weapons have iron sites. In an age of highly enhanced sighting devices for the military, it seems odd these paramilitary members have such antiquated sight support. This impacts night fighting and seeing only the enemy’s [muzzle] flash. They do not–yet–have true, “night-fighting” capabilities.
JJ – We see uniformity in uniforms, boots, helmets, and tactical gear. Including clearly identifiable patches. What do you see in that level of uniformity?
Steiner — This is not the first video you and I have reviewed that indicated standardization of uniforms. What is noteworthy is the apparent lack of body armor. In an effort to appear as militaristic as possible, they lack of effective protective gear. I would predict this gap will rapidly close.
On a side note regarding unit patches, several of these members seem to have a unit patch on their right shoulder. This is something you and I have seen and talked about in the past.
JJ — Why is that significant?
Steiner — Patches show unity. Patches show pride and commitment–much like gang tattoos. The fact these patches are on the right shoulder–like a U.S. Army indication of a unit deployment in a combat environment — is something we must continue to track. This cartel’s ability to build a much higher level of commitment is a trend that is vital to understanding where their actions may lead.
JJ – In 2009, the Los Zetas created their first armored vehicles — referred to as the “monsters.” They were first-generation. Since then, we continue to see a new generation of armor emerge one after the next. What are your thoughts on the level of capability of the lighter weight and more maneuverable armored vehicles used today in day-to-day battles?
Steiner — What is noteworthy is the growing complexity of these cartel combat vehicles. By the way, I have never supported the nickname of “narco tank.” These vehicles have a common link to armored cars or even light-skinned troop transports, but they have no characteristic of a tank. What this video does show us, is the increased attention to detail.
Those who are making these vehicles have time and equipment to produce a level of vehicle the cartels have not had in their historic inventory. These vehicles are professionally made and not some product of a drunk uncle at a welding shop. This level of advancement is unmatched. No such capability exists with any known terrorist organization in the world, and that fact must not be overlooked.
JJ – I know we can’t go into depth here for national security reasons, but what about the cartel’s communications in combat and their utilization effectively?
Steiner — It appears the utilization of handheld radios continues to be the primary “maneuver” communication network. This issue continues to be a major concern. How can Mexico’s military not own the spectrum — spectrum that is based on low capability/handheld communication devices? Most in the CJNG level are encrypted.
Here is why I know Mexico is not attacking this issue of command-and-control. I’ve seen no indication of the cartels responding to a compromised network or networks. Yes, they do purchase new, more capable comm gear, but it seems their ability to communicate and maneuver is not truly impacted. How else could they have managed to assemble such a large force?
JJ – How effectively are some of these armored vehicles used by CJNG?
Steiner — It appears these vehicles have not yet been utilized in any real combat operations. They may have been cleaned or even repainted for this video, but the overall appearance of them would make the typical observer believe they were part of the information campaign.
Show Pony? Most likely, but the ability to execute command and control to the level of declaring the assembly and then moving the vehicles to the assembly point simply amazes me.
JJ – What does this all mean Colonel, where are we headed strategically with the cartel’s constant un-metered advancements in tradecraft?
Steiner — Every time you and I review these videos — especially the combat ones — it gives me a clear picture of where this is all heading. I’ve been observing the events in Mexico both officially and unofficially for over 15 years and this video confirms my greatest fear. The progression of the cartel’s capabilities, CJNG to be precise, is an issue the U.S. cannot afford to overlook any longer.
The CJNG is missing only a few critical parts that will lead it to being a “force on force” threat to the Mexican military.
Imagine the CJNG laying siege to a target. With a small increase in combat arms training, such as weapon’s support and maneuver, this group could and will attack targets of increasing value in Mexico. Think in terms of the siege that took place in 1985 at the Palace of Justice in Columbia.
That is where CJNG’s capabilities are heading. If they desire to execute such an event, they will most likely be successful in at least taking the target, if not holding it. Thus forcing the Mexican government to respond in a way that would make global news. Our nation’s number one trade partner has a siege event live on TV? Think about the repercussions.
JJ – Where does this end up if the U.S. government continues the policy of avoiding directly targeting the cartels as we have seen?
Steiner — If U.S. leadership blows off what is indicated in this video, then the consequences will fall on D.C. If Mexico’s leadership and intelligence community is so compromised, then preventing a major event is impossible. What then becomes possible is such an event taking place on U.S. soil.
Jaeson Jones is a retired captain from the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division and a Breitbart Texas contributor. While on duty, he managed daily operations for the Texas Rangers Border Security Operations Center.