(CNSNews.com) – The murders of two kidnapped American citizens in Mexico are fueling calls in Congress for the U.S. government to designate cartels as terrorist organizations, paving the way for potential U.S. military action against them.
The two victims were among four Americans seized on Friday in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas. The other two survived the ordeal and were handed over to U.S. authorities at a border crossing bridge on Tuesday morning.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who has introduced two pieces of legislation since November targeting the Mexican cartels, tweeted that despite the murders, “we still haven’t declared the cartels a military target.”
“It’s time we authorize military force against them,” he said. “Are you listening, [Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador]? We would love for you to be a partner. Help us help you.”
In January, Crenshaw and Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) introduced a resolution to create an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to target Mexican cartels facilitating the fentanyl crisis.
Waltz told “Fox & Friends First” on Tuesday that the cartels “have declared war on the United States.”
“They control our border. They are killing tens of thousands of American citizens. And we need to deploy every asset that we have – not just law-enforcement, but also military and intelligence – to dismantle them, to disrupt them, and to take them out.”
Waltz said he wasn’t arguing for U.S. military boots on the ground in Mexico.
“I’m talking about cyber, intelligence, drones, targeting. We begin disrupting their money, their supply chains, and targeting their leadership.”
“We cannot accept a narcostate that is completely ungoverned on our border that’s preying on American citizens,” he said. “These groups are more like ISIS than they are the mafia.”
“We need to be thinking about it differently. Just as al-Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans with their planes these cartels are killing 80,000 Americans a year with poison.”
Waltz was referring to annual deaths attributed to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid manufactured by the cartels using precursor chemicals from China.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News on Monday that he planned to introduce legislation “to make certain Mexican drug cartels ‘foreign terrorist organizations’ under U.S. law and set the stage to use military force if necessary, to protect America from being poisoned by things coming out of Mexico.”
“I would tell the Mexican government if you don’t clean up your act, we’re going to clean it up for you,” he said.
When Crenshaw and Waltz introduced their AUMF legislation in January, Crenshaw said it was time to start treating the cartels “like ISIS – because that is who they are.”
Waltz said an AUMF would give the president “sophisticated military cyber, intelligence, and surveillance resources to disrupt cartel operations that are endangering Americans.”
The legislation specifically named nine Mexican cartels, including the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels which reportedly account for most of the fentanyl being pushed across the border.
Another of those named, the Gulf cartel, is the dominant group in Tamaulipas state, where the Americans were kidnapped and killed. (Tamaulipas is one of six Mexican states classified by the State Department as a “do not travel” area, due to crime and kidnapping.)
López Obrador has objected to the AUMF legislation and accused the two lawmakers, both combat veterans, of wanting to invade his country. (Crenshaw is a former U.S. Navy SEAL, Waltz a former U.S. Army Green Beret.)
He said Crenshaw and Waltz “want to use military force to intervene in the public life of our country, to invade it under the pretext of fighting terrorist drug traffickers. We must reject these claims of interventionism.”
Reacting to the Mexican president’s criticism, Crenshaw said in a series of tweets earlier this week he was glad López Obrador was “finally taking notice,” and asked him, “how would you feel if an American gang was poisoning 70,000 Mexicans every year with fentanyl?”
“All we want is to finally take on the powerful criminal elements that terrorize the Mexican people, pay off and threaten Mexican politicians, and poison Americans,” he said. “You’re against that, Mr. President? Who do you represent? The cartels or the people?”
Asked on Tuesday about calls for terror designation for the cartels, State Department spokesman Ned Price said designations have already been made “consistent with the authorities that we as a government have” – alluding to sanctions under a 2021 executive order targeting the global illicit drug trade
“But we are always going to look at every tool that is, by law or any other authority available to us, to attempt to work with our Mexican partners to crack down on what is a threat to Mexicans and to Americans alike,” he said.
Asked if the administration was then open to terrorist designations, Price replied, “We have designated these groups as appropriate. We are always going to continue to do what is most effective and what is available to us to hold these groups accountable.”
At a press conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland acknowledged that Mexican cartels “are responsible for the deaths of Americans.”
“The DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] and the FBI are doing everything possible to dismantle and disrupt and ultimately prosecute the leaders of the cartels and the entire networks that they depend on,” he said.
Last November, Crenshaw introduced the Declaring War on the Cartels Act, featuring increased criminal penalties for criminal cartels’ activities and the targeting of their finances, with provision for seized assets to be directed to Customs and Border Protection, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the DEA.
The measure also provides for sanctions against foreign governments found to have provided resources to cartels, or that “permit, or fail to take adequate measures to prevent, transnational criminal cartel activity within their territory.”
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