New special ops command in Mexico politically motivated, analysts claim

The new U.S. special operations command created to help Mexico combat drug traffickers was allegedly conceived, in part, to bolster President Obama's reelection campaign, according to defense analysts reportedly involved in the effort.

Recently disclosed internal e-mails between analysts at the Texas-based defense think tank Stratfor quoted sources at Joint Special Operations Command and the National Security Council saying the decision to expand the U.S. footprint into Mexico would be "a political one."

Last week, the Pentagon officially created the new command, known as Special Operations Command-North, based at Northern Command's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., according to The Associated Press.

The program will be based on ongoing advice and assistance programs between American forces and their counterparts in the Mexican military, the AP reports.

But the e-mails, released by WikiLeaks last year, chronicle the political calculations that influenced planning meetings in 2010 between military and White House officials about extending American special forces into Mexico.

At those meetings, held at JSOC headquarters in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, National Security Council members reportedly suggested that the new command -- focused on fighting Mexican drug traffickers -- could be "a possible window" to highlight Obama's tough stance on drug violence, just as the White House was ramping up its reelection campaign.

"The matter is being looked at by the NSC as a possible advantage to Obama's reelection campaign, however, State [Department] is raising objections," Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla wrote in a Nov. 2010 e-mail.

"The recent killings of [American citizens] . . . are being viewed as a possible window to 'spin' a get tough on drug violence [and] narcos" that would have been a part of the Obama admininstration's reelection platform, Bhalla wrote at the time.

The decision "will be a political one," she added regarding the possible creation of the new special operations command.

Bhalla declined requests from The Hill to comment on the issue.

The creation of Special Operations Command-North was designed to bring Northern Command on par with other regional commands that already have a special forces component attached to them, command spokesman John Cornelio said in an e-mail to The Hill on Friday.

"This is an organizational change, not an operational change," Cornelio said. "We are merely placing a component commander in charge of things we are already doing."

The new special operations command, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta approved earlier this month, will become operational by 2014, Cornelio added.

Specifically, American military trainers attached to the new special-forces counternarcotics hub will school Mexican military, intelligence and law enforcement officials on how to track and target key traffickers within the country's numerous drug cartels.

The approach will be patterned closely after the U.S. counterterrorism strategy used to hunt down top Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, according to recent reports.

Based on previous lessons from U.S. trainers, Mexican authorities have already created an intelligence center in Mexico City designed to identify and target criminal networks and their connection to the larger drug trafficking organizations, according to The Washington Post.

Those centers mirror the ones created by U.S. and NATO forces in Baghdad, Kabul and Kandahar to root out senior commanders in the Afghan Taliban and within al Qaeda's faction in Iraq.

Expansion of U.S. special operations forces was part of the Pentagon's new post-Afghanistan strategy, unveiled last January.

U.S. special operations forces and counterinsurgency specialists returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are poised to ramp up operations across the globe, focusing on countries like Mexico, as well as partner nations in Africa and South America.

These small bands of special forces experts will lean upon "innovative methods" learned in Southwest Asia to support local counterterrorism forces and expand American influence in those regions, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at the time.

The American military units heading to Mexico, Africa and South America were the same ones that spearheaded the "high end [counterinsurgency] fight" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld said last January.

With the U.S. withdrawal from Southwest Asia already in motion, Pentagon leaders now have the flexibility to move more troops into places, he added.