Government report on failed operation shows soldiers pushing Ovidio Guzmn Lpez to tell brothers to call off rescue attempt

Mexican soldiers who detained a son of the jailed drug lord Joaqun El Chapo Guzmn forced him to telephone his brothers in a desperate effort to call off a rescue attempt by cartel gunmen.

Instead, the call triggered a fresh onslaught in the northern city of Culiacn as the Sinaloa cartel mounted a terrifying show of strength that eventually prompted the outnumbered soldiers to free the capos son in exchange for their lives.

The video of Ovidio Guzmn Lpezs call was released on Wednesday as part of an extraordinary government report revealing just how badly things went wrong in the failed operation on 17 October.

President Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador insisted the report would rebut the arguments of critics who say the disastrous operation has made his government appear weak and have called on him reconsider his commitment to a non-confrontational hugs not bullets security strategy.

Quick guide

Mexico war on drugs

Shifting tactics

Mexicos war on drugs began in late 2006 when the president at the time, Felipe Caldern, ordered thousands of troops onto the streets in response to an explosion of horrific violence in his native state of Michoacn.

Caldern hoped to smash the drug cartels with his heavily militarized onslaught but the approach was counter-productive and exacted a catastrophic human toll. As Mexicos military went on the offensive, the body count sky-rocketed to new heights and tens of thousands were forced from their homes, disappeared or killed.

Simultaneously Caldern also began pursuing the so-called kingpin strategy by which authorities sought to decapitate the cartels by targeting their leaders.

That policy resulted in some high-profile scalps notably Arturo Beltrn Leyva who was gunned down by Mexican marines in 2009 but also did little to bring peace. In fact, many believe such tactics served only to pulverize the world of organized crime, creating even more violence as new, less predictable factions squabbled for their piece of the pie.

Under Calderns successor, Enrique Pea Nieto, the governments rhetoric on crime softened as Mexico sought to shed its reputation as the headquarters of some the worlds most murderous mafia groups.

But Calderns policies largely survived, with authorities targeting prominent cartel leaders such as Sinaloas Joaqun El Chapo Guzmn.

When El Chapo was arrested in early 2016, Mexicos president bragged: Mission accomplished. But the violence went on. By the time Pea Nieto left office in 2018, Mexico had suffered another record year of murders, with nearly 36,000 people slain.

The leftwing populist Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador took power in December, promising a dramatic change in tactics. Lpez Obrador, or Amlo as most call him, vowed to attack the social roots of crime, offering vocational training to more than 2.3 million disadvantaged young people at risk of being ensnared by the cartels.

It will be virtually impossible to achieve peace without justice and [social] welfare, Amlo said, promising to slash the murder rate from an average of 89 killings per day with his hugs not bullets doctrine.

Amlo also pledged to chair daily 6am security meetings and create a 60,000 strong “National Guard”. But those measures have yet to pay off, with the new security force used mostly to hunt Central American migrants.

Mexico now suffers an average of about 96 murders per day, with nearly 29,000 people killed since Amlo took office.

We want everything to be known. Thats how we demonstrate the responsibility of the actions taken in a complex, difficult, and very serious situation, the president said. Its how we demonstrate that the most important thing is to protect citizens, to protect life.

The defence secretary, Luis Cresencio Sandoval, described Ovidio, 29, as one of the main traffickers of methamphetamines and fentanyl into the United States, and said the aborted operation stemmed from an arrest warrant with a view to extradition issued on 13 September.

The general said a special unit within the security forces was dispatched to Culiacn on 9 October with an arrest plan that involved the establishment of an inner and outer security cordon as soon as intelligence confirmed that Ovidio was at a house in the centre of the city.

Things began to fall apart, however, when attacks by gunmen prevented soldiers and members of the national guard from reaching their positions on the outer cordon.

Pressure increased, he said, when gunmen attacked blocks of flats occupied by the families of military personnel and took an officer and nine soldiers hostage.

Critics have argued that the authorities should have sent a larger force for the operation.

But Sandoval emphasized the gunmens military-grade arsenal, which included armoured vehicles, .50-calibre machine guns, and rocket launchers that hit a helicopter, and argued that to defeat the cartel force, the the army would have had to use even superior firepower which would have inevitably put civilians at risk.

The government says eight people died during the operation, though local media has put the death toll at 13.

As fighting raged across the city, it appears that the younger Guzmn never left the house were he was detained.

Video shot at the property shows him passing a handgun to an associate before emerging into a garage, fiddling with a black baseball cap before soldiers back him against the wall.

With intense gunfire in the background, a soldier shouts at him: Tell your people to stop this! after which he is seen holding a mobile phone.

Call it off, please, Ive given myself up, he is heard saying. Now stop it, calm down, theres nothing to be done Tell them to pull back, I dont want this, he continues.

But the attacks continued and four hours after the operation began, officials in Mexico City ordered security forces to withdraw.

Initial reaction to the report included some shock, and even admiration, that the government had been so open about such a disastrous event.

But many questions remain unanswered, including who gave the go-ahead for such an obviously badly planned operation and how the cartel obtained the intelligence to mount an effective rescue operation so quickly.

Lpez Obrador has promised to answer outstanding doubts at a press conference on Thursday.



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