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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mexico's Zetas rewrite drug war in blood

(Reuters) - Mexican government forces had bottled up a band of enemy fighters in this tiny village late last year, but feared they would escape into the dusty, rock-strewn hills. So more than 600 soldiers and federal police closed in from all directions with armored Humvees and helicopters.

The outlaws responded with a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault-rifle fire, tearing apart one federal police vehicle. For three days the fighting raged.

In the end, according to military accounts of the battle, 22 members of the Zetas drug cartel, two police officers and a soldier were dead, and 20 Zetas were in custody. Dozens more escaped to fight another day.

The battle could have been a scene from the war in Afghanistan, but it erupted just 45 miles south of the Texas border. It was only one of dozens like it in northeastern Mexico in recent months as soldiers, marines and police have engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with roaming Zetas hit squads.

Formed in 1998 by 14 former Mexican soldiers, the Zetas have grown to command more than 10,000 gunmen from the Rio Grande, on the border with Texas, to deep into Central America. Read More