Mexico’s army began a massive deployment in the western state of Michoacan on Monday to crack down on a drug cartel that carried out a dramatic killing spree on police there last week.
The powerful “La Familia” drug cartel killed 16 federal police officers in the home state of Mexican President Felipe Calderon last week, and piled up 12 bodies along the side of a road.
Some 2,500 soldiers spread out across the state on Monday, adding to 1,500 police and 1,000 troops already deployed in the area.
“We already had 1,000 troops deployed since December 11, 2006,” said General Rafael de Jesus Ballesteros in the state capital, Morelia.
Calderon launched a controversial military crackdown on organized crime in his home state after taking office in December 2006 following disputed elections.
Gruesome drug attacks have since spiraled nationwide, despite the deployment of more than 36,000 troops, particularly in violent border areas on key trafficking routes into the US.
More than 7,700 deaths have been blamed on suspected drug violence since the start of last year.
La Familia, which operates mainly in Michoacan, burst into the headlines in October 2006 when an armed commando linked to the cartel entered a bar and tossed five severed heads onto the dance floor.
In a broad sweep in Michoacan in May, the government arrested 10 mayors, a judge and 16 other local officials for their alleged links with organized crime.
The extra troops deployed on Monday were due to patrol the state’s major cities as well as mountain roads, Ballesteros said.
Air support would include at least two Black Hawk helicopters, he said.
The military deployment followed the government’s rejection of an unusual proposition for a national pact from one of the La Familia cartel leaders.
La Familia organized its first public attack in Michoacan state last September, killing eight people with hand grenades thrown at a crowd assembled for Independence Day in the heart of Morelia.