Mexico City – The army arrested nearly 200 suspects, killed 30 others and freed 12 kidnapping victims in a 20-day operation targeting organized crime in northeastern Mexico, the National Defense Secretariat said Thursday.
The goal of the "Northern Wildcat" operation, launched on July 16, was to strike a major blow to the "leadership, financial, operating and logistics structures of criminal gangs present in the states of San Luis Potosi, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas," the secretariat said in a statement.
The Los Zetas gang and its main rival, the Gulf cartel, are the criminal organizations most active in that region, although the former was hardest hit by the military operation.
More than 4,000 soldiers, 722 vehicles and 23 aircraft under the direct command of the head of the 4th Military Region, Gen. Noe Sandoval Alcazar, were deployed to the region for the operation.
The military carried out "search and information-gathering, intelligence and planning activities and executed precision operations," the secretariat said.
The troops were the target of 26 armed attacks by organized crime members that resulted in one soldier killed and 21 others wounded. A total of 30 suspected drug-gang members were killed and 11 were wounded.
During the operation, the military personnel also freed 12 kidnapping victims, arrested 196 suspects and seized 1,217 weapons, 3.3 tons of marijuana, more than 260 vehicles, 188 communcations devices and 14 properties.
The secretariat also reported the death in combat Tuesday of Jorge Luis de la Peña Brizuela, the purported leader of Los Zetas in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, just across the border from Laredo, Texas.
On that same day in Saltillo, Coahuila, the army detained Valdemar Quintanilla Soriana - the suspected No. 2 Los Zetas financial operator - and another man in possession of more than 6 million pesos ($512,800) in cash.
Also Tuesday, the soldiers confiscated 6.5 million pesos ($555,555) that suspected Zetas members had stashed at a property in the town of Santa Catarina, Nuevo Leon.
In San Luis Potosi city, capital of the likenamed state, the troops involved in Northern Wildcat captured two other leading Zetas: Jose Angel Zapata Pantoja and Rafael Salmeron Rodriguez.
According to Mexican authorities, the Zetas are increasingly involved in the kidnapping and smuggling of undocumented migrants and have a strong presence in neighboring Guatemala, where in May they massacred 27 farmworkers at a ranch owned by a rival drug trafficker.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as "El Lazca," deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas, considered Mexico's most violent criminal organization, went into the drug business on their own account and now are battling other mobs for control of lucrative territories.
More than 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon militarized the struggle against Mexico's cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and Federal Police officers across the country to combat drug cartels and other criminal organizations.
The anti-drug operation, however, has failed to put a dent in the violence due, according to experts, to drug cartels' ability to buy off the police and even high-ranking officials.