The U.S. government is using manned aircraft to assist Mexican police in identifying, capturing and killing some of Mexico's most-wanted criminals, Fox News reported Thursday.

"Operation Lowrider," which is being run by the Pentagon's Northern Command, started in 2011 after the murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Fox said.

More than 70,000 people have been killed and thousands of others have disappeared in Mexico's drug war, which started in late 2006.

"It's been successful in identifying, eliminating and bringing to justice those who brought tons and tons of drugs into the United States," Phil Jordan a former DEA special agent and director of the agency's El Paso Intelligence Center, told Fox.

The two propeller planes being used in "Operation Lowrider" are manned by personnel from a subcontractor to Sierra Nevada, a U.S. defense contractor, and have greater capabilities than the unmanned drones used by the Department of Homeland Security to monitor the border.

"Using advanced eavesdropping equipment, 'pattern of life' reconnaissance missions expose the schedules and routines of high level traffickers," Fox said.

Information obtained by the planes is transmitted to U.S. officials, who contact Mexican police or military units so they can capture the target.

"The contract with Sierra Nevada expires in September. It is unknown whether Northern Command will renew it, or if newly elected President Enrique Pena Neito will continue to give the American surveillance flights permission to enter Mexican airspace," Fox said. EFE