Link: Border Face-off involved Mexican Army
SIERRA BLANCA, Texas (AP) -- Men dressed as Mexican Army soldiers, apparent drug suspects and Texas law enforcement officers faced off near the U.S.-Mexican border after three suspicious SUVs attempted to flee state authorities, officials said Tuesday.
Andrea Simmons, an agency spokeswoman in El Paso, told The Associated Press that Texas Department of Public Safety troopers chased three SUVs, believing they were carrying drugs, to the banks of the Rio Grande during Monday's incident.
Men dressed in Mexican military uniforms or camouflage were on the U.S. side of the border in Texas, she said.
Simmons said the FBI was not involved and referred requests for further details to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario, California, reported Tuesday that the incident included an armed standoff involving the Mexican military and suspected drug smugglers. The incident follows a story in the Bulletin on January 15 that said the Mexican military had crossed into the United States more than 200 times since 1996.
In a news conference, Rick Glancey of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition, said three Hudspeth County deputies and at least two Texas Department of Public Safety troopers squared off against at least 10 heavily armed men from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.
U.S. officials who pursued three fleeing SUVs to the Mexican border saw what appeared to be a Mexican military Humvee help one of the SUVs when it got stuck in the river, he said.
When that didn't work, a group of men dressed in civilian clothes started unloading what appeared to be bundles of marijuana from the SUV, and the stuck vehicle was then torched, he said. A second SUV had a flat tire and was left behind in the United States and its occupant ran across the border, he said.
Glancey said he could not confirm whether the armed men seen at the site were Mexican Army, police officers, or drug dealers, and would not detail what markings deputies may have seen on the men's uniforms or the Humvee.
Chief Deputy Mike Doyal of the Hudspeth County Sheriff's Department said that Mexican army personnel had several mounted machine guns on the ground more than 200 yards inside the U.S. border, the Daily Bulletin newspaper reported earlier.
"It's been so bred into everyone not to start an international incident with Mexico that it's been going on for years," Doyal said. "When you're up against mounted machine guns, what can you do? Who wants to pull the trigger first? Certainly not us."
Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West, whose officers were involved in a similar incident last year, said he is certain that Mexican authorities know who was involved.
After the newspaper reported on Mexican military crossings earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the report was overblown and most of the incursions were just mistakes.
In eastern California, Arizona and New Mexico, the U.S.-Mexico border is largely unmarked. But in Texas, the Rio Grande separates the two countries and even when dry, is a riverbed about 200 feet wide.
In November, Doyal said Border Patrol agents in the border town of Fort Hancock called for help after confronting more than six men dressed in Mexican military uniforms. The men allegedly were trying to bring more than three tons of marijuana across the Rio Grande, Doyal told the newspaper.