January 11, 2016 by Jack Murphy for Sofrep Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, was recaptured following an intense firefight between Mexican Marines and Chapo’s goons in Sinaloa, Mexico, last Friday. Although Mexican officials claimed that the entire operation to recapture El Chapo after he escaped from prison for the second time was planned and executed by Mexico, multiple sources report to SOFREP that American law enforcement officers and JSOC operators were involved in the mission.
The operation, dubbed “Black Swan” by the Mexican government, was actually targeting Chapo’s lead sicario (assassin) but came across the cartel leader by chance. The Mexican Marines stormed the house, and in the ensuing firefight five cartel gunmen were killed and six were injured. One Marine was also injured. During the firefight, Chapo escaped through a series of tunnels and then tried to flee in a stolen vehicle.
Federal agents caught sight of him and arrested him on the spot. According to one account, the arresting agents had not even been aware of the larger mission being carried out in the area by Mexican Marines. Arresting Chapo was simply a chance encounter, a stroke of good luck. Rumors of American special operations personnel roaming around the badlands of Mexico have been floating around for well over a decade at this point, but the idea of bearded, ball cap- and Oakley-wearing American soldiers south of the border has been more fiction than fact. JSOC maintained a small analysis cell in Mexico, but the Mexican government has been extremely wary of an American military presence on the ground. Much of this has to do with fears of neocolonialism, as well as Latin American machismo—insecurity over the fact that Mexico cannot manage its own internal affairs.
While America’s so-called “war on drugs” is perhaps at an all-time low socially and politically, with our focus on the Middle East, the capture of El Chapo is still a tactical win for the United States, even if it only gets us incrementally closer to securing the rule of law in Mexico.
In the lead for the capture were the Mexican Marines, who are the go-to preferred force for counter-drug cartel operations in a country where public officials are often hopelessly corrupt. It is interesting to see how, around 2006 or 2007, the Mexican Marines suddenly became very effective at direct-action (DA) raids. Such raids were responsible for capturing and killing high-value targets (HVTs), causing speculation that the Marines were receiving a little help from their North American neighbors. America has also leveraged its significant signals intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities to help the Mexican authorities track down drug cartel leaders.
In regards to the latest El Chapo capture, SOFREP has been told that it was actually the U.S. Marshals who had an important role in tracking down the drug lord. Also on the ground was the U.S. Army’s elite counterterrorism unit, Delta Force. Operators from Delta served as tactical advisors but did not directly participate in the operation.
This type of arrangement is hardly unprecedented, as Delta also worked in the shadows during the search for, and eventual killing of, Pablo Escabar in Colombia. They’ve also served in advisory capacities during hostage-rescue missions in places as diverse as Sudan and Peru. Delta Force has also remained behind the scenes in the capture of other HVTs, from Manuel Noriega in Panama during the 1989 invasion, to the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein in Iraq in 2003. Also worth noting is the unit’s role in tracking down and arresting Bosnian war criminals in the 1990s.
Although Delta had some level of involvement in the operation, their presence is probably less interesting than many would assume. Law enforcement agencies often request the presence of Delta operators as advisors to sensitive operations. These operators are often there putting in face time to appease the request of a federal agency, but may have little if any actual participation in the planning and execution of events. Such was the case when Delta was asked to consult on the Waco stand-off between the ATF, FBI, and the Branch Davidians in 1993. Law enforcement agencies are said to regard the presence of a JSOC operator as a sort of lucky talisman.
The good news is that it is now unlikely that Chapo will be escaping from prison a third time as the Mexican government is signaling that he will be extradited to the United States to face prosecution. When the black Chinook comes for Chapo, we will know that he will finally face the justice that he has long evaded.
BACKGROUND OF DELTA FORCE AS REPORTED IN WASHINGTON POST
Did Delta Force help capture El Chapo? US role yet to be detailed. The secretive history of U.S. manhunts in Latin America
Dan Lamothe | The Washington Post
Nearly 24 years ago, the United States deployed a small, secretive force to hunt for a drug kingpin whose merchandise had flooded U.S. markets. Pablo Escobar’s cartel was believed to smuggle in at least 80 percent of the cocaine in the United States, and was responsible for a wave of murders in Colombia that stretched back 15 years.
For more than a year, the U.S. military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) rotated teams into Colombia from the Army’s elite Delta Force and the U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare Developmental Group, commonly known as DEVGRU or SEAL Team 6, according to the book “Relentless Strike,” a lengthy history of JSOC published last year by journalist Sean Naylor. The U.S. Special Operations troops were supposed to be limited to training Colombia’s elite military forces, but found ways to accompany them on missions.
On Dec. 2, 1993, Escobar was finally discovered through phone surveillance, and killed in a raid. Rumors have long persisted that a member of Delta force killed him, but retired Army Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, a longtime Delta operator, denied that was the case in his 2008 book, “Never Surrender.”
The operation bears consideration as the United States seeks the extradition of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, a billionaire drug lord who was captured Friday by Mexican marines in the coastal city of Los Mochis, near Baja California. An expansive article by the actor Sean Penn published by Rolling Stone magazine suggested that El Chapo knew that Mexican authorities and officials with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration were closing in, drawing on a secret visit Penn said he had with the kingpin in the mountains of Sinaloa, Mexico.
DEA officials said in a tweet that the capture of El Chapo is “further evidence of our two countries’ resolve to ensure justice is served for families who have been plagued by his ruthless acts.”
“The DEA and Mexico have a strong partnership and we will continue to support Mexico in its efforts to improve security for its citizens,” the agency added. “We will continue to work together to respond to the evolving threats posed by transnational criminal organizations.”
The U.S. government has not detailed how it assisted in the capture of El Chapo. But a report by the online magazine SOFREP suggested that Delta Force operators and U.S. law enforcement officials were involved in the mission. The report, which includes bloody photos said to be taken after a firefight with El Chapo’s forces, said that Delta troops served as tactical advisers but did not participate directly in the mission, citing multiple anonymous sources.
The SOFREP cite is run by former Special Operations troops, and has been known to break some stories. In one example, they identified former Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill as the veteran who had anonymously described the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a 2013 article published by Esquire magazine. O’Neill later identified himself in an interview with The Washington Post.
SOFREP’s new report on El Chapo could not not be confirmed on Monday, but involvement of the U.S. military in Latin America has long been a source of intrigue.
In another example, Delta Force, Army Ranger units and other Special Operations forces led the 1989 hunt for Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian leader who also had a long history of shipping cocaine to the United States. Operation Just Cause was approved by President George H.W. Bush in late 1989, and took only a few weeks, with Noriega turning himself over to U.S. troops on Jan. 3, 1990, according to an Army history of the operation.
Noriega was known to wear red underpants. According to the books by both Naylor and Boykin, a pair ended up in a display case at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the home of both SOC and Delta.