It is difficult to assess the capabilities of the Mexican Army as a conventional fighting force, since the army has not been utilised in this capacity for several decades. Domestically, the main concern of Mexican governments with respect to the armed forces was to ensure that they did not develop advanced and expensive capabilities or a significant role in the nation's political system. Far from being a modern conventional fighting force, the Mexican Army is accustomed to guerrilla/irregular warfare and internal security operations. Thus, the armed forces have, in practice, served as a sort of national constabulary, backing up the police without the need for a large budget, extensive personnel, heavy modern fighting vehicles or advanced fighter aircraft. Mexico largely thwarted the threat of serious, externally-supported guerrilla movements during the 1960s and 1970s through diplomatic means, maintaining its independence from the US and keeping positive lines of communication open with Cuba and other left-wing elements. Also, Mexico did not hesitate to quickly suppress or co-opt domestic opposition when the need arose.
However, serious attention has been given to upgrading Mexico's military capabilities since the 1970s and a notable amount of progress has been made. In practice the only significant duties that the armed forces have had to carry out have been related to the drug war and relatively small guerrilla rebellions in Chiapas and Guerrero. The armed forces' purely military performance has been relatively impressive, although the overall effort has been diminished by rampant corruption and rapid growth in the size of the narcotics problem. That said, the military has been substantially more effective than the police in counter-drug operations, deploying at least 7,500 personnel at all times in an anti-narcotics role. Frequently, up to 45,000 troops are involved in such operations. The Mexican Army also responded effectively to the uprising in Chiapas in 1994, although it was charged with using excessive force.
Apart from its traditional external and internal defence mandate, the Mexican Army is tasked with a number of non-traditional roles, including law enforcement support, a large reforestation programme, fighting malnutrition and illiteracy, sport promotion, free dental services and disaster relief programmes.
Units have historically been based on battalion-size forces for two reasons:
In case of a conventional war (a very unlikely invasion from the United States), Mexican forces would spread out over a large geographical area and operate in small, guerrilla-type company-size units reporting to a battalion HQ. This explains the large number of mortars in service vs a small and obsolete field artillery force, the non-existence of MBT's and a somewhat autonomous-type of organisation.
Small units are easier to move around and do not allow a chance to concentrate power that could eventually be turned against the government. This practice (as well as an unwritten pact that dates from the late 1930s) has made the Mexican military one of the less participatory forces in Latin American politics and has enforced a true institutional character.
Since late 2006 the army has been extensively used in an all-out campaign against organised crime that has seen a reorganisation of a portion of its forces to address this role. This has included the creation of a Human Rights Directorate to increase human rights awareness among all troops.
The army has adequately adapted to the changing scenarios of Mexico's security environment and the recent escalation of violence is an effect of increased operations from the state, through the army, against organised crime. The army has managed to transform from a rural support into an urban warfare force with increasing intelligence gathering capabilities. Special Forces assets have increased considerably in both quantity and quality as has the technology they employ. The brief creation of a Federal Support Forces Corps (FSFC) is evidence of this adaptability. The FSFC as a 10,000-strong unit trained in urban warfare and law-enforcement support and tasked with anti-crime operations. The corps was created by presidential decree but had to be approved by Congress in order to get funded. Congress rejected the creation of the corps in late 2008 and, consequently, it had to be disbanded.
There are no official reserve organisations. There is a theoretical reserve systems that calls up national military servicemen from the age of 18 up to the age of 49. A large proportion of the Mexican Army is being employed on the war against the drug cartels and up to 45,000 troops are utilised in this role at any one time. Deployments in what are known as "high impact operations" can take place between 30 to 90 days.
Rapid Reaction elements of the Mexican Army have recently been organised around three Special Forces brigades (12 battalions), three Independent Infantry Brigades, two armoured brigades and a single Paratroop Brigade. However, rapid reinforcements are usually performed using no more than company sized elements of battalions or regiments from one part of the country to the other.
Recent developments indicate that internal security and disaster relief will take priority. The army saw an increase in its anti-narcotic operations during the late 1990s and early 2000s. As operations migrated from rural to mainly urban regions, army units increasingly came into contact with the traditionally de-militarised Mexican society.
Recent and Current OperationsTOP
The Mexican constitution prohibits the deployment of Mexican troops outside the country in time of peace. However, forces have been deployed to Central and North America in humanitarian-disaster relief operations.
The army's most recent international deployment took place during September 2005, when some 196 troops (mainly medical personnel and engineers) deployed to San Antonio, Texas and set up a mobile hospital and kitchen facilities at the old Kelly AFB in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In late 2006, the armed forces were called upon to re-gain control of spaces that had been lost to narcotics and organised crime. They began a series of combined (army, air force, navy, federal police and attorney general agents) operations designed to take strategic positions in the states of Michoacán, Guerrero, Baja California, Sinaloa, Durango, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Nuevo León. These operations were mostly welcomed by the overwhelmed state governments and local population. The operations included large scale (helicopter-supported) roadblocks, major drug seizures, identification and destruction of drug plantations and purging of some local police forces. By law all police (municipal, state and federal) firearms are registered and controlled by the office of the Secretary of National Defense (Secretaría de La Defensa Nacional - SEDENA).
During 2008 the army increased operations against organised crime and, by 2009, this included taking major positions and patrolling sectors of large cities such as Ciudad Juarez, Monterrey and the outskirts of Mexico City.
Command and controlTOP
Secretary of National Defence:
General Guillermo Galvan Galvan
Undersecretary of National Defence:
Major General Humberto Alfonso Guillermo Aguilar
Officer in Charge (Official Mayor):
Major General Jorge Juarez Loera
Chief of General Staff, Armed Forces:
Major General Carlos Demetrio Gaytan Ochoa
Inspector General, Army and Air Force:
Division General Jorge Juarez Loaera
The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and has far-reaching powers with regard to the declaration of war, mobilisation, the suspension of constitutional guarantees and the promotion of officers. The president exercises day-to-day control over the army and air force through the Ministry of National Defence (MND) and over the navy via the Ministry of Marine. The air force is subordinate to the army and has a semi-autonomous command status. The minister of national defence is supported by an undersecretary; both are usually senior army officers. The senior serving officer is the commander of national defence, who commands both the army and the air force through the general staff.
The Ministry of Marine is responsible for protecting the Pacific and Caribbean coasts and coastal zones; the MND assumes responsibility for the rest of Mexican territory. This division of responsibility has ensured that the operations of the army and air force are more closely integrated and interdependent than those of some other nations in Latin America.
The army is deployed on a pattern established in 1924, shortly after the end of the revolution.
There are 45 military zones. The traditional political distribution, in which each state had a military zone has changed in the past decade according to operational requirements. The states of Baja California Sur, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Sonora and Tabasco each have two zones, while Veracruz has three. Each zone is garrisoned by one or more infantry battalions, the majority also having at least one cavalry regiment and a variable complement of combat and logistic support units. Deployed in these 12 military regions are some 160,000 personnel of the army and 18,000 rural defence militia and the regions comprise:
93 × Infantry Battalions;
24 × Motorised Cavalry Regiments;
4 × Mechanised Regiments;
5 × Armoured Reconnaissance Regiments;
4 × Artillery Regiments;
3 × Independent Recoiless Rifle Groups; and
24 × Independent Infantry Companies.
The remainder of the army is organised around a large five Corps structure;
1 × Military Police Corps with 3 × MP Brigades (each with 3 × MP battalions and 1 × Special Operations battalion)
1 × Special Forces Corps with 3 × Special Forces Brigades (recently expanded into 12 Special Forces Battalions replacing the original airmobile (GAFE); plus 5 × Amphibious Special Forces Groups (GANFE)
1 × Presidential Guard Corps with 1 × Mechanised Infantry Brigade (2 × Lieutenant Infantry Battalions, 1 × Assault Infantry Battalion, 1 × Mortar Group) , 1 × MP Brigade (3 MP Battalions and 1 × Special Operation anti-riot- vehicles), 1 × Logistics Brigade, 1 × Special Forces Group, 1 × Engineer Battalion, 1 × Honour Guard Artillery Battery, 1 × Honour Guard Cavalry Squadron plus 1 × Naval Infantry (Marine) Battalion attached from the navy.
1 Airborne Corps: 1 Paratrooper Brigade (3 × Para Battalions, 1 × Special Forces Airmobile Group (GAFE))
1 Rural Defence Corps with 13 × Infantry and 13 × (horse) Cavalry Units
No separate air defence units exist.
The engineers consist of three combat engineer battalions, plus a similar number of construction battalions and three independent companies. Ultimately there is to be a total of five or six army corps of which only CE I, in Military Region I, is partially formed.
This list only depicts close to 12,000 rurales, however, official documents state total personnel at more than 17,980.
These organisations have a varying number of brigades under each HQ. They comprise the most specialised troops, however the main territorial deployment is spread in the 12 Military Regions through 46 Military zones comprising 103 independent infantry battalions and 24 independent motorised cavalry regiments and 24 independent infantry companies. Mexican regiments are battalion size units equipped with armoured vehicles.
The army is charged with three defence plans: DNI (defence of national territory from invasion); DNII (broadly defined as internal security ); DNIII (assistance for disaster threats). To accomplish these missions, the army operates through the nine military regional commands. Corps have evolved as specialised formations with constant deployments at a national level, while military regions and their corresponding military zones have a large number of independent battalion-sized units allocated.
Mexico City (HQ), Morelos and state of Mexico
Mexicali, Baja California (HQ), Baja California Sur and Sonora
Mazatlán, Sinaloa (HQ) and Durango
Monterrey, Nuevo León (HQ), Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosí
Guadalajara, Jalisco (HQ), Nayarit, Colima, Zacatecas and Aguascalientes