RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Here in the U.S., the Pentagon is expanding a program to train Mexican security forces fighting drug cartels. The program incorporates some of the same strategies that the U.S. military has used against al-Qaida.
I'm joined now by Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press first reported this story. I spoke with her recently.
How is this training going to take shape? What do we know about it?
KIMBERLY DOZIER: Well, I have to be clear that this training has been going on. There are a couple dozen people who are in Special Operations; officers, experts, and they have been working with the Mexican government over the past five, six years, teaching them how to be more like American Special Operations. What this is, is an outgrowth of that.
U.S. Special Operations Commander Admiral McGraven is looking at 10,000 people in the war zone who are going to be coming out of there. And here is a mission that many in his command, many in the States think has been under resourced.
MARTIN: What are the similarities between al-Qaida terrorist affiliates and Mexican drug cartels?
DOZIER: Al-Qaida's networks throughout the world are often funded by criminal activities. You can see al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb right now that was behind the attack on the gas plant in Algeria. It is funded by kidnapping, hostage-taking, smuggling. The same sorts of things drive the cartels in Mexico and throughout Latin America.
There's a separate thing going on that the new Mexican administration has talked about, doing away with a lot of their corrupt sections of the police force and trying to set up...
MARTIN: Problem, right? Corruption.
DOZIER: Corruption in the federal police force is reportedly rampant. That's why the previous administration often used the army which created such high casualties. So the new administration does want to set up a paramilitary force that has the skills of both without the corruption. This is where U.S. special operators see that they've got some expertise to offer.
MARTIN: So the Mexican government clearly has been working to address this. You say this training, this cooperation between the U.S. and the Mexican security forces has been ongoing for years. What you're reporting on is a change in pace or change in scope?
DOZIER: This is kind of like: If we build it they will come. They started this long before they knew what the results of the Mexican election would be; long before the U.S. knew that there'd be a change in Mexican administration. So now the question is: Will the new guys want the same training at the same pace, and building on it.
MARTIN: Why wouldn't he? Is there a downside to cooperating with the U.S. and getting this kind of training from U.S. special operators?
DOZIER: The problem is the new administration in Mexico has made very clear that it doesn't want U.S. forces in there. So they are very sensitive at any hint that the U.S. is planning any sort of mission, even a training mission south of the border. What U.S. officials have been careful to stress to their Mexican counterparts - no, no, no, this is not about U.S. armed trainers inside that country.
This is about taking the top members of Mexican security and law enforcement and teaching them: here is how the U.S. Special Operations mission built the machine that hunts al-Qaida.
MARTIN: Can you put this into perspective for us? Because the U.S. trains foreign forces all over the world, right, not just close allies like Mexico?
DOZIER: Yeah, they do. One of the major parts of this Special Operations mission is to teach local forces how to be better at fighting whoever the local adversary is. The problem is it's a skill that cuts both ways. I mean U.S. special operators did go down to Mexico years ago and train some members of the army, that then became the backbone of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which has made them so hard to fight. You can see in Mali, the captain who led the coup was trained in U.S. academies.
MARTIN: Clearly they think that the benefits outweigh those potential risks.
DOZIER: The counter-argument is, Look, this gets us in there to try to influence people, to show them here's how we carry out these operations, but follow U.S. law, follow human rights. They say it's better than not knowing anyone and not passing on any of those skills. As one U.S. official put it to me: If they're better at doing their job south of the border, we don't have to worry as much up here.
MARTIN: Kim Dozier, she's a reporter with the Associated Press. Thanks so much for coming in, Kim.
DOZIER: Great to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.