However, human rights groups recently highlighted a surge in reports of illegal searches, arrests without cause, rape, sexual abuse and torture by army personnel in other areas. The bulk of the cases came from Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas and Michoacan, according to Mexican news reports.
The military's arrival in Tijuana two years ago was less than auspicious. Soldiers disarmed the city's 2,300-strong police force, long thought to be compromised by the cartels, and began rumbling down busy streets in public displays of force.
But the toll of killings and kidnappings only accelerated, as rival factions of the Arellano Felix drug cartel clashed, leaving behind scrawled threats to each other beside decapitated bodies or barrels of lye with liquefied human remains.
Accustomed to marijuana eradication efforts and anti-guerrilla missions in southern Mexico, the army was ill suited for urban warfare. The military's lumbering fleet of Hummers couldn't keep pace with the gangster's turbo-charged SUVs and Ford F-150 trucks. Raids on suspected hide-outs often failed because corrupt police tipped off targets.
In November, a captured cartel lieutenant began giving up names of police officers on the payroll of organized crime. Duarte's soldiers swept down on high-ranking commanders across the city. Some were handcuffed and taken from the downtown police headquarters to the hilltop army base.
At least 20 officers, including some high-ranking commanders, were charged with having links to organized crime.
The following week, the military purged municipal police ranks in east Tijuana, further weakening Garcia's protective network. And late last month, 23 more police officers were arrested by the military on suspicion of being linked to organized crime.
The police departments in Tijuana and Rosarito Beach, as well as the state police, are now run by current or former army officers.
Gone are many of the police informants, or "antennas," that supplied organized crime with intelligence and cleared the streets before cartel kidnappings and raids, U.S. and Mexican authorities say.
"They took away [organized crime's] eyes and ears," said one source, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.
Recent months have seen a series of blows against organized crime, including the capture in January of Santiago Meza Lopez, the 45-year-old who authorities say claims to have disposed of 300 of Garcia's victims by dissolving them in lye.
The biggest catch was Jacome Gamboa, nicknamed El Kaibil because he purportedly trained with Guatemala's elite special forces of that name, known for their brutal, scorched-earth counterinsurgency campaigns. Jacome Gamboa, adorned in his narco-jewelry, was arrested March 8 in a daring midnight raid at a banquet hall in east Tijuana.
Duarte, who was interviewed in his office at the Morelos army base, said the military learned days in advance that the crime boss would be attending a girl's quinceanera birthday party. When soldiers rushed through the emergency doors, the norteno band stopped playing. To the troops' surprise, nobody made a move, Duarte said.
Jacome Gamboa had summoned almost his entire gang to the celebration, but most had come unarmed, said Duarte, who believes they were over-confident about the security in their stronghold. The gang, including two law enforcement officers, gave up without firing a shot.
Jacome Gamboa, whose Louis Vuitton bag was found on a table of gifts (he apparently tried to hide his belongings), later provided the military a desperate picture of the city's criminal underworld, Duarte said.
Jacome Gamboa's boss, Garcia, is running short of cash needed to maintain his crew of drug traffickers, enforcers, kidnappers and dealers, Duarte said. Jacome Gamboa said Garcia stopped paying him $40,000 monthly for overseeing the coastal area, Duarte said.
The under boss led a low-key lifestyle, according to military sources. He had a modest home in Rosarito Beach and rented a second home in a gated development in Ensenada for $800 a month.
The house in Ensenada was furnished with little more than a flat-screen television and a hospital bed, where Jacome Gamboa apparently recovered after being wounded in a shootout with a rival gang in December, military sources said.
Jacome Gamboa's arrest may not prove decisive. His boss could make new alliances and the gang war could flare again. Other Mexican cartels could try moving in, setting off an even bloodier battle.
But some local leaders take comfort from the general's assurance that a major cell of Garcia's operation has been dismantled. Rosarito Beach Mayor Hugo Torres said it would be easier to improve the city's battered image with El Kaibil out of the picture.
"It helps a lot to have this guy arrested," Torres said. "He was bloodthirsty . . . one of the worst."
Jacome Gamboa is in prison, but his gaudy tastes live on. After the interview, the general placed the crime boss' gun and jewelry back in the Louis Vuitton bag and tucked it away on a top shelf in his bedroom closet for safekeeping. The items are destined for the Narcotics Museum in Mexico City, the latest additions to the army's collection of drug-war booty.