WASHINGTON — With drug-related violence growing along the Mexico border, the U.S. is willing to consider deploying troops to the Southwest -- but only as a last resort -- a Department of Homeland Security official told members of Congress on Thursday.
Help might come from the National Guard or even the Army if the deadly threat from Mexico's powerful cartels gets so bad that Homeland Security officials cannot secure border towns, Roger Rufe, the department's director of operations, told a House subcommittee.
But echoing comments a day earlier from President Obama, Rufe said there currently was no need to militarize the border.
"We would take all resources short of [Defense Department] and National Guard troops before we reach that tipping point," Rufe said, without specifying what circumstances would call for troops.
"The trend of increasing drug cartel violence in Mexico is alarming," Rufe said, explaining that the U.S. response plan "ramps up as the threat ramps up, and there are triggers within that to alert leadership when . . . the threat of violence has reached a level where forces in place can't address it."
Violence has become a serious foreign policy issue as Mexican President Felipe Calderon's administration has cracked down on the drug cartels and been met with resistance.
Numerous Mexican government officials have been killed, including top federal security officials and local police chiefs. Officials say more than 6,200 people died last year in Mexico as a result of the drug war, and more than 1,000 were killed in the first eight weeks of 2009.
One lawmaker suggested Thursday that tighter gun control and drug enforcement inside the U.S. also were needed to stem the violence.
"The United States and Mexico border violence can only be solved if we look at all parts of the equation," Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.) said. "Let's examine our gun laws, let's cut down on U.S. drug consumption, let's ask there to be more resources to root out drug money laundering."
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Tierney said, 90% of the weapons seized from Mexican organized crime came from the U.S.
Rufe said the bloodshed along the border in Mexico was appalling, but violent crime had not increased in U.S. border cities as a result. Kidnappings are up, but violent crime is down, he said.
"We're not so concerned, at least at this point, about that violence spilling over into our cities," he said.