Mexican Drug War Deadlier Than Iraq Conflict as Drug Lords Vie for Supremacy

It may not get as much attention, but the drug war south of the border is the most violent conflict the US is facing.

Ask people to name some conflicts that the United States was involved in from 2016, and they’re likely to mention Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And while the situations unfolding in these countries are certainly worrisome, they pale in comparison to the ongoing drug war in Mexico, at least if you’re using body counts as your measurement metric.

An astounding 23,000 people were killed in 2016 in Mexico due to the drug war. That’s more than in any other conflict the US was involved in, save for the Syrian civil war. What’s more, while proper warzones might see the deployment of chemical weapons, laser-guided bombs, heavy artillery, and suicide bombers; most of the casualties in Mexico were caused by small arms.

It’s estimated that 17,000 people died in Iraq, and 16,000 in Afghanistan as a result of the on-going conflicts. In Syria, as many as 50,000 people were killed. The civil war in Yemen, meanwhile, resulted in 7,000 deaths.

Many of those killed were gang members fighting for turf, smuggling routes, and product.  However, other casualties were journalists, law enforcement officials, politicians, and innocent civilians. Mexico is currently considered to be among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

The Mexican drug cartels make much of their money off smuggling cocaine from South America. In recent years, however, the organizations have begun to diversify, manufacturing meth and other synthetic drugs. Marijuana once generated as much as 30% of cartel revenues, but that amount has been declining as marijuana has been legalized in many states. With everything combined, Mexican drug cartels make an estimated $19 to $29 billion dollars from the United States alone.

The capture of El Chapo was believed to be a catalyst for cooling things down in Mexico. Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was once the most powerful drug lord in all of Mexico, if not the world. At his peak, El Chapo was believed to be a literal billionaire and his Sinaloa Cartel was a multi-billion-dollar organization. The infamous drug lord, who once was responsible for a drug empire bigger than even Pablo Escobar’s, is now in custody in the United States.

Yet, with El Chapo no longer in the picture, a power struggle has erupted with the Sinaloa cartel splintering, and rival cartels moving in from the shadows. Many experts believe that this trend will continue through 2017. This presents a particular problem for law enforcement officials. Once again, the lesson has not yet been learned; locking up key leaders can exacerbate problems in the short run and lead to more violence.

The United States is currently involved in a number of conflicts around the world, and it is important for us to understand the ramifications and death tolls of all of those conflicts, but also the ripple effect of certain actions in each. Much like the results from detaining El Chapo, killing Usama Bin Laden did not end al-Qaeda, but rather led to splinter groups and a power vacuum which ISIS and other groups were able to fill.  Though it does not receive same level of attention that other conflicts across the globe do in the mainstream media, the violent actions of the cartels and their proximity to our borders warrant a great deal of concern.


Brian Brinker

Brian Brinker is an OpsLens Contributor and political consultant. Brinker has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.

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