America’s border war has begun: TODD BENSMAN’s dramatic eyewitness report on Texas’ invasion of a Mexican cartel island crawling with gang members and ringed with sniper nests… and it’s all happening INSIDE the U.S.
Story by Todd Bensman For Dailymail.Com
In the early dawn’s orange glow, a Texas Rangers commander briefs a heavily armed invasion force.
They’re preparing to seize a remote, 170-acre Mexican cartel-controlled island in the middle of the Rio Grande River overlooked by sniper nests and potentially booby-trapped.
Some of the dozens of assembled men shift from one foot to another or reposition their M-4 rifles as they listen to their commanders’ instructions.
‘Keep a close eye on those structures up there that have height advantage on us,’ he warns.
‘In case we do get engaged and someone is shot’ medical evacuation plans are in place and there are blood bags if the wounded need a transfusion, he assures them.
This may seem like a scene from a far-flung warzone.
But it’s just a glimpse of the hot war on America’s southern border – a direct consequence of an out-of-control crisis that has resulted in nearly five million illegal migrants entering the United States since President Joe Biden was inaugurated in 2021.
As federal Border Patrol agents have been overwhelmed by the mass migration and pulled away from the front lines to process illegal crossers, criminal Mexican gangs have gone largely unchecked and are now operating with near impunity inside America.
This week, I embedded with the Texas state mission to retake a densely overgrown island near the isolated village of Fronton, 250 miles south of San Antonio, that has fallen under the control of these ultra-violent criminal organizations.
As a condition of my exclusive access, the identities of these Texas officers and troopers are being kept secret for their safety.
After all, they’re operating in enemy territory.
‘AN ISLAND OF DEATH’
For decades, neither the U.S. nor Mexico claimed Fronton Island as their own and that ambiguity provided the cartels – specifically the Gulf Cartel and Cartel del Noreste (CDN) – with an opportunity.
When the cartel members are not killing each other, they use the island as a safe haven when fleeing the Mexican military or American law enforcement.
The lawlessness has transformed the region into a major drug trafficking corridor.
The cartels stash drugs in the thick vegetation while smuggling their illicit commodities north, then stop there again as they return south with cash and weapons.
They also have no compunction against shooting at anyone – be they rival cartel members or Americans – who might get in their way.
In November 2016, gunmen opened fire on Mexican state police and Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers, who were surveilling them. A Texas officer was shot in the leg.
In 2019, four shooters armed with fully-automatic weapons fired more than 50 rounds from the Mexican side of the river at a U.S. Border Patrol boat. Miraculously, no one was hurt.
Just this August, trail cameras captured grainy images of three suspected cartel gunmen carrying rifles and dressed in body armor crossing into Fronton from Mexico.
Months earlier five alleged Cartel Del Noreste members were arrested in the same area. They too were armed and dressed in tactical gear.
‘It’s an island of death,’ said Jaeson Jones, a retired captain in DPS’s intelligence division who fought against the cartels for years and knows Fronton well.
‘It’s dangerous man,’ Jones insisted, especially now that cartels are cashing in on the burgeoning human smuggling business.
Indeed, each night hundreds of immigrants cross through the Fronton area and the cartels blend in with them.
Texas DPS Regional Director Victor Escalon said the state was forced to act.
‘The federal government is not able to cover all these areas and provide for the safety and security of landowners,’ Escalon told me.
‘You have people out here saying, ‘hey man, I’m out feeding my cows and I see three men coming across with backpacks and they’re armed. Why do I have to live like that?’
Texas Governor Gregg Abbott’s answer is they don’t have to live like that. But before the island could be seized the issue of ownership had to be settled.
So, the state conducted surveys that determined Fronton Island was, in fact, Texas territory.
Now, Abbott’s men could move in.
SNIPERS, IED’S AND KILLER BEES
On the Fronton border with operation about to start the Rangers commander wrapped up his briefing.
Don’t disturb backpacks or piles of clothes, he cautioned the men. Last month, an improvised explosive was found buried amid a stash of weapons and semi-automatic rifle ammunition.
Mark the caches and call in the bomb squad, he told them, there’s a fair chance the cartels left booby traps.
Above all, the commander seemed most concerned with the burned out, bullet-pocked structures spray-painted with cartel acronyms on the bluffs overlooking Fronton Island from Mexico.
Those are the sniper perches.
‘We have not seen people in there this morning, but we know that that’s what they’re used for,’ he said.
And, oh yeah, watch out for Africanized killer bees on the island.
With the instructions complete, the men boarded All-Terrain Vehicles and roared off in a convoy through thick brush and deep mud created by a rare overnight rainfall.
At least today no one shot at the Texas troopers, but that’s no guarantee they won’t find themselves under attack in the future.
These vanguards will secure the island to allow for Texas National Guard engineers to safely bring in bulldozers and heavy machinery to completely denude the landscape of trees and brush before they fortify it with concertina wire.
After that the island will be constantly patrolled as if it were a warzone, though few think this takeover will do much to encourage the cartels to find another line of work.
‘[The cartels] will still be able to move whatever commodity north or south,’ Mike Salinas, a recently retired Border Patrol of 30 years told me. ‘It’s going to be a speed bump for them. They have the resources, money and time.’
The state of Texas also knows this to be true, but they’re determined to carry on.
‘If the cartels move somewhere else, we’ll identify it and just follow them up and down the river,’ DPS’ Escalon told me. ‘The way we look at this is – this is a forever operation.’
What happens if or when Americans get between the cartels and the billions of dollars they reap from drug smuggling and human trafficking is anyone’s guess.
And whether or not Texas or federal government want to admit it, the border with Mexico has now been militarized for the first-time against foreign criminal organizations.
And this war has just begun.