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A Tale of Two Missions


Latin American scholars often maintain that militaries should be kept out of internal security operations. Soldiers, they claim, are ill suited for these assignments, inevitably placing innocent civilians in harm’s way. This study instead argues that not all counternarcotic missions are the same. When a specific operation coincides with a military’s capabilities and proclivities, it can be conducted effectively and humanely. When there is a disconnect between the operation and the institution, there is a greater chance for mission failure and civilian casualties. Those differences are revealed in a comparative case study of the Mexican military’s crime patrols versus its targeted operations against cartel kingpins. It finds that while there are justifiable doubts about transforming soldiers into cops, it is also the case that soldiers can conduct themselves professionally and with restraint when they are tasked with assignments that conform more closely to their skills sets.

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