More people have died in Mexico’s cartel war than in the Syrian Civil War over the same period of time


This war is not fought against another state or an insurgency trying to topple the government. Nor is it even fought against a single enemy.

Instead, the government is doing battle with the cartels, the powerful gangs which have positioned themselves at the center of the global drug trade and poisoned Mexican society for decades.

At the same time, these various cartels are at war with one another, vying for control of a multi-billion pound illicit industry.

It is this industry that links the everyday horror of a body turning up at the side of a lonely road in rural Mexico to a packet of cocaine being furtively handed between friends under a nightclub table thousands of miles away.

According to the global conflict tracker ACLED, there were 614 fatalities linked to the drug wars in the first four weeks of 2022.

For context, that’s more than died in the Syrian Civil War over the same period.

The killing is not contained within the bounds of the criminal underworld – journalists, politicians and innocent civilians all find themselves in the crosshairs of the cartel gunmen.

A Mexican Navy soldier
Since 2006, the army has seized and burn what it can take from the cartels but there is still no end in sight to the violence (Picture: AFP)

Through force and corruption, the narcos have rapidly expanded into other criminal enterprises like human trafficking.

They have bribed and intimidated officials and police chiefs into fearful subservience, effectively replaced security forces in parts of the country and have taken over lucrative legal markets like avocado production.

In late 2018, Mexico elected a new leader declaring an end to the drug war. 

Three years on, few still believe such a decision is within his gift.

The enemy within

The ability of Mexico’s cartels to maintain a brutal level of violence against rivals, law enforcement and anyone else who gets in the way has few international comparisons.

However, Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert in international criminal violence at the US-based Brookings Institute, did venture one.

‘Over the last 15 years, the operational tempo of these groups in terms of hits, counter-hits and other attacks has been as high as the Taliban’, she told

A Mexican cartel
Gangs like the Jalisco New Generation Cartel are known for abducting, torturing and killing law enforcement officers. Three of the individuals in the above image were killed. (Picture: CEN)

‘They are able to take entire cities like an invasion force associated with an insurgency, they deploy drones to drive people out of areas, they use quite stunning forms of violence.

‘They don’t have the same sort of organization as a group like the Taliban…but the amount of violence they are able to produce is similar.’

Kidnap and murder is a regular occurrence – and like any other war zone, so too are mass killings, assassinations, and extravagant forms of organized fighting.

Examples of these are innumerable. Below are just a few.

In January 2021, the burnt remains of 19 people believed to be migrants trying to cross the border into the US through gang-controlled territory were found in smoldering vehicles.

Source: OEM

Mexico Daily Post