The latest setback to U.S. anti-narcotics efforts in Mexico came earlier this month when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was forced to remove its flagship plane from the country for the first time in some 30 years.
According to a report by Reuters, Mexican officials revoked the plane’s parking space in a hangar at the Toluca airport about 25 miles outside of Mexico City. The plane, a Beechcraft twin-turboprop King Air, can carry about ten passengers and was often deployed for elite-level ops in Mexico and Central America.
Before being booted off Mexican soil and relocated to Texas, the King Air had “played a key role in capturing some of the world’s most powerful drug lords, and was used on raids against former Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman,” Reuters wrote.
Mike Vigil, the former chief of the DEA’s International Bureau, told The Daily Beast that the plane was a vital tool for “operations requiring the rapid movement of personnel and equipment. It also allowed agents to avoid driving through cartel areas of conflict [and] supported all DEA offices throughout Mexico.”
Vigil added that the loss of the aircraft “will hamper initiatives and place agents in unnecessary danger,” and described an incident from his tenure in Mexico in which the plane was used to ferry DEA Agents to the state of Colima for a raid on methamphetamine labs belonging to the Colima Cartel. “The aircraft was used to swoop down on clandestine laboratories and El Chapo hideouts. It was essential to successful tactical operations,” he said.
The move comes at a time of increasingly fraught relations between the DEA and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is often known by the sobriquet AMLO. In a speech on May 12, the day after news broke that the plane had been forced out of the country, AMLO stated that his administration “cared for” cartel members just as it did for soldiers in the nation’s armed forces, because the criminals “are also human beings.”