¶1.        SBU – entire text.

¶2.       SUMMARY:  A major gun battle, clearly audible from the Texas side of the river, rang out at approximately 2130 hours February 19.  Though Mexican sources are being vague about some of the details, it appears clear that this was another unplanned run-in between the Army and the Similares.  There are no known civilian casualties, which is mainly a result of luck.  The shootout deals yet another blow to Nuevo Laredo’s fruitless attempts to attract tourists.  END SUMMARY.

¶3.       ARSO AND DEA RAC were just entering the approaches to the northbound lanes of International Bridge 2 when a heavy firefight broke out just behind them.  The noise was described as being like the finale of a fireworks show, and included heavy thumps from grenades or similar weaponry.  Authorities on the bridge swiftly moved the traffic across and out of harm’s way.  ARSO talked to an Amcit whose car was riddled with bullets; the several occupants were luckily unharmed.

¶4.       ARSO immediately alerted PO, who initiated post’s phone tree and informed Department and Embassy.  Post followed up with a warden message, advising Amcits to shelter in place and avoid the bridges (thanks to Ops Center and OCS for assisting us with this, as it was inadvisable for our dutyoff to travel to office).  One of post’s ELOs and EFM sheltered in place in Laredo rather than return through the battle zone (COMMENT:  This is same couple who heard a firefight break out within a block of their house within days of arriving at post in December.  END COMMENT.)

¶5.       Confusion reigned for several hours, with the Army denying involvement at first, and officials on both sides of the river unclear as to what was happening, while ARSO worked the phones well into the night to track down details.  Local and Federal law enforcement deployed to the U.S. side of the bridge, to prevent the violence from spilling over.  There were rumors of a curfew in Nuevo Laredo and closing of the bridges – indeed, Nuevo Laredo police initially informed Laredo police that this was the case, then retracted – but neither appears to have taken place.  (In fact, authorities apparently let traffic flow on the southbound bridge right into the area of the firefight while it was going on.)  Narco convoys were reported in several areas of the city, including near the Consulate, probably as decoys.  A local hospital reports treating Army soldiers, but Army will not confirm or deny.

¶6.       What now appears clear is that the Army bumped into heavily armed Similares four blocks south of the bridge.  An internal GOM report says that a 50cal weapon, mounted in an SUV, was found.  An immediate firefight broke out, then moved south and west through Nuevo Laredo’s historic center, lasting several hours.  The situation seemed to be deteriorating until the Army eventually managed to neutralize the Similares team operating heavy weapons (including the previoulsy mentioned SUV-mounted 50cal as well as grenade launchers) – though the actual chain of events remains unclear.  Several sources report that Similares scouts, who have been thick on the streets lately, were moving stolen cars into the streets, then abandoning them, frustrating the Army’s efforts at pursuit.  This pattern suggests to post that the Army inadvertently bumped into the security cordon for a high value target, triggering a response (though the presence of an HVT so close to the POE gives pause for thought).  A GOM source confirmed to PO that this was not a planned operation by the Army.

¶7.       The Laredo Morning Times reported the shootout in its electronic edition February 20, and the print edition February 21, while noting that no Mexican authority would confirm details on the record.  Post found blog entries by Times readers helpful in corroborating elements of the story.  Thus far, Mexican media has ignored the event.

¶8.   COMMENT:  This is the fourth gun battle in four months involving the Army in a heavily travelled area frequented by post personnel and other Amcits.  One was near the Consulate, one near our residences, and two at the bridge.  Three involved the Similares.  With that many shots fired in a busy area at mid-evening, it’s a miracle that innocent bystanders were not wounded or killed in this latest incident.  The timing could not have been worse for Nuevo Laredo’s attempts to rehabilitate its image.  None of these shootouts were planned by the Army, and none of them have resulted in the apprehension of high value targets.  Similares scouts have clearly been nervous for at least two weeks, deployed on many streets, including quite close to one of our residences a block from the Consulate.  Their tension level rose when Laredo media reported the arrival of a heavily guarded GOM airplane on February 13.  The Similares appear to fear an operation launched from Laredo, and have deployed accordingly.  As an alternative to our theory about a high value target, it’s also possible that the Army bumped into the Similares front lines near the bridge.  END COMMENT.

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