Force ratios in Mexico
Insurgencies and non-state violence directed at state actors is a bloody and slow process if the state has any resiliency and coherence to it. Insurgents tend to be more lightly armed bands and small groups who are under intense pressure to not form large and highly visible formations. State security forces often have the luxury of being able to deploy the full resources of a state, including the potential for above-board foreign arms contracts and support, to field forces that are reasonably well armed and supported. State security forces can easily access crew served and vehicle mounted weapons, med-evac helicopters, intensive surveillance assets and if need be, heavy supporting fires from either air support or artillery.
The non-state actors are successful if their engagements with state security forces are initiated by the non-state actors, and broken off by the non-state actors. This means short, sharp ambushes, mine attacks, sniper attacks and other actions where the more lightly armed insurgents control the tempo of contact. Insurgents are in trouble if they are forced into stand-up fights where the state can use the full panoply of advantages.
Even the best insurgent forces when fighting against a reasonably well supported state security force will take higher losses than they inflict against the security force. In 2005, the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq was able taking between two and four casualties (death or permanent incapacitation) for every permanent casualty it inflicted against the US. And they were winning as long as they were only fighting a one front war instead of the three front war that they faced in 2007. 1:4 is a decent exchange rate for insurgents and non-state actors fighting against heavily armed regular soldiers.
Borderland Beat is reviewing some of the Mexican government’s security operations against the cartels.One operation in Michoacan has some casualty figures attached to the reporting. The numbers are not good for the Mexican government:
Troop Strength: 6,500
Casualties and losses:
50 soldiers killed
100 police officers killed
Let’s look at these estimates. The government is trading 1:3 against a non-state armed group.The 500 cartel deaths have not significantly impaired La Familia’s ability to operate or maintain internal cohesion. That strongly implies La Familia is able to mobilize several thousand men if it needed to. Several thousand men would be a pool that is large enough to absorb significant losses without collapsing.