WASHINGTON -- The United States and Mexico are "winning" an often brutal war against drug cartels that operate across the border separating the two countries, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday.
"We are not only fighting this fight, but we are winning it," Napolitano, a former border state governor, said in prepared remarks at a border security conference in the frontier city of El Paso, Texas.
Noting that drug seizures since the beginning of this year had totaled 4.2 million pounds (1000 tonnes), Napolitano said the United States was now presented with a "unique opportunity to break up these cartels" that must be seized.
Her comments came one day after President Barack Obama visited Mexico, throwing his weight behind Mexico's crackdown on violent drug cartels that control much of the flow of illegal narcotics from South America to the United States.
Napolitano highlighted a string of drug and weapons seizures as evidence that the billion-dollar-plus war against the drug cartels was succeeding, despite a violent push back from gangs who have often appeared able to outgun and outspend Mexican federal forces.
The United States has pledged around 1.6 billion dollars to tackle drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America under the Merida Initiative, which also includes funds for training and equipment to boost security on the Mexican side of the border.
Since coming to office the Obama administration has acknowledged the US role in the violence, pledging to stem the flow of weapons into Mexico and curb demand for drugs in the United States.
"So far this year, we have seized 2.4 million pounds (one million kilograms) of drugs, more than 95,000 rounds of ammunition, and more than 500 assault rifles and handguns," Napolitano said.
Warning that further violence was likely, she offered support for the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon despite allegations of military human rights abuses.
"We have a strong partner in President Calderon," Napolitano said. "We are fighting this fight together with the government of Mexico."
Napolitano said that defeating the cartels would take several years, and compared it to the US fight against the Mafia.
"The fighting has resulted in more than 12,000 deaths in Mexico, and there will, no doubt be more," Napolitano warned.
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