CJNG defensive trenches across multiple state highways in the state of Michoacan

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The ongoing Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) offensive into Michoacán has been met by the creation of defensive trenches dug across multiple state highways/roads in mid-November 2020.  

These anti-improvised armored fighting vehicle (IAFV) trenches were created by Los Viagras, Carteles Unidos, and/or local community self-defense groups (autodefensas) in an apparent coordinated effort to obstruct CJNG commando unit—consisting of IAFVs, monstruos (monster trucks), narcotanques (narco-tanks), and soft-skinned vehicles and gun trucks with mounted infantry elements—access to towns under their control.

Trench Michoacán
Trench cut on road in Coalcomán, Michoacán to prevent advance of CJNG.  Source: @DannyRangelGDL, 16 November 2020, https://twitter.com/DannyRangelGDL/status/1328489325949030400?s=20.

Key Information: “Citizens dig trenches across highways in effort to thwart CJNG attacks.” Mexico News Daily. 17 November 2020, https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/citizens-dig-trenches-across-highways-in-effort-to-thwart-cjng-attacks/:

In an attempt to prevent Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) hitmen from entering their communities and attacking them, residents of two municipalities in western Michoacán have taken defensive measures by digging trenches across highways.

Residents of Coalcóman and Tepalcatepec, neighboring municipalities that border Jalisco, cut road access at La Limonera and La Pinolapa, the newspaper Milenio reported…

…According to residents, CJNG gunmen have entered several communities in armored vehicles over the past week and launched attacks directed at their adversaries, among which is a group known as Carteles Unidos…

…The decision to dig the trenches came after members of a CJNG cell set fire to 11 vehicles last weekend in the Coalcóman community of Puerto de las Cruces, apparently to stop the entry of security forces from Jalisco after a cartel ambush.

Who: Attributed to Los Viagras, Carteles Unidos, and/or local community self-defense groups (autodefensas).

What: Anti-vehicle (defensive) trenches—some with dirt berms—dug across highway/road choke points using heavy machinery.  

When: ~15-16 November 2020.  Resident complaints about the ditches made on 16 November; ditches were created on that date or possibly a day sooner.

Where: State highways/roads with four roads interrupted by at least five trenches cut between La Limonera, Coalcomán and Pinolapa, Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.  These roads ultimately lead to Jalisco (state). The trenches obstruct access to the towns of Aquila, Apatzingán, Buenavista, Chinicuila, Coalcomán y Tepalcatepec, Michoacán. 

Why: To block Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) commando(s) avenues of approach into the towns controlled by/in the sphere of influence of Los Viagras, Carteles Unidos, and local autodfensas.CJNG has been launching an operational offensive into the region for roughly a week.

Trench
Trench to prevent passage of CJNG Vehicles on road between Tepalcatepec and Buenavista.  Source: Unidad De Inteligencia Ciudadana, 6 November 2020, https://twitter.com/UnidadDeInteli1/status/1328444471269330945/photo/1.

Analysis

The use of anti-vehicle (defensive) trenches dug across highways and roads in Michoacán is a first for the criminal insurgencies intensifying across various regions of Mexico. Michoacán is an important front for the CJNG since they are engaged in a competition for control of the greater region with criminal groups such as Los ViagrasLa Guardia MichoacanaLos Blancos de Troya, and the people of Abuelo Frías.[4]

Past cartel anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) focusing on choke point defense have been at the immediate tactical/tactical action level of implementation.  These TTPs have included the use of caltrops (sharp metal spikes used to deflate tires)[5] and the creation of hasty barriers by means of the dumping of debris, setting tires on fire, parked and disabled and/or overturned vehicles as well as vehicles set on fire[6].  In some instances, covering .50 cal sniper and automatic weapons fires from vehicular mounts and dismounted cartel enforcers and sicarios have been utilized to provide additional A2/AD resilience.

The utilization of anti-vehicle trenches represents an escalation of tactical level A2/AD TTPs by elevating them to an operational level response.  The use of defensive trenches is equivalent to the creation of hastily built field fortifications in Michoacán. Similar TTPs would include the cutting down of telephone poles, power lines, and trees along choke points—which has not yet taken place—to similarly deny highway and road network access.

As evidenced by some immediate local community grievances[7], the use of anti-vehicle trenches (or other semi-permanent physical barriers) is not a sustainable long-term operational response to CJNG incursions into the towns held by Los ViagrasCarteles Unidos, and the autodefensas.  By shutting down the routes into the towns of Aquila, Apatzingán, Buenavista, Chinicuila, and Coalcomán y Tepalcatepec in Michoacán, the economic commerce of local businesses and citizenry is imperiled—even with the loading and unloading of goods onto trucks on opposite sides of the trenches as work arounds.[8]  

Additionally, if the use of anti-vehicle trenches persists, the expected CJNG response would be to either bring in dump trucks to fill in the ditches with a load or two of dirt, rocks, and other debris or engage in ad hoc bridging operations by means of their commandos carrying improvised metal vehicular spans to place over the ditches—essentially requiring them to acquire limited ‘combat engineer’ capabilities.

A fallback local cartels and autodefensas posture may be to attempt to institutionalize the anti-vehicle trench locations as fortified checkpoints.  These checkpoints would include serpentines and other vehicular impediments in order to withstand a sustained CJNG siege of their towns.[9]  This would entail filling in the trenches themselves in order to allow commerce to once again flow in and out of their towns.  However, there is a question as to whether the local manpower resources exist to undertake such efforts and it remains very doubtful that State police and Federal forces would allow fortified checkpoints manned by mixed groups of armed villagers and armed cartel members to remain for very long on key public highways and roads. 

CJNG Narcotank (Photo: INFOBAE)

Sources

Charbell Lucio, “Trozan carreteras para blindar Tepalcatepec ante ataques del CJNG.” Revolucion 3.0. 20 November 2020, https://revolucion.news/trozan-carreteras-blindar-tepalcatepec-ante-ataques-del-cjng/.

“Citizens dig trenches across highways in effort to thwart CJNG attacks.” Mexico News Daily. 17 November 2020, https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/citizens-dig-trenches-across-highways-in-effort-to-thwart-cjng-attacks/.

Ernesto Martínez Elorriaga, “Destrozan carretera para evitar acceso del CJNG en Michoacán.” La Jornada.17 November 2020, https://www.jornada.com.mx/ultimas/estados/2020/11/17/destrozan-carretera-para-evitar-acceso-del-cjng-en-michoacan-1556.html.

“Habitantes modifican carreteras para evitar avance del CJNG en Coalcomán y Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.” El Universal.16 November 2020, https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/habitantes-modifican-carreteras-para-evitar-avance-del-cjng-en-coalcoman-y-tepalcatepec.

La lucha contra el CJNG en Michoacán: en fotos, los destrozos a las carreteras para evitar el avance del grupo criminal.” Infobae. 18 November 2020, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/11/18/la-lucha-contra-el-cjng-en-michoacan-en-fotos-los-destrozos-a-las-carreteras-para-evitar-el-avance-del-grupo-criminal/.

CJNG narcotank (Photo: Periodico Zocalo)

Significance: A2/AD,Anti-Vehicle, Bloqueos (Blockades),Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), Carteles Unidos, Defensive Trenches, Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles (IAFV), Los ViagrasMonstruos (Monster Trucks), Narcotanques (Narco-Tanks)

Source: Small Wars Journal

Michoacan Post