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Military experts: Migrant warfare drives U.S. border crisis

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(The Center Square) – Military experts argue the use of “migrant warfare” by Mexican cartels has created the border crisis, which they say is not about immigration. The warning comes as the greatest number of foreign nationals have illegally entered the southwest and northern borders, including suspected terrorists, in U.S. history, and as national security experts warn a terrorist attack is likely.

Former active duty Navy JAG Jonathan Hullihan says the tactics Mexican cartels and transnational criminal organizations are using are similar to “unconventional, hybrid warfare” tactics he witnessed insurgents use in Afghanistan. While many Americans believe the issue is strictly about “illegal immigration” and argue the U.S. isn’t being invaded, Hullihan says “in Afghanistan, insurgents didn’t wear national military uniforms. They waged irregular guerrilla warfare” like cartels are doing in the U.S.

Insurgents established “territorial insurgency shadow governance regimes” to take control over local jurisdictions, he says. “While the U.S. worked to build partners and establish ‘whitespace’ to counter underground shadow governance, insurgency forces took full command and control of large areas, regulating violence and illicit economic activities in the shadows. They’d exploit and murder the local populace as needed, move weapons and drugs to expand their profit, terrorize everyone in their path, and ultimately seize control of Afghanistan after waging war with the U.S. for 20 years.”

The cartels have employed a similar strategy in the U.S., Hullihan argues. “The cartels use a counter-lawfare tactic to exploit U.S. laws to their advantage. They understand the only way for illegal aliens to make an asylum claim (including invalid ones) is to go through a port of entry, which they control. There isn’t a single person who gets across the Rio Grande River from Mexico without owing the cartels. The cartels control which groups of people cross, when and where.”

One migrant-warfare strategy is obvious, he told The Center Square: overwhelming Border Patrol agents in one area with an influx of illegal border crossers to leave large areas of the border wide open. Cartels exploit this weakness to smuggle drugs and people, Border Patrol agents have explained to The Center Square. Texas sheriffs have also caught cartel “scouts” looking for areas to establish control and move people, drugs, weapons, money and contraband, they’ve told The Center Square. Cartels are using “guerilla warfare tactics,” Hullihan says, to “apply pressure to dominate territory and establish control” in Texas and throughout the U.S. similar to “what was done in Afghanistan.”

Using “migrants as a weapons system” is a tactic used worldwide, Aaron Petty, a judge advocate in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and appellate immigration judge explains in a 2022 Journal of National Security Law & Policy article. In December 2021, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko “created a humanitarian crisis to force concessions from EU member states.” After vowing to “flood the EU with migrants and drugs,” he flew citizens from war-torn countries to Minsk and bused them to Belarus’ border with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in a political maneuver to force the countries to take them.

The European Commission president described Lukashenko’s actions as a “hybrid attack,” warning the countries “from falling into the trap set by the Belarusian authorities” to take in thousands arriving at their borders. In response, Lithuania built a fence, Latvia increased border security and Poland built a wall and positioned 10,000 troops at its border.

The United Nations reported that foreign nationals transported there were beaten or threatened by Belarus security forces, forced to cross the border and instructed where and when to cross, and prevented from reentry. U.S. Border Patrol agents have explained that cartels use the same methods when controlling illegal entry into the U.S.

Human rights organizations have reported on atrocities cartels also commit against migrants.

Unlike Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the Biden administration has facilitated illegal entry by creating a phone app, multiple parole programs, flying people into the country, and failing to vet their identities before releasing them, states suing to halt these actions argue.

A West Point Modern War Institute analysis also identified Lukashenko’s “manufactured migrant crisis” and insurgent tactics targeting U.S. troops as hybrid warfare. A Defense One analysis explains how migrant warfare is used “to destabilize a country … and a continent.”

NATO has defined hybrid threats as “military and non-military, covert and overt operations,” using disinformation, economic pressure and other tactics “to blur the lines between war and peace and attempt to sow doubt in the minds of target populations” and “destabilise and undermine societies.”

The European Commission explains hybrid threats “can be used in a coordinated manner by state or non-state actors to achieve specific objectives while remaining below the threshold of formally declared warfare.” The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies has warned that those using hybrid tactics “adapt quickly” and will “exploit the diffusion of innovative tactics, techniques and procedures that offer the greatest return on investment.”

Petty explains that migrant weaponization “has a long and generally successful history of being employed by weaker powers to significant effect against stronger ones. It is especially successful against liberal democracies, because accepting large numbers of refugees en masse is often a politically charged and domestically divisive issue.”

As Congress continues to “prioritize sending billions of dollars to Ukraine to fund a war that will likely end in a stalemate with hundreds of thousands lives lost,” Hullihan argues, “securing the U.S. border should come first before additional funding is authorized. The use of migrant warfare has had a tremendous destabilizing effect on our borders and created conditions for our adversaries to successfully obfuscate their operations and efforts.

“Policymakers need to understand that migrant warfare is intentionally being utilized to weaken the United States and opening our borders has created a clear and present danger to Americans and our national security.”

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