(The Center Square) – As the year comes to a close, Texas National Guard soldiers working through Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security mission, Operation Lone Star, are interdicting drug and human smuggling operations along the Texas-Mexico border.
In the past two weeks, soldiers assigned to OLS-Task Force South seized ore than 800 pounds of narcotics and stopped human smuggling incidents. The Texas Military Department shed light on some of the operations.
In one instance on Nov. 19, Texas National Guard “Zeus Flight” airmen notified a Texas National Guard drone team that they witnessed possible cartel scouts in their area of responsibility. Zeus Flight is assigned to an OLS unit in the Brownsville, Texas, area in the Rio Grande Valley. The drone team later confirmed heat signatures of bodies in the area and notified OLS law enforcement partners. National Guard airmen then stepped in to interdict two smugglers carrying two bundles of marijuana, according to the Texas Military Department.
One week later, the drone team and Zeus Flight airmen identified eight individuals with bundles of narcotics and contacted the Department of Public Safety. Once on scene, the airmen assisted law enforcement agencies working through OLS to stop the smugglers.
They seized eight large bundles of marijuana, weighing approximately 483.5 pounds. The drugs have an estimated street value of $386,800.
Thanksgiving week, on Nov. 28, Zeus Flight airmen were also informed that five suspected smugglers were spotted carrying bundles into the U.S. Working with local law enforcement, they detained them and took them into custody. This drug bust resulted in the seizure of 261.8 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of $209,400.
It’s unclear if the marijuana was laced with fentanyl, as many drugs are, law enforcement officials have warned, which is what makes all drugs even more lethal.
“The work our service members are performing along the Texas border is imperative to national security,” Lt. Col. Wayne Sanaghan, 432nd Air Expeditionary Group Commander, said in a statement. “Over the last ten days, we’ve successfully prevented approximately 845 pounds of narcotics from being trafficked into our country. We are proud of our Texas National Guard members on this mission and are grateful for our partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety.”
In addition to interdicting drug smugglers, a specialized company with the Texas National Guard is also assigned to interdict human smuggling operations throughout the lower Rio Grande Valley. Staff Sgt. Gustavo Miranda, a platoon sergeant for the Surveillance and Reconnaissance Company in Task Force East, in McAllen, Texas, explained some of their operations.
“We conduct brush and riverine operations,” he said in a video published by the Texas Military Department. “We go wherever there’s higher activity involving traffic.” He also described how his platoon intercepted a human smuggling incident where cartel operatives were smuggling people across the Rio Grande River on a raft in the middle of the night.
Sgt. Chad Dobie, a squad leader for Charlie Company in Task Force East, also in the McAllen area, said, “the strategic advantage” in the area where they were working, “is the bend in the river” which enables them to be able to see for a long distance. Using thermal technology, they can surveille areas near an international bridge, islands and creeks near the river, where cartel scouts and coyotes guide illegal border crossers to avoid being caught by law enforcement.
The smugglers and those being smuggled fall into the category of gotaways, the official term used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to describe foreign nationals who illegally enter the U.S. between ports of entry, don’t return to Mexico, don’t make asylum or immigration claims, and actively attempt to avoid being caught.
In the Rio Grande Valley, Border Patrol agents apprehended at least 338,337 illegal border crossers and reported an historically low number of 33,648 gotaways due to less agents being in the field, The Center Square first reported.
Abbott directed National Guard soldiers to the border over two years ago and surged resources to specific areas to respond to surges. He maintains the “Texas Military Department’s leadership on the border helps Operation Lone Star continue to protect Texans and Americans.”
“Most of the people who join SRC are highly motivated individuals,” Miranda said. “They want to be more active, more mobile, and more hands on. I do believe we are making a difference out here.”
Since Abbott launched OLS nearly three years ago, OLS officers from multiple law enforcement agencies have apprehended nearly 500,000 illegal foreign nationals and made over 36,600 criminal arrests, with more than 33,200 felony charges reported. Texas law enforcement officers have also seized over 435 million lethal doses of fentanyl, enough to kill more than the combined populations of Canada and the United States.
Their efforts continue “to fill the dangerous gaps created by the Biden Administration’s refusal to secure the border,” Abbott says. “Every individual who is apprehended or arrested and every ounce of drugs seized would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and the nation due to President Joe Biden’s open border policies.”