World War III started on Jan. 11, 2009, about three miles outside of Nogales, Ariz. Like falling rows of dominoes the circumstances that caused the war had been lining up for a long time. But no one really expected the first domino to fall in the sleepy little border town.

Why did it happen? Because we underestimated the enemy. We forgot about Pearl Harbor. We forgot about 9/11. We forgot that the cost of liberty was eternal vigilance.

A small group of Muslim extremists formed a team that was financed primarily by Middle Eastern opium war lords and a few OPEC members. They were equipped with sophisticated military technology that the U.S. provided to Mexico and other Central American "friendly" countries to fight narcotics traffickers. The equipment had been bought by the drug cartels from the corrupt governments and turned against us.

The military technicians needed to operate this equipment had also been a gift from the United States, in the form of graduates of the "College of the Americas" and American trained members of the Mexican "Zeta" and Guatemalan "Kaibiles." The local scouts and escorts and military intelligence on the border came from the U.S.-born gangs like 18th Street, Florence 13, and Mara Salvatrucha that control the drug and human trafficking in this border region.

The attack team crossed the "frontera" via a well-used tunnel near Nogales. It split up on the U.S. side, one group traveling by night toward Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, and the other made its way toward nearby Fort Huachuca.

Several elements of the group were dressed as policemen; one large element was disguised as a U.S. military convoy; the rest were dressed as Mexican workers. Each member carried perfectly counterfeited identification as U.S. citizens. They also brought a special gift from Chechnya, which they carried in a metal cylinder.

With so many reports of military-like incursions from Mexico into the United States, any reported sightings of the terrorist teams went virtually unnoticed. Two "Minutemen" border watching volunteers were reported missing after radioing in a "contact" in the mountainous area near the Fort Huachuca's East Gate. The next day searchers found their bullet-riddled bodies. Authorities attributed their murders to generic "border bandits."

The next day a U.S. Border Patrol SUV and a "listening site" were ambushed on a small side road outside of Tucson. Hopelessly outgunned, the agents fought bravely as every available unit raced to answer their radio request for assistance, but they were quickly killed. Their murderers slipped back into the vast Arizona desert night. They knew which roads to avoid.

The next morning, two inbound commercial commuter jets were hit by shoulder-fired SAMs as they came into Sky Harbor for landings. Both crashed into the airport complex striking other jets on the ground, the terminals and runways were soon engulfed in flames. A few more missiles slammed into the JP-4 fuel storage tanks and the control tower. Thousands died in the panic that followed.

Responding law enforcement and military units located and began chasing the escaping terrorists as they made their way back toward the Mexican border. The terrorist team had formed a military convoy with their own helicopter air support units.

The U.S. military-trained "bad guy" pilots shot the pursuing unarmed police choppers out of the sky with ease, and it became a running gun battle. Some of these convoy vehicles were hijacked from Army Reserve units and from Fort Huachuca itself. Several blockades and ambushes were thrown together by the meager law enforcement forces standing between the fleeing terrorists and the Mexican border, but they all failed. Military aircraft were scrambled from surrounding air bases but confusion and indecision prevented their timely intervention.

Within a few hours of the Sky Harbor attack, the terrorist convoy had smashed through the final border barricades at Sasabe and was back in Mexico. Angered and frustrated by our vulnerability and seeming impotence, the pursuing U.S. military and law enforcement units continued the punitive pursuit across the border. They were determined to make someone pay for this atrocity.

Hours later, a super bright flash lit the desert sky. A Soviet low-yield nuclear bomb had been planted and exploded near Fort Huachuca's headquarters. The blast took out the STRATCOM facility, which held some of our top secret missile targeting computers. A mushroom cloud sprouted from the desert floor.

That was the first domino ...the rest is history.

Please don't think of this story as fiction. Think of it as a training scenario.

This nightmare or something very close to it is very possible if we continue to ignore or diminish the problems we face on the U.S.-Mexico border. (And on our northern border as well). Like the alcoholic's "elephant" in the living room that everyone is afraid to talk about, the problems caused by our lack of border security will only worsen if left untreated.

There are several different and often rival gangs operating along our Southern border. 

Increasingly the violence and counter violence is becoming more and more militarized.

This means that the poor souls burdened with representing the rule of law on the U.S. side are facing an ever more dangerous environment. Yet they are restrained and intimidated by our own government and bureaucracy. Somewhere on the U.S.-Mexico border almost every night there are firefights. And I don't mean the occasional stray round. I mean strings of full automatic and tracer fire with weapons as large as .50 caliber machine guns. Armed gangs of bandits and drug and human traffickers have always operated here, but now they are supported by military trained and equipped killer teams like Los Zetas and Los Kaibiles.

Los Zetas

Founded in 1998 by a band of Mexican Special Forces deserters, primarily from the Airmobile Special Forces Group (GAFES) of the Army, "Los Zetas" took their name from the radio call letter designation they used in the military, "Z" (pronounced Zeta in Spanish). They sold their services to the powerful Mexican Gulf Cartel drug trafficking organization and began killing the Gulf Cartel rivals and murdering any police or military personnel that tried to stop them. In the first six months of 2007, more than 600 people were murdered in narco-related violence in Mexico, more than 70 were police officers. Los Zetas also murdered any brave journalist who tried to investigate or report on their violence.

Trained in small mobile tactics for quick devastating strikes and capable of operating in almost any environment, the platoon sized cells and 10- to 15-person killer teams of Los Zetas have been compared to the U.S. Delta Force. One of the original gangster Zeta members, Nabor Varga-Garcia (AKA "El Debora"), was arrested in April in Campeche, Mexico, with about a score of others. They had eight vehicles, 24 rifles, nine handguns, 61 magazines containing more than 2,000 rounds of ammo, and three grenades. Earlier the same month, Juan Oscar Garza-Azura (AKA "Las Barbas") was arrested in Tamaulipas, Mexico, with a similar armory, only his weapons were gold plated.

Since 1996 Mexico has seized more than 90,000 illegal firearms from these gangs but an endless supply continues to flow from the United States across the border. The cartels are unbelievably wealthy and can afford to purchase almost any type of firearm they desire from legal and illegal arms traders. They have ready access to an arsenal of anti-aircraft missiles, armor piercing ammunition, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, and automatic weapons. They also have access to the Mexican military and their arsenals.

Los Zetas' enemies include the Sinaloa Cartel and its enforcer Joaquin "El Chapo" (Shorty) Guzman. Wanted on both sides of the border with a $5 million bounty on his head, Guzman models himself after deceased Colombian trafficker Pablo Escobar. "El Chapo" is no stranger to murder himself and is believed to be behind the para-military group "Nueva Gente" (new people), which operates around Vera Cruz and has vowed to kill anybody associated with the Zetas. The "Millennium Cartel" in Acapulco has also promised to exterminate the Zetas in Acapulco.

Los Zetas are also currently at war with the Tijuana Cartel and its leaders the Arellano-Felix family. This Cartel often uses the Mexican Mafia to achieve its goals. Recently Mexican Mafia-hired hit man Jose "Bat" Marquez was extradited out of Mexico and returned to San Diego to await prosecution for the numerous killings he and his Logan Heights gang of assassins committed in the service of the Arellanos.

Los Kaibiles

Kaibil Balam was a great leader of the Mayan Empire and fought against the Spanish conquistadores in the jungles of Guatemala. Kaibil never surrendered. There is a city in northeast Guatemala named in his honor. The military also named its special forces after this Mayan warrior.

"Los Kaibiles" troopers endure harsh training that includes almost a month of survival training in the jungles. They eat snakes, bugs, and roots, and are capable of foraging in almost any environment. They specialize in enemy territorial penetration operations. They function best in six- to seven-man teams. Their training, like the Nazi SS, requires that they kill an animal, eat it, and drink its blood.

In 2005, Mexico's law enforcement elite, the PGR drug and gang fighters, reported that the Zetas had recruited former members of the Guatemalan Special Forces known as Los Kaibiles. They also approached former Mexican Army soldiers with Kaibiles training.

As many as 20 to 30 Kaibiles members (or former members) have been reportedly recruited by the Zetas for the training of Gulf Cartel killers. Two former Kaibiles members were identified and picked up by U.S. Border Patrol Agents in 2005; one near San Diego in July and one in Pharr, Texas, in August.

I was recently interviewed by Texas documentary filmmaker Gary "Rusty" Fleming on this subject. He has produced an excellent documentary on the violence and corruption of Mexico by these narco terrorist gangs. He spent two years among them in Mexico. The documentary is called "Drug Wars: The Colombianization of Mexico." When I heard the title, I suggested that perhaps the title should have been the "Mexicanization of America."

If you work anywhere near the border, live in one of the border states, or live in a state where drug and human traffickers operate, then I'm talking to you. Please don't think of this story as fiction. Think of it as a training scenario.


Richard Valdemar
Richard Valdemar

Sergeant (Ret.)

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

View Bio

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

View Bio