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Military is broadening U.S. effort to help Mexico battle its drug cartels

The Pentagon funds are in addition to the Merida Initiative, a package of law enforcement equipment and training run through the State Department. It has provided about $1.5 billion for Mexico over three years.

U.S. officials emphasize that the military assistance is part of a government-wide effort to assist Mexico on security. U.S. law enforcement agencies have also dramatically increased their cooperation with their Mexican counterparts, even embedding U.S. intelligence specialists in a Mexican command center.

"There clearly is a role for the U.S. military, but it is as a supporting player," said Roberta Jacobson, acting principal deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, who coordinates Merida Initiative assistance.

The Pentagon will also foot part of the bill for the 1,200 National Guard troops that Obama recently decided to send to the border with Mexico. Those forces are under state control.

Alarmed by the soaring drug violence, some U.S. lawmakers are urging the Pentagon and intelligence community to do more to help Mexico. "These might include new ways to jointly deploy aviation, surveillance and intelligence assets," Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a recent speech.

But some U.S. analysts are skeptical. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has faced increasing criticism over his decision to battle the cartels with troops, who have been accused of thousands of human rights abuses.

"It's better to have a military that's better and more accountable. That said, I'm not sure the military is the right response. I think the deployment of the military has been done very badly" in Mexico, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Brookings Institution fellow who has studied the drug war.

Mexican soldiers were long taught that their main mission was protecting their country from the United States, which took half its territory after the mid-19th century Mexican-American War.

Cooperation began to increase in recent years with the collapse of Mexico's one-party political system. But it is the growing threat from drug traffickers that has prompted the biggest change. Drug violence has claimed at least 30,000 lives in Mexico in the past four years.

Staff writer Greg Jaffe contributed to this report.

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