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Mexican helicopters hit at least 28 times so far in drug war


The Americas Post - As pilots like to say, any landing you can walk away from is a good one.

According to official figures released by the Mexican government this week, helicopters belonging to that nation’s police and military have been subjected to a minimum of 28 gunfire attacks in the five years since the government launched its campaign against drug cartels.

The attacks demonstrate the increasing firepower of Mexican drug gangs, but may confirm government claims that drug violence declined in 2011.

During the first two years of the drug war, the air force, navy and Attorney General’s Office reported no helicopter attacks.  In 2008 however, four choppers came under fire, wounding at least one officer aboard.

In 2009, bullets hit at least six government helicopters in the rotors, side doors or engine compartments.  All of them landed safely.

2010 was the worst year for anti-helicopter attacks, with 14 hit and one crew member hurt. Some of the aircraft landed with up to seven bullet holes in them, with rounds penetrating windshields, fuselages, rotors and landing gear.

Only three helicopters were reportedly hit by gunfire during 2011, although that number may be higher.  The federal police declined to release information on anti-aircraft attacks, but has admitted that last May gunmen opened fire on a federal police chopper, striking two officers and forcing it down, though officials reiterated that it did not crash.  The Russian-built Mi-17 landed about 3.5 miles from the shooting scene in western Michoacan.   The two officers onboard survived their wounds.

Mexico’s police have deployed helicopters in anti-drug operations for decades, and drug gangs have hung steel cables around opium and marijuana fields to  bring them down.  The first fatal attack occurred in 2003, when gunmen protecting an opium-poppy plantation shot down two police helicopters, killing all five agents aboard.  Such attacks were rare, however, before 2008.