Reporting from Washington—The United States lacks a coordinated strategy to stem the flow of weapons across its southern border, a failure that has fueled the rise of powerful criminal cartels and violence in Mexico, according to a government watchdog agency report being released Thursday.
The report by the congressional Government Accountability Office represents the first federal assessment of the issue and offers blistering conclusions that likely will impact the debate over the role of U.S. weaponry as Mexican violence threatens to spill across the border.
The report also cites recent U.S. intelligence indicating that most of the weapons are being smuggled in specifically for the syndicates, and are being used not only against the Mexican government but also to help the cartels in their efforts to control drug distribution in U.S. cities.
"The U.S. government lacks a strategy to address arms trafficking to Mexico," the report says in blunt terms. "Individual U.S. agencies have undertaken a variety of activities and projects to combat arms trafficking to Mexico, but they are not part of a comprehensive U.S. government-wide strategy for addressing the problem."
Obama administration officials said that although they could not comment on a report that has not been released publicly, they have taken steps in recent months to upgrade efforts to stem the illegal flow of U.S. weapons to Mexico, long a source of frustration to Mexican authorities.
Earlier this month, for instance, the administration announced a new Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, which includes a section on arms trafficking.
The GAO report's authors, however, said that strategy and similar Obama administration efforts are embryonic and unlikely to significantly improve the situation quickly. They also said the broader $1.4-billion Bush-era effort known as the Merida Initiative provides no dedicated funding to address the issue of weapons trafficking.
In the meantime, illegally obtained U.S. weapons, including an increasing number of automatic rifles, are being used to kill thousands of Mexican police, soldiers, elected officials and civilians, the report said.
Jess T. Ford, the GAO's director of International Affairs and Trade, is scheduled to deliver testimony on the findings at a House hearing Thursday.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere that is holding the hearing, said he was troubled by the GAO's findings.
"It is simply unacceptable that the United States not only consumes the majority of the drugs flowing from Mexico but also arms the very cartels that contribute to the daily violence that is devastating Mexico," he said.