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US to boost Mexico border defence

25 March 09 01:30 GMT

The US government is to increase security at the country's border with Mexico in an attempt to combat drug cartels, the White House has announced.

Immigration, customs and anti-drug agents and gun law enforcement officers will be reinforced as part of a $700m (£475m) undertaking.

Barack Obama pledged his administration would do more to support Mexico in its fight against drugs cartels if needed.

Some 8,000 have died in Mexico in the past two years in drug gang turf wars.

The south-west US has also seen rising violence and kidnappings.

In a news conference at the White House, the US president said he would be carefully watching to see what effect the $700m plan had on the situation, vowing to do more if necessary.

The money will come out of funds already allocated by the US Congress to assist Mexico in its fight against the drug cartels.

Gun crackdown

Agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will be sent to the border to region to help deal with the issue.

See the Mexican cartels' main areas of influence

Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST) teams will be doubled and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is to create a special south-west intelligence group to co-ordinate all its efforts to tackle Mexican drug-related crime.

ATF is to send 100 agents to the border within 45 days to crack down on illegal gun transfers from the US into Mexico.

Mexico's government will also receive five helicopters and a surveillance aircraft as part of the scheme.

"I believe the Mexican government will not fail," said US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

"And I believe our role is to assist in this battle because we have our own security interests in its success."

Failed state warning

Earlier this year, a study by the US Department of Defence warned that Mexico was in danger of becoming a failed state because of the drug gangs.

Ms Napolitano said she had not ruled out sending National Guard troops to the border region, and said she would meet Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss the possible deployment.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Mexico on Wednesday for the first of a series of high-level meetings between the two governments.

President Barack Obama is also expected to visit Mexico in the coming weeks.

Gang-related violence claimed the lives of some 6,000 people in 2008 and so far this year more than 1,000 have been killed as gangs fight both one another for territory and the police and troops sent to tackle them.

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