Bin Laden-like SEAL Team Raid Could Take Down Mexican Drug Kingpin

The Pentagon could use SEALs to take down "El Chapo," Mexico's infamous drug kingpin.

Navy SEALs

SEAL team members conduct Vessel Boarding Search and Seizure (VBSS) training in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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The Pentagon may send Navy SEALs into Mexico to take out drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in a raid mirroring the one that took out Osama bin Laden, Proceso magazine reports.

Guzman, who presides over an estimated $1 billion drug empire as head of the Sinaloa cartel, has repeatedly escaped capture since breaking out of prison in 2001. His continued elusion of Mexican authorities has apparently frustrated the Pentagon enough that it has discussed a raid targeting El Chapo with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Calderon approved of the idea, but because the Mexican Army and Navy balked, Washington will wait to propose the idea to Mexico's next president, Enrique Peña Nieto, according to Proceso's interviews with anonymous Mexican and American military sources.

[Photos: America's elite Navy SEALs]

According to the sources, the proposed raid would be performed by two small teams of specially-trained SEALs, armed helicopters, and three missile-equipped drones. One SEAL team would be dropped on the ground and the other remaining in the air, with the drones providing backup support and surveillance. No Mexican military or police would assist in the raid.

The U.S. has some history of intervening to stop drug trafficking south of its border. Indeed in 1993, a raid led by U.S. special forces resulted in the death of famed cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, then one of the world's most wanted men.

The U.S. has also taken an increasingly active role in combating the drug trade in Mexico, especially since Calderon became president in 2006. The Defense Department's Merida Initiative, a $1.4 billion program of military aid to Mexico, aimed to help fund Calderon's drug war. Recently, that assistance has also included intelligence and military resources.

But direct U.S. intervention is sensitive for political reasons, says Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert in counternarcotics at The Brookings Institution. Many Mexicans, and especially the Mexican military, are hostile to U.S. intervention. The result is mostly covert assistance.

"Officially, there have been no U.S. military soldiers, certainly not in raids," she says. "The U.S. is providing drones for Mexico to fly there, it's providing military officers and law enforcement agents, and it's likely the U.S. is providing signal intelligence equipment."

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The assistance isn't limited to the military. Through a law called the Kingpin Act, which prevents drug traffickers access to the U.S. businesses and financial system, the American assets of El Chapo's wife and son were frozen in June. Last week the U.S. froze the assets of three of his associates, which included five businesses, Reuters reported.

Still, the lure of catching El Chapo could be appealing enough that Mexico's incoming president could be tempted to allow for a SEAL team raid.

"[Guzman] is a very juicy target that would bring a lot of political cache to whoever the president is who gets him," Felbab-Brown says.

Representatives for the U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Special Operations Command declined to comment for this story.

Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact him at scline@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.