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Mexican army helicopters under increasing gunfire in drug war

Official records released today show the increasing ferocity of Mexico's drug cartels and the escalating nature of the drug war.

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Members of the Mexican army and Federal Police remove the body of a victim following a helicopter crash that killed Mexican Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora on Nov 11 in Tlamanalco, Mexico state. (DAVID DEOLARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

In a measure of the ferocity and scale of Mexico's drug war, official records released today show that 28 helicopters operated by the Mexican army and prosecutors have been been hit by gunfire in the last five years, according to The Associated Press.

The records cover the period during which Mexican President Felipe Calderón has used the Mexican army to combat his country's increasingly violent drug cartels. According to the AP, the figures also support the government claim that drug war violence peaked in 2010.

Mexico's Interior Minister, Francisco Blake Mora, central to Mexican authorities' battle with the drug cartels, was himself killed in a helicopter crash in November but Calderón said it was likely an accident.

Federal police refused to release data on their helicopters but did acknowledge a forced landing in May that was due to gunfire. Two officers were wounded.

The records marked the second recent disclosure of official data on the drug war at the request of Mexican journalists. Facing a lawsuit, Mexico's attorney general earlier this month disclosed that over the same period nearly 50,000 Mexicans had died in drug-related violence. The helicopter records were first requested by the newspaper Milenio.

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Helicopters did not suffer gunfire incidents in the first two years of the drug war but in 2008 four were hit by gunfire, wounding at least one personnel member aboard. Bullets struck six government helicopters in the rotors, side doors and/or motor compartments in 2009, according to the figures cited by the AP.

In 2010, 14 helicopters were hit and one crew member was wounded, the AP reported, noting that some aircraft had as many as seven bullet holes when the they landed, with windshields and rotors and landing gear being struck.

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According to the AP, it is an established practice for Mexican drug producers to string steel cables around opiate and marijuana plantations to bring down the authorities' helicopters.

Over all, drug-related killings rose 11 percent in the first nine months of 2011, according to official records, but that increase pales in comparison to the 70 percent rise recorded between 2009 and 2010.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/mexico/120116/mexican-army-helicopters-under-increasing-gunfire-drug-