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Where did they go? The missing soldiers

Desertion a big problem for armed forces: 150,000 in 16 years

Almost 150,000 military officials of all ranks have deserted from the armed forces during the last 16 years, and many pundits fear they have gone to work for organized crime instead.

Desertion from the military is the most common crime among its ranks, and the Defense Secretariat, Sedena, has kept records of it since 2000.

The numbers have been parsed and broken down by six-year presidential administrations, and although the numbers appear to be in decline concerns remain about where those soldiers have gone.

Between 2000 and 2006, 101,013 personnel deserted, but the figure plunged to 42,986 between 2007 and 2012. So far in the current administration, just 4,991 have left military life.

In total, 148,990 armed forces members have gone AWOL: 147,473 troops and 1,517 officers, 53 of those being of senior rank.

According to specialists in national security and drug trafficking, the main causes for leaving the forces are low salary and high risk, six-month periods away from their families and poor military discipline.

As desertion is prosecuted under military law, many former soldiers opt to emigrate to the United States. Those who stay in Mexico find better employment conditions at private security firms, which have seen a significant increase in number in recent years.

The latter, noted specialists interviewed by the newspaper El Universal, would also include those who are now employed as armed guards by criminal organizations such as drug cartels.

“I think it’s hard for former army officers to join crime gangs, but I can’t outright discard it as an option, either,” stated one expert, Armando Rodríguez Luna.

Desertion is one of the most serious issues afflicting the nation’s armed forces, warned national security expert Guillermo Garduño Valero. “If these officials can’t be tracked, they probably left the country illegally, or have joined organized crime.”

This last notion is supported by the fact that all along the northern border, “from Tijuana to Matamoros,” organized crime cells have full knowledge of the codes used by the military and police forces, Garduño said.

The specialist also believes that compensation paid to soldiers, despite increases, does not correspond to the risk involved when fighting organized crime.

There is also a new figure turning up in the statistics. Between 2006 and 2012, 45 soldiers were reported missing. In the last four years that figure has leaped to 197.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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