Jerry Seper, Washington Times, June 19, 2007
U.S. Border Patrol agents seeking to secure the nation’s border in some of the country’s most pristine national forests are being targeted by illegal aliens, who are using intentionally set fires to burn agents out of observation posts and patrol routes.
In the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, with 60 miles of land along the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. Forest Service firefighters sent in to battle fires or clear wild-land fire areas are required to be escorted by armed law-enforcement officers.
Armed smugglers of aliens and drugs have walked through the middle of active firefighting operations, the authorities said.
The Border Patrol’s Tucson, Ariz., sector, which encompasses most of the Coronado National Forest, has the highest incidence of cross-border violators in the nation. Nearly 500,000 illegal aliens were apprehended last year—more than 30,000 a month. In addition, nearly 100,000 pounds of marijuana, with a street value of $200 million, was seized as it was hauled through the Coronado National Forest.
At least five fires were set below a Border Patrol observation post during the operation in an effort to burn the agents out, according to a Forest Service report. The fires were extinguished, and no one was arrested.
Wildfires are being set by alien and drug smugglers, authorities said, to create a diversion in an attempt to gain undetected access across the border. The fires correspond to a dramatic rise in assaults against Border Patrol agents—up more than 100 percent over last year.
The Coronado National Forest is not the only area along the border being targeted for wildfires. Other blazes also have been set, including two this month near the San Luis, Ariz., port of entry as the result of Molotov cocktails—one of which barely missed a Border Patrol agent.
Authorities said agents are being targeted by illegal aliens and their smugglers for rock attacks—including grapefruit-size rocks wrapped in rags, dipped in gasoline and set on fire.
“As larger areas of the border come under operational control, we can expect violence to increase as smuggling operations can no longer operate with impunity and do not have unfettered access to the border for their criminal activities,” Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar told a Homeland Security subcommittee this year.