U.S. Stages Major Drug Bust Amid Rising Tensions Over Border Shooting of Mexican Boy

Attorney General Eric Holder said U.S. "regrets" the shooting of a Mexican boy.

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2010— -- Attorney General Eric Holder today announced a major U.S. bust of Mexican drug trafficking operations, following the border shooting of a 15-year-old Mexican boy by U.S. border agents earlier this week.

The drug operation, called Project Deliverance, has spanned almost two years. With help from more than 3,000 law enforcement officers and federal agents, Project Deliverance culminated Wednesday with the arrest of 429 criminal drug traffickers in 15 states.

U.S. officials said the 22-month operation snagged more than 2,200 individuals and intercepted more than 69 tons of marijuana, 2.5 tons of cocaine, 1,410 pounds of heroin and $154 million in currency.

Holder said one of the most significant developments in the operation was the May 30 arrest of alleged heroin smuggler Carlos Ramon Castro-Rocha in Mexico.

"This successful operation, however, is just one battle in an ongoing war," Holder told reporters at a briefing today. "So long as cartels and smugglers attempt to wreak havoc on our borders, we will continue to target them with every resource available to the federal government."

Today's announcement came after Monday's shooting of a 15-year-old boy at a border crossing near El Paso, Texas, where U.S. authorities were believed to be conducting anti-drug trafficking operations. Holder praised the Mexican government for the "courageous" efforts it had taken to battle the drug cartels, which have become increasingly violent in recent years as they fight drug shipment routes into the United States.

Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereka had been fatally shot in the head by a U.S. Border Patrol agent, who had reportedly come under attack by rock throwers on the Mexican side of the border.

Amid rising tensions between the United States and its southern neighbor in the wake of the shooting, Holder said, "Let me express our sincere regrets about the loss of life of that ... youngster. It was extremely regrettable. …There is a bond that exists between Mexico and the United States. We have shared interests ... those shared interests will keep the relationship strong."

Feds Investigate Border Incident, Shooting

The FBI is currently investigating the alleged rock attack on border agents, but it is unclear whether the Bureau is also investigating the use of force by the U.S. agents.

"The use of lethal force can be a method of last resort. This appears to have been a disproportionate use of force given the threat," said Ricardo Alday, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington.

Customs and border protection officials said the agents were being assaulted with rocks as they approached and tried to stop a group of individuals from crossing the border between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico.

"The FBI has these matters under investigation," Holder said.

Grainy cell phone video of the shooting, first broadcast by Univision, showed a group crossing the border through a fence and two individuals being stopped while the agent had his gun drawn.

Seconds later, gunshots were heard and seen on the video. The shaky and hazy depiction does not appear to offer a complete picture of the events as they transpired, but it does later show Mexican police arriving at the scene and the border agents backing away from the area in a vehicle.

These incidents "can create bubbles of tension. … It is very upsetting," said one Mexican official. "It would be the same thing if it had occurred on video … in the United States or in Canada."

Federal law enforcement officials possess additional video footage captured from a railyard security camera in the area, and they're analyzing it in Washington.

"I've only seen a bit of the tape," said Holder of the Univision video. "I have not seen it in its entirety, but that would be something that would be obviously examined as the investigation goes on. That will be a critical piece of the investigation."

Pushed about his reaction about the killing of the young boy and the Mexican police responding to the shooting, Holder said. " We do regret the loss of life. … We will have to determine exactly what happened, if anybody should be held responsible and the circumstances [of] the shooting -- all of that is part of this ongoing investigation."