Death toll at 20 for attack by the Mexican cartel near the US border

CITY: Mexican security forces killed seven more members of an alleged cartel assault force that arrived in a city near the city on Sunday Texas border and organized an hour-long attack, authorities said, putting the total dead at 20.

The state government said in a statement that law enforcement officers helped by helicopters were still chasing the remnants of the force that arrived in a convoy of trucks and attacked the town hall of Villa Unión on Saturday.

Miguel Ángel Riquelme said Sunday afternoon that the authorities had determined that the number of victims of firearm clashes was 14 dead armed men and four dead policemen.

He said two civilians were also killed by armed men after being kidnapped.

The governor said six other officers were injured, as were four youths who were attacked by the attackers.

Francisco Contreras, an official with the state security agency, said later that the two civilians killed were firefighters and engineers who worked for the municipality.

He said a second fireman was missing.

The reason for the military-style attack remained unclear.

The cartels have been fighting for control of smuggling routes in northern Mexico, but there was no immediate evidence that a rival cartel was attacked in Villa Unión.

The previous Sunday, the state government issued a statement saying that seven attackers were killed on Sunday, in addition to seven who died on Saturday.

He had said that three other bodies had not been identified, but his subsequent statement reduced the total deaths to 20.

The governor said the armed group, at least some with military-style attire, stormed the city of 3,000 residents in a truck convoy, attacked the local government offices and provoked the intervention of state and federal forces.

Trucks riddled with bullets abandoned in the streets were marked as CDN - initials in Spanish of the Northeast Cartel gang.

Several of the gunmen stole vehicles while fleeing and kidnapped the locals to help guide them on dirt roads outside the city, the governor said.

At least one of the stolen vehicles was a hearse that was headed for a funeral, according to the newspaper Zócalo de Saltillo.

The town is about 35 miles (60 kilometers) south-southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas, and 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the town of Allende - site of a 2011 massacre involving the Zetas cartel in which officials say 70 died.

Rapid shots were heard in videos posted on social networks along with frantic people telling their friends to stay inside.

Images of the aftermath of the shooting showed burning vehicles, while the facade of the town hall of Villa Unión was full of bullets.

The governor said security forces will remain in the city for several days to restore the feeling of calm.

Falko Ernst, Mexico's senior analyst for the nonprofit Crisis Group, which seeks to promote peace, said there is little incentive for armed groups in the country to refrain from violence.

Solving this problem, which is the basis of impunity, should be the centerpiece of an integrated security strategy. But President Lopez and his team have not yet introduced him, Ernst said. The price of this absence is, no less important, the intensification of regional conflict scenarios.

The homicide rate in Mexico has increased to historically high levels, rising 2 percent in the first 10 months of the presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Federal officials recently said there have been 29,414 homicides so far in 2019, compared to 28,869 in the same period of 2018.

The November massacre by Mexican armed men of the drug cartel of three women who had American citizenship and six of their children focused worldwide attention on the growing violence.

Saturday's attack also showed the cartels turning to quasi-military operations again in a blatant challenge to state authority.

In October, a massive operation of the Sinaloa cartel led the federal government to free the captured son of a drug dealer and withdraw the army, which was overtaken in the streets of Culiacán.

The president of the United States, Donald Trump, said in a radio interview last week that he plans to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, although he declined to say what actions could follow that designation.

Mexican officials have opposed this designation, worried that it may lead to unilaterial US interventions in their territory.

The state of Coahuila itself has been far from being the most affected part of Mexico in the midst of violence in recent years.

The government census office's survey of public security perceptions found that Coahuila was well positioned this year, and only three other states have a greater public perception of security.