Armed Clashes Between Mexican Army and Drug Gangs Saw US Close Two Border Bridge Crossings

By Edwin Mora | March 14, 2012 | 7:04 PM EDT

One of two bridges linking Eagle Pass, Texas to Piedras Negras in Mexico (Photo: State Department)

( – Gun battles between Mexican military forces and drug traffickers prompted U.S. authorities to temporarily shut down two international bridge crossings along the southwest border last week.

The two bridges link Eagle Pass, Texas to Piedras Negras in the Mexican state of Coahuila.

“This is not out of the norm,” said Eagle Pass Police Chief Tony Castaneda, who referred to the armed criminals as drug traffickers.

“There’s been several gun battles going on here with the narcotics traffickers for quite some time,” the San Antonio Express-News quoted him as saying on March 8. “But it’s never gotten to this magnitude where they close bridges.”

According to Mexican news reports, the U.S. State Department ordered the closure of the border crossings in response to a series of gun battles between the Mexican military and bandits armed with high-powered weapons and rocket grenade launchers.

The traffickers set alight an 18-wheeler and used the burning vehicle as a road block approximately a quarter-mile from one of the bridges, news outlets from both countries reported.

A woman police officer and at least six members of the Mexican military were wounded in the clashes.

The two bridges were closed for several hours between 9 PM on March 6 and 8 AM the following day, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security charged with securing the nation’s border and operating the official ports of entry.

Speaking in Spanish, Casteneda said in a video that the bridges were closed to prevent the criminals from “fleeing and entering the U.S. to escape because many of them do have the right to enter by means of a passport,” according to a March 7 report in the Eagle Pass Business Journal.

The bridges were closed with the aim of “protecting citizens and preventing some of the delinquents from entering and fleeing from what had occurred on the Mexican side and to maintain security,” he continued.

Castaneda added that police and CBP officers were placed on alert. As a result he expects U.S.-bound traffic on the bridges to be slow for several days.

The CBP and State Department did not immediately return calls for comment.