As cartel-fueled violence escalates in Mexico, the State Department has issued an extensive travel advisory warning U.S. citizens to exercise "extreme caution" in the northern part of the country and informing diplomats and their families that certain cross-border travel has been banned.
The eight-page advisory released last week outlined a host of dangers for U.S. travelers and residents in Mexico -- firefights, carjackings, kidnappings and more. The State Department said that as of last Thursday, mission employees and their families for the most part are forbidden from driving across the U.S.-Mexico border en route to or from any post inside Mexico.
The State Department said the restrictions were imposed out of concern for "road safety" along the border, where travelers have been targeted for robbery, "followed and harassed" and "caught in incidents of gunfire between criminals and Mexican law enforcement." The State Department said drug gangs are also setting up roadblocks to prevent the military and law enforcement from responding.
The warning comes in the midst of a surge in violent activity. Eighteen people were massacred at a party in the city of Torreon on Sunday -- more than a month after 19 people were killed at a drug-rehab center in Chihuahua. In the border city of Juarez, where more than 1,500 have been killed this year, a car bomb apparently designed to lure police to the scene killed three people last Thursday.
The State Department provided specifics on recent incidents involving Americans. Among them, four U.S. citizens were murdered in Gomez Palacio in central Mexico from late 2009 to early 2010. Most of the reported Americans deaths in Mexico in fiscal 2009 occurred in the border cities of Juarez and Tijuana.
The State Department urged U.S. citizens to "defer unnecessary travel" to Juarez and to the Guadalupe Bravo area southeast of the city. Americans were also urged to do the same for the state of Michoacan.
The State Department stressed that "millions" of Americans safely visit Mexico every year but that the drug violence poses "serious risks" that travelers must take steps to avoid.
Mexicans are under similar advisories. In Nuevo Laredo on the other side of the border from Texas, the city government used Facebook messages to warn locals to stay indoors as gun battles raged on.
The Obama administration, which is sending additional National Guard to the U.S. side of the border, has pledged to work with Mexican authorities to investigate the recent violent incidents, particularly the car bomb.
"The incident in Juarez ... is one of great concern to both governments," Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin said Monday.
The use of a car bomb would mark a new tactic for the cartels in the war against the state that has played out in full force since President Felipe Calderon confronted them after taking office in 2006. According to reports, the device was remotely detonated in a way similar to the detonation of IEDs in the Middle East.