Mexican Soldiers Kill 22 Suspected Drug Cartel Gunmen Near U.S. Border

MONTERREY, Mexico -- A gunbattle between Mexican soldiers and suspected drug cartel members left 22 dead at ranch near the U.S. border, the Defense Department said Thursday.

All the dead were suspected gang members, the department said in a statement. One soldier was injured.

The military said the drug suspects provoked the gunbattle Wednesday morning, opening fire on soldiers conducting reconnaissance patrols at a ranch on the outskirts of Ciudad Mier, a northeastern town about 18 miles south of the border with Texas.

Soldiers seized 55 grenades, 18 rifles, four handguns guns, 99 ammunition clips, 1,540 rounds of ammunition and vehicles at the ranch, the statement said. They also found military style uniforms, which are frequently used by drug gangs staging attacks.

The fighting erupted hours before celebrations started across Mexico for the bicentennial anniversary of its independence from Spain.

It did not disrupt festivities in the main cities in northeastern Mexico, where violence has reached war-like proportions this year amid a split between the Gulf cartel and its former gang of henchmen, the Zetas.

Gunbattles erupt frequently between soldiers and gang members, who sometimes stage road blockades to disrupt military operations or keep security forces from calling in reinforcements during shootouts. Sometimes, assailants steal buses and even motorists out of their cars to use in the blockades.

Across Mexico, drug-gang violence has claimed an unprecedented 28,000 lives since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed thousands of troops and federal police to fight the cartels in their strongholds along the U.S. border and in Pacific coast states.

In the border city of Ciudad Juarez, gunmen ambushed two newspaper photographers in their car Thursday, killing one and wounding the other.

Luis Carlos Santiago and Carlos Sanchez, of the Diario de Juarez, were driving to lunch when they were attacked, newspaper director Pedro Torres told The Associated Press.

Santiago, 21, was killed and Sanchez was in serious condition, Torres said.

Torres said he did not know why the photographers were targeted. He said Santiago had just started working for the newspaper two weeks ago, and Sanchez was an intern.

Mexican journalists are increasingly under siege from cartels seeking to control the flow of information.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog group, said in a recent report that at least 22 Mexican journalists have been killed during the Calderon administration.