The Washington Times

Smugglers of drugs and aliens, desperate to protect their illicit cargoes, have reacted with increased violence against U.S. Border Patrol agents involved in a new law-enforcement initiative aimed at gaining \"operational control\" of the Arizona-Mexico border.

Eighty-nine agents have been assaulted so far this year in an escalating series of attacks by the smugglers some shot at with automatic weapons, while others were attacked with block-sized rocks or had their vehicles rammed by armed smugglers, Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar said yesterday.

Some suspected smugglers, known as \"coyotes,\" threw rocks at a Border Patrol helicopter last week in an unsuccessful attempt to disable the aircraft, said Chief Aguilar, who formerly headed the agency\'s Tucson sector.

Chief Aguilar believes the smugglers are striking out because they are beginning to suffer financial losses as a result of the border enforcement program, known as the Arizona Border Control Initiative, although incidents of violence have increased this year all along the U.S.-Mexico border.

\"One of the dynamics of this new border initiative is to expand into areas that we\'ve not worked in the recent past and as we take back those areas, there is a reluctance on the part of the coyotes to give up the territory,\" the chief said.

\"Ironically, we see the increase in violence as a measure of achievement,\" he said. \"As we gain more ground, the incidents of violence will likely increase until we become an impediment to their operation, until we become an overwhelming force.\"

Assaults against Border Patrol agents so far this year are coming at a rate of one every 2 days. Last year, the Border Patrol registered 115 attacks on agents.

Arizona is the busiest illegal entry point along the 1,940-mile U.S.-Mexico border. More than 400,000 illegal aliens were arrested in that state last year, about 1,100 a day.