U.S. based-security analysts, Mexican officials and cartel members themselves attested to the existence of CJNG's elite drone unit. The unit consists of a highly trained group of "sicarios" or hitmen devoted to modifying commercial drones and turning them into flying bombs. These weaponized drones are then deployed against rival cartels and even the Mexican government itself.
The merciless CJNG started weaponizing commercial drones more than four years ago, per researchers and Mexican authorities. Nevertheless, the formation of specialized drone groups shows that the cartel is moving its drone operations to the next level.
"We began training as a group in 2021, but only this year we started operating," said an anonymous member of the CJNG's Operadores Droneros unit. He disclosed that the unit is supposedly made up of a dozen individuals, and works only in the states of Michoacan and Jalisco at present.
The CJNG drone pilot remarked that his unit is mainly committed to locating and assaulting opposing cartels. These include the Los Viagras and Knights Templar groups in Michoacan and the Sinaloa Cartel in Jalisco.
"It depends on which drone we use, but we can be miles away and confirm that [our rivals] are at a certain house or vehicle," he said. "[And] then, [we] crash the drone with explosives."
The Operadores Droneros unit is still a new and unpopular group inside CJNG, according to an intelligence official inside the Mexican Armed Forces (FAM). Nevertheless, the official said this does not mean that the unit is harmless.
The drones used by the cartel are generally made in China and purchased online through retail platforms. The CJNG pilot said the drones are then packed with improvised explosives, including potassium perchlorate and aluminum. Shrapnel such as buckshot and nails are added in for more damage.
An exclusive video acquired by the Daily Beast featured an Operadores Droneros henchman packing explosive charges inside plastic bottles. It also showed nails and buckshot near the working area, as well as a commercial drone in the back of a pickup truck.
Several sources inside CJNG verified the clip's authenticity. According to them, it was recorded a few hours before an August 2023 attack against the Knights Templar in the village of Apatzingan at Michoacan state.
The anonymous CJNG member said "Americans and a Colombian man" were the founders of the cartel's drone operations. These individuals trained cartel members how to source, fly and detonate a commercial drone.
"A gringo [American] showed us how to make our own explosives since sourcing a real plastic explosive could be too attention-grabbing," he recounted. "And the Colombian showed us how to drive and maneuver a drone."
Explosive drones have been one of the most dangerous weapons employed by cartels against the Mexican government. In one such attack from November 2022, explosive drones piloted by CJNG operatives attacked a caravan from the Mexican military as they came to the town of Tepalcatepec in Michoacan. News reports said four were killed and six others were injured in the attack. (Related: Mexican cartels now using weaponized DRONES to fight law enforcement in escalating drug war.)
CBS News also reported that attacks involving drone-carried bombs, which were unknown in Mexico before 2020, have been on the rise. The Mexican government has recorded 260 such incidents as of writing.
Between 2021 and August 2023, the FAM captured 23 weaponized drones. The drones were sized in mainly three states – Michoacan, Guerrero and Jalisco – where CJNG actively operates.
Follow DrugCartels.news for more news about the Mexican drug cartels.
Watch this video of another unit within CJNG, this time a "special forces" squad with armored vehicles and mobile phone jammers.
This video is from Piper's Place channel on Brighteon.com.