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Army official recants insurgency in Mexico statement

Published February 9, 2011 7:53 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Army's second highest-ranking civilian official, who caused a minor stir on Monday when, during a visit to Utah, he suggested that U.S. troops may one day be needed to quell an "insurgency" in Mexico, has apologized for his comments.

Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal, speaking at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, had suggested that if the Mexican government was unable to stop the cartels, "armed and fighting" American soldiers might have to be sent to combat the problem "on our border," or even "across the border."

In a statement released on Tuesday, Westphal said he had "mistakenly characterized the challenge posed by drug cartels to Mexico."

"My comments were not, and have never been, the policy of the Department of Defense of the U.S. Government toward Latin America," Westphal said in the statement, adding that he was not speaking on behalf of the president, or any other U.S. government official.

"I regret that my inaccurate statements may have caused concerns for our partners and friends in the region, especially Mexico," he said.

Westphal's use of the word "insurgency" reignited a controversy over the use of that term — which the U.S. uses to describe enemy factions in Iraq and Afghanistan — that began last fall when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invoked the word in a speech. One Mexican government official said that Westphal went "way beyond" what Clinton said, however, because he had suggested that the U.S. might one day deploy troops over the border.

The Mexican government had still not publicly commented on the flap Tuesday evening, although State Department officials had received a complaint from Mexico City about the undersecretary's speech.