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U.S. Military Doing 'Limited' Drug War Work In Mexico, Napolitano Says

A military police officer stands guard at the scene of a murder on March 23, 2010 in Juarez, Mexico.

A Mexican military police officer guards a murder scene in Juarez. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Spencer Platt/Getty Images

"Our military, in certain limited ways, has been working with the Mexican military in their efforts against the drug cartels" inside Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told NPR's Robert Siegel this morning. Her comments were among the most extensive to date from a U.S. official about the U.S. military's role in the drug war raging across the border.

During a conversation about the visit to Mexico yesterday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Napolitano and other top U.S. officials, Robert asked "is there any role, any potential role, for the U.S. military south of the border in Mexico?'

Napolitano said that since Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen were among those in the delegation that went to Mexico yesterday, "you can deduce from that that there are discussions about the proper role for our military."

As Robert pointed out, having U.S. military personnel in Mexico is a "neuralgic subject" for many people there.

Napolitano agreed, and then said that "it is only being done at the request of and with the consultation and cooperation (of) the Mexicans. This is not the United States unilaterally going in."

"Just to be clear," Robert continued. "Are you saying that (Mexican President Felipe) Calderon has expressed an openness toward a uniformed, U.S. military presence within Mexico?"

Napolitano's response:

"Yes. Let me be very, very clear (because) this is a very delicate subject. ... Our military in certain limited ways has been working with the Mexican military in their efforts against the drug cartels. But, it is at the request of the Mexican government, in consultation with the Mexican government. And it is only one part of our overall efforts with Mexico, which are primarily civilian in nature."

Does this mean the U.S. has advisers on the ground, or "people actually engaged in operations?" Robert asked.

Napolitano wouldn't go into specifics: "All I'm saying in this interview is; that you can deduce from the fact that the chair of the Joint Chiefs was at this meeting and the secretary of Defense was at this meeting that the United States, and its military, are also and have been offering assistance to Mexico."

Here's their discussion on the role of the U.S. military:

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Much more from the conversation is due on today's All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, the as-aired version of the interview will be posted here.

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