Mexican federal forces killed at least 42 suspected cartel members on Friday during a three-hour gunfight on a ranch in a violence-torn western region, marking one of the drug war's bloodiest battles. One policeman was also killed in the encounter.
What triggered the gunfight? What's brewing in the restive region? Here's all you need to know.
A Mexican Army soldier, seen through a chain-linked fence, stands guard near the entrance of Rancho del Sol, near Vista Hermosa, Mexico. The deadly confrontation started after officials learnt that "armed criminals" were occupying the ranch in Tanhuato, Michoacan state, near the neighboring state of Jalisco. Michoacan and Jalisco have endured some of the worst violence in a drug war that began to escalate in 2006, when the government deployed troops to combat cartels. (AP Photo)
Mexican state police stand guard near the entrance of Rancho del Sol, near Vista Hermosa. National security commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido did not name the suspected gang involved in the latest shooting by name, but said it was based in Jalisco, home of the New Generation drug cartel, a powerful heavily armed group that has become the top target of President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration. (AP Photo)
Mexican state police stand guard at the entrance of Rancho del Sol, near Vista Hermosa. The New Generation cartel, which has links to gangs as far away as Asia and trafficks drugs to the United States, has taken Mexican authorities head-on this year, killing 20 police officers in two ambushes in March and April. (AP Photo)
Members of the Mexican Army leave the ranch where gunmen took cover during an intense gun battle with the police. On May 1, the government launched Operation Jalisco against the New Generation cartel. That same day, the gang killed seven troops and a policewoman when they downed a military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade. (AFP Photo)
Federal policemen guard a ranch where a gunfight between hitmen and federal forces left several casualties. In just a few years, New Generation has grown from a small faction of the powerful Sinaloa cartel to one of Mexico's strongest criminal groups in its own right, according to the US Treasury Department, whose Office of Foreign Assets Control maintains a "black list" of drug trafficking organizations. (Reuters)
Members of the state police stand guard outside the ranch where gunmen took cover during an intense gun battle. After Friday's clash began, the suspects dispersed into fields, "which complicated the operation," a Mexican official said, noting that the ranch measures 112 hectares (276 acres) and includes a house and a warehouse. The warehouse and six vehicles burned during the gunfight. (AFP Photo)
Federal policemen gather outside a ranch where a gunfight between hitmen and federal forces broke out. State and national human rights officials were at the ranch to investigate the gunfight. Officials seized 36 assault rifles, a rocket launcher and a powerful .50-caliber rifle, along with a number of cartridges. Some 500 federal police and troops were guarding the El Sol ranch following the morning clash. (Reuters)
Vehicles burn after a gun battle near Ecuanduero in western Mexico. More than 80,000 people have been killed and another 22,000 gone missing nationwide in the past nine years. The violence-prone western region poses one of the toughest security challenges to President Nieto since he took office in December 2012. (AP/PTI)
Mexican Federal Police stand guard near the entrance of Rancho del Sol. The battle on Friday followed two other recent unprecedented attacks by cartels, one that killed 15 state police officers and another that shot down an army helicopter with a rocket launcher for the first time in Mexico's history. The death toll from all three is at least 76 people at a time when the Mexican government claims crime is falling dramatically and the interior minister recently insisted the country "is not in flames". (AP Photo)
Federal police stand near the bodies of men who authorities say were suspected cartel. Black smoke billowing upward from vehicles set on fire during Friday's fighting could be seen for miles. Photographs from the scene showed bodies, some with semi-automatic rifles and others without weapons, lying in fields, next to farm equipment and on a blood-stained patio strewn with clothes, mattresses and sleeping bags. (AP Photo)