By Ioan Grillo for TIME. They remind me of the Dirty Dozen. Except there are more than twelve of these guys. And they look more badass.

In that classic 1967 war movie, the Allies recruit twelve scarred convicts for a mission to parachute behind enemy lines and kill Nazis. The Allied command figures these murderers are the best men to murder murderers—and they don’t care if the men ever come back.

In 2014, the Mexican government made a similar calculation: It decided that gangsters were the best people to take out gangsters. In the Pacific state of Michoacán—one of the most violent and crime-ridden in the country—it formed an elite squadron with the job of hunting down leaders of the bizarrely named Knights Templar cartel. The unit was nominally part of a Rural State Force created that year to deputize vigilantes fighting the traffickers. But full-on mob assassins also jumped in, apparently to help take out their rivals. Many hailed from a gang known as Los Viagras in the market town of Apatzingán, a hub of drug traffickers. Others came from mountain villages nestled amid marijuana and opium fields.

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