Pentagon more than doubles active-duty troops deployed to border

Sgt. Fabian Barreto, 104th Engineer Construction Company, surveys the border wall along the Arizona-Mexico border in November as part of the Pentagon's support of border-security operations. The Defense Department said it is sending 3,750 more troops to the border in the effort. (Photo by 2nd Lt. Corey Maisch/U.S. Army)

By Andrew Howard

WASHINGTON – The Defense Department said it will send an additional 3,750 active-duty troops to the southern border to support Customs and Border Protection officers by stringing razor wire, helping operate mobile surveillance equipment and other support activities.

The 90-day deployments will bring the number of active military on the border to 4,350, an announcement that came just days before President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday in which border security is likely to play a large part.

It also came as Trump again raised the specter of caravans of Central American migrants heading north through Mexico toward the U.S. border, as he did in October when the first active-duty troops were deployed there.

While he did not specifically mention troops in a Sunday tweet, Trump called on Republicans to protect the border “with caravans marching through Mexico and toward our Country.”

This deployment is an extension of a Trump policy that began in April, when the president called on border-state governors to send National Guard troops to assist Department of Homeland Security operations there. Just under 2,100 guardsmen were eventually deployed, funded by federal dollars.

In October, the president ordered the deployment of the first active-duty soldiers, an operation that peaked at 5,900 troops. That number gradually tapered off until Sunday’s announcement.

A Pentagon spokesman said in an email Monday that the deployment follows up on a troop authorization approved Jan. 11 by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Capt. Bill Speaks’ email said the troops will provide support to Customs and Border Protection that “includes a mobile surveillance capability through the end of September 2019, as well as the emplacement of approximately 150 miles of concertina wire between ports of entry.”

No troops, whether active or guard, can be involved in the apprehension of immigrants but can only offer support services, such as maintaining vehicles, manning surveillance equipment and helping fortify border barriers and ports of entry.

Chris Montoya, a retired Border Patrol agent, said there were times when National Guard troops helped on the border, citing a time when a guardsman knew how to fix underground border sensors, something his agents did not know how to do.

Aside from those instances, however, he said soldiers may not be the best help at the border because of the way the military is trained. He said the military “has a different mindset … it doesn’t really apply to civilian policing.”

“Migrants and military don’t mix,” said Montoya, in Washington Monday as part of a Cato Institute panel on border security. “They are trained to fight an enemy … they are going to get bored over time. Will they begin to perceive migrants as the enemy?”

In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee last week, two top Pentagon officials defended the deployments, saying they have helped Customs and Border Protection “to do their duties at ports of entry.”

Defense Undersecretary for Policy John Rood and Vice Adm. Michael Gilday also said the Pentagon has “a long history of supporting efforts to secure U.S. borders,” beginning in the early 1990s. That was echoed by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who said the latest deployments are in line with “the sort of things that we have asked the military to do for a long, long time.”

But Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, said he was “deeply troubled” by last week’s testimony, which included no hint of additional deployments on the same day that Shanahan was predicting that the border operation would require “several thousand” more troops. Smith, the chairman of the committee, said that was despite the fact that committee members asked Rood and Gilday “multiple times” about future deployments.

“They never mentioned it,” Smith said in a letter to Shanahan last week. “This was at best an error in judgment, and at worst flat-out dishonesty.”




  1. When 30-40% of Border Patrol agents are tasked with caring for sick aliens instead of protecting our border it seems to me support would be welcome. How about 10,000 trafficked children used for sex trade coming across unprotected border every year. The Army has protected South Korea for decades. The nay-sayers sound like open border, big government democratic registrators for illegal voters.

  2. to bad the ARMY is living in tents on DM – if those coming across the border are worried about ARMY mistakes – don’t come over. I believe our ARMY is very good, much better than in my era – the areas of the world they come from requires much restraint in general operations – they have performed very well – I believe better than expected in a war zone – that now that mission is the US border… a sad day indeed. Make the drug war proactive – go after those making and shipping drugs from where they come from, where they start, where they manufacture.. drone them. Waiting to catch them as they come across the border has been a 40 year failure of policy.

  3. Better that U.S. military forces be used actually to protect these United States than be stationed all across the world not defending us.
    But, there certainly is a potential, and very serious problem: Unless they get very specialized training, and are tightly controlled by trained officers, there is, as noted in the article, too much possibility of killings, of killings of unarmed and non-threatening civilians.
    It has happened before.

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