Pentagon has few answers on Trump's National Guard plan

Pentagon has few answers on Trump's National Guard plan
© Getty Images

The Pentagon on Thursday had few details to provide regarding President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE's plan to deploy the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Officials would not say whether Trump's newly signed proclamation late Wednesday would be paid for with Defense Department dollars long stressed as needed for military readiness. Details were also scarce as to how the Pentagon will support the plan, which is intended to address a "surge of illegal activity" along the border, according to administration officials.

Chief spokeswoman Dana White could not say when or how many troops would be deployed, did not have cost estimates for the endeavor and didn’t say whether state or federal dollars would be used.

ADVERTISEMENT

Instead, she told reporters that the Pentagon is establishing a new Border Security Support Cell, led by Kenneth Rapuano, the assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense and global security.

The cell will be made up of several Department of Defense (DOD) representatives serving as the back-and-forth coordination between DOD and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is leading Trump’s charge, and “will last for the foreseeable future,” White said.

She added that the National Guard’s efforts at the border will “act in support of border patrol agents who are performing law enforcement duties,” and will include aviation, engineering, surveillance, communications and vehicle maintenance.

White could not say whether guardsmen would be armed or if they will perform patrols with border security agents, adding that the new support cell will help answer such questions.

Trump on Tuesday announced he wants to deploy U.S. troops to guard the southern border until his proposed wall is built.

“Until we can have a wall and proper security, we are going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump said at the White House, while sitting next to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

ADVERTISEMENT

“That's a big step. We really haven't done that before, or certainly not very much before.”

The Pentagon and DHS have yet to pinpoint the number of troops to be sent and the dollar amount needed for such a deployment.

It cost about $415 million when former President George W. Bush deployed 6,000 National Guard troops to the southern border in 2006 to assist the Border Patrol while more agents were hired and trained. Those dollars came from the Air Force and Navy accounts.

Former President Obama made a similar deployment in 2010, sending 1,200 National Guardsmen there.

When pressed on how the troops would be funded, White said the new support cell “is going to figure out all of those things. We still need to see the requirements. . . . We will have more details about cost but we literally have just stood this up.”

She would not confirm that the money would not come from the Pentagon’s operation and maintenance account, which is used for military readiness.

The president has shown frustration at the $1.6 billion Congress has allocated for a border wall, rather than the $25 billion he requested in the omnibus as part of his campaign promises on border security.

Trump has since looked to the military to help him pay for his endeavor. He and Mattis first discussed using Pentagon funds for the wall, but that would require an unlikely congressional approval to reallocate federal dollars.

Instead, Trump now has requested that the military build walls for at least one military base along the border.

White confirmed that the Pentagon was looking at the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range as a possible place to build such a stretch of wall. The land is a bombing range near the Mexico–United States border in Wellton, Ariz.

“We are looking at places where DOD owns land to see where we can fortify along the border where that makes sense. There’s at least one installation that we’re looking at, but we will continue to look at other opportunities where we can fortify in support of the border control,” White said.

There is already some fencing around the range but “it has been identified as a possibility to reinforce it,” she added.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, have pushed back at using military money to bolster the border with either a wall or troops.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryTrump stokes backlash with threat to use military against protesters House pays tribute to late Congressman Sam Johnson on the floor Bipartisan Senate panel leaders back fund to deter China MORE (R-Texas) earlier this week said he supports deploying Guard forces to the border, but not at the expense of the military.

“My view is that the funding sources need to come from the appropriate place. If they’re doing law enforcement, border patrol work, that’s who needs to pay,” Thornberry told the Times Record News.

“We cannot view the military as a cash cow to meet any national need that comes up, because we have real military needs.”

When asked about Thornberry’s comments, White insisted readiness remains the department's top priority and that “resources will still be dedicated to ensuring that our warfighters get what they need when they need it.”