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Guard border deployment creates issues for Pentagon

Guard border deployment creates issues for Pentagon
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One month after President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation MORE’s unexpected move to deploy the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, the Pentagon is quietly pushing ahead in moving thousands of troops and equipment south.

At least 1,500 guardsmen have now been sent to the border to curtail a “surge of illegal activity,” according to Trump, amid outstanding questions about the cost of the endeavor, how long troops will stay and how warranted the move is.

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Rep. Vicente González (D-Texas), whose district includes a stretch along the southern border, said he’s seen no real change on the ground in his area since the Pentagon began sending troops last month.

“I’m all for security and law and order, but it’s just such a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars,” González told The Hill. “I haven’t seen any abrupt changes on the border. I’ve been here for the past week, so other than making political news, I haven’t seen any real changes on the ground.”

Trump appeared to take his own administration by surprise when he made his April 2 announcement that he wanted 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,” he said.

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: US, South Korea cancel another military exercise | Dozen sailors injured in chopper crash on aircraft carrier | Navy vet charged with sending toxic letters US, South Korea cancel another military exercise Top US Afghan commander drew his sidearm during this week's attack: report MORE followed the order with a memo authorizing the placement of up to 4,000 National Guard troops on the border.

Trump, who made immigration a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, has repeatedly come back to the topic, most recently at a tax-reform roundtable in Ohio on Saturday when he said that people might “have to think about closing up the country.”

“They don’t want the wall, but we’re going to get the wall, even if we have to think about closing up the country for a while,” Trump said. “We’re going to get the wall. We have no choice. We have absolutely no choice. And we’re going to get tremendous security in our country.”

Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have now sent two requests for assistance to the Pentagon’s new Border Security Support Cell, which was hastily established to help coordination between the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Homeland Security.

It’s estimated that it will cost $182 million to keep 2,093 guardsmen at the border through the end of September, which represents just more than half of the personnel approved.

The amount covers $151 million in pay and allowances for the 2,093 personnel, as well as $31 million for 12,000 flying hours for 26 UH-72 Lakota helicopters, according to a defense memo on the amount.

The Pentagon has only approved the support through Sept. 30, though Trump has indicated the troops will stay at the border “until such time as we get the wall.”

Demands from state executives are also causing headaches for the Pentagon.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last month said the state would accept funding for 400 Guard troops, but he said they wouldn’t all be sent to the border and stipulated conditions.

“This will not be a mission to build a new wall,” Brown wrote in a letter to Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenBolton heads to Moscow for high-stakes meeting with Russians Tucker Carlson says he 'can't really' dine out anymore because people keep yelling at him Top Judiciary Dems call for unredacted 'zero tolerance' memo MORE. “It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.”

Instead, the mission will focus on combating criminal gangs, human trafficking, and drug and gun crimes along the border, the California coast and within the state itself, Brown  said.

“The location of Guard personnel — and number specifically working in support of operations within the state, along the coast and at the U.S.-Mexico border — will continue to be dictated by the needs on the ground,” Brown’s office said in a statement.

The Pentagon’s April memo also stipulates that the guardsmen are not to perform law enforcement activities or interact with migrants or other individuals detained by Homeland Security without his approval.

These limitations, said González, raise real questions about the helpfulness of having the troops at the border,

“They have different rules of engagement, they’re not able to make the arrests that a CBP officer does,” he said. “We have a shortage of CBP officers.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryThe Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Trump knocks NY Times tax story as 'hit piece' | FBI faces pressure over Kavanaugh | Collins calls Trump remarks on Ford 'plan wrong' Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump signs bill funding Pentagon, averting shutdown | F-35 price drops below M | Iran threatens US bases Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump caps UN visit with wild presser | Accuses China of election meddling | Pentagon spending bill clears House | Hawks cheer bill | Lawmakers introduce resolution to force Yemen vote MORE (R-Texas) has voiced concerns that the deployments would take away dollars that the Pentagon has said are needed to make the military more ready for combat.

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

Thornberry did not include any provisions in the House version of the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, released fully on Monday, that would prevent Pentagon funds from being used at the border.   

The Defense Department’s Border Security Support Cell, meanwhile, meets daily to discuss updates on its progress and the Pentagon’s role in border security, according to a department spokesman.

Representatives from about a dozen offices at the Pentagon, including homeland defense, the National Guard, legislative affairs, public affairs and personnel, meet anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to discuss a range of issues, the spokesman added.

“It has really gone through a lot of issues. When you’re putting 2,000 people at the border across four states there’s a lot of logistics,” he said.

Pentagon legislative representatives are in contact with lawmakers to give regular updates.

“They were doing a daily update for the first couple of weeks, now it’s once a week if there’s something to add,” the spokesman said.

“This is not new, we’ve had somebody down there for a long time doing some variety of mission for years,”
the spokesman added. “It may not be the exact same mission but under previous administrations, DOD met that support.”

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, and former President Obama made a similar deployment in 2010, sending 1,200 National Guards troops there.