Mattis to visit troops deployed to border Wednesday

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Defense Secretary James Mattis will visit the thousands of U.S. troops deployed at the southern border Wednesday, he and the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

In brief comments to reporters ahead of meeting with Qatar’s defense minister, Mattis said he would visit the U.S.-Mexico border the following day.

A Pentagon statement later added that Mattis will travel Wednesday to McAllen, Texas, to “meet with service members currently deployed in support of the southwest border mission.”

The Pentagon has deployed about 7,000 soldiers and Marines to Texas, California and Arizona to support Customs and Border Protection operations on the border. About 2,800 troops are in Texas.

President Trump ordered the deployment ahead of the midterm elections as he focused on a caravan of about 4,000 asylum-seekers that is traversing through Mexico to the U.S. border.

Trump has said the deployment could grow as high as 15,000 military personnel, more than the Pentagon’s official count for the number deployed to Afghanistan.

Trump cast the caravan as an “invasion” that the military would stop from entering the country.

But the military is barred in most cases from enforcing U.S. laws on U.S. soil, including immigration laws. Tasks the deployed troops have done so far include putting up barbed wire and erecting tents for customs officers.

Critics called the deployment a political stunt meant to invigorate Trump’s base ahead of the midterms.

A day after the elections, the Pentagon announced it was no longer using the name “Operation Faithful Patriot” for the mission.

The Pentagon has yet to release a cost estimate of the deployment. One study projected a cost between $42 million and $110 million.

On Tuesday, Mattis pledged to update reporters on costs “as they become known.”

“Obviously the units executing the border mission have got to report them right up here,” he said. “We are capturing the costs.”

Mattis’s Wednesday trip will also include a stop at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. There, he will attend a ceremony marking the beginning of the process to return of the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines, according to the Pentagon statement. The U.S. Army took the bells from a church in 1901 as a reprisal for an attack during the Philippine-American War.

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