Pentagon to send a 'few thousand' more troops to southern border

Pentagon to send a 'few thousand' more troops to southern border
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The Pentagon will send “a few thousand” more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanAllies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump Acting Pentagon chief: 'We have not made any decisions' on wall funding Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants MORE announced Tuesday.

Shanahan said the military is supporting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in its recent request for an extension of the Pentagon’s mission at the border. That request also called for more assistance in laying additional concertina wire and expanding surveillance.

“We’ve responded with ‘here’s how many people it would take, and this is the timing and mix of people,’” Shanahan said during his first press conference at the Pentagon since taking on the acting role on Jan. 1.

Asked how many people the Pentagon will send, he replied: “Several thousand. I’ll kind of leave it at that.”

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Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col Jamie Davis said later in a statement that the department is “currently sourcing the units involved and there will be an increase of a few thousand troops. We will provide more clarity on the numbers when we have it."

There are about 2,350 active-duty troops currently at the southern border after they were first deployed shortly before the midterm elections last year.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE ordered the deployment in October 2018, claiming that a caravan of asylum seekers traveling north from Central America was a risk to national security.

Troop numbers peaked at 5,900 during the mission, which was originally supposed to end Dec. 15, but has since been extended twice, first to Jan. 31 and now to Sept. 30. The mission will cost $132 million by the end of the month, according to director of operations for the Joint Staff Vice Adm. Michael Gilday.

The troops have been supporting DHS by installing concertina wire and providing logistics, medical assistance and surveillance. Shanahan emphasized that the troops’ role was “not about undertaking a law enforcement position.”

He added that he has had numerous conversations with House Armed Services Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump’s state of emergency declaration imperils defense budget Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Papering over climate change impacts is indefensible MORE (D-Wash.), who he said “wants to ensure that there’s been transparency and oversight” in the movement of troops to the border.

Democratic lawmakers the same day pressed top Pentagon officials on why active-duty troops were deployed to the southern border and continue to be, as it is unusual to use active-duty troops for such a role.

“While border security is always a challenge, there’s really not much evidence that right at the moment it is a crisis that would call for the – if not unprecedented, then highly unusual – step of sending active-duty troops to the border,” Smith said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

Focus on the military’s role at the border has increased in the last month as the government was partially shut down over Trump’s demands for $5.7 billion to build his promised border wall.

The shutdown ended on Friday, with Trump giving lawmakers three weeks to reach an agreement over border security funding.

But the president has threatened to either shut down the government again in mid-February or declare a national emergency to sidestep Congress in an effort to build the wall if lawmakers do not offer funding. Such a move would almost certainly face a legal challenge.

Shanahan said it’s “not something that’s unique and unprecedented” for presidents to declare national emergencies, noting other presidents have declared emergencies in the past.

He added that U.S. code allows the president to reallocate military construction funding if such dollars are not already obligated.

Shanahan noted, however, that all military construction funds for the year are already allocated.