House Armed Services chairman demands transparency on border troops

House Armed Services chairman demands transparency on border troops
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The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is asking acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan for transparency on the Pentagon’s plans to send additional active duty troops to the U.S.-Mexican border.

In a letter sent Thursday, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said he was “deeply troubled” by the responses given by Defense Department officials during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. During that hearing, Democrat lawmakers pressed the officials on why active-duty troops were deployed to the southern border and continue to be.

“Significant information, such as increases in active duty personnel, was not shared by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, John Rood, when testifying about Department of Defense support to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at the southern border,” Smith writes.

“At best this was an error in judgement, at worst this was knowingly withholding information from this committee as it performs its oversight responsibility.”

Smith also said Rood failed to “reference an increase of active duty military personnel, nor offer personnel numbers or estimates to support that mission.”

The same day as the hearing, Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon that the military will send “a few thousand” more troops to the southern border as part of its role in supporting DHS in its recent request for an extension of DoD’s mission at the border.

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

Smith writes that it is “disappointing and disconcerting that Undersecretary Rood, when asked comparable questions could not or would not share similar information with the committee.”

President Trump in October 2018 ordered active duty troops to be deployed to the border – shortly ahead of the midterm elections - 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 deployment is unusual as National Guard troops historically take on such a mission. 

There are about 2,350 active-duty troops currently at the border, and the mission will cost $132 million by the end of the month, director of operations for the Joint Staff Vice Adm. Michael Gilday said Tuesday at the hearing.

The troops have been supporting DHS by installing concertina wire and providing logistics, medical assistance and surveillance.

“The number one thing that the House Armed Services Committee wants from the Defense Department this Congress is transparency. We did not get full transparency during this week’s hearing about DOD support to the southern border,” Smith said in a statement accompanying the letter.

Smith added that he has followed up on the hearing with a phone call to Shanahan, who has provided more details on the increase.

“I appreciate his willingness to discuss it with me, but a phone call is not a substitute for transparency before Congress and public candor,” Smith said.