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Esper reverses on allowing active-duty troops to return to home bases

The Pentagon has reversed course on a move to send active-duty troops home from the Washington, D.C., region.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyPence pleaded with military officials to 'clear the Capitol' on Jan. 6: AP Alarming threat prompts early exit, underscoring security fears Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing MORE told The Associated Press that the plan to send home a portion of the roughly 1,300 active duty troops in the capitol region changed following internal Pentagon talks and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperThe paradox of US-India relations Overnight Defense: Trump-era land mine policy unchanged amid review | Biden spending outline coming Friday | First lady sets priorities for relaunched military families initiative Biden to keep Trump-era land mine policy in place during review MORE attending a White House meeting.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell also told The Hill there is no change to troop numbers in the area. 

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The active duty troops in the capitol region are “to remain on alert” but will stay outside the District proper, he said in a statement.

McCarthy at 10 a.m. Wednesday was first given notice of the Pentagon order to send 200 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne’s immediate response force back to their base at Fort Bragg, N.C. But hours later, the Pentagon notified him that Esper reversed the decision. McCarthy believes the change was to ensure there would be enough military support to potentially respond to any civil unrest as a result of area protests, the AP reported.

The 82nd Airborne troops “will stay over an additional 24 hours and it is our intent — we’re trying to withdraw them and get them back home,” McCarthy said. “It’s a dynamic situation.”

The active-duty troops - which have not been used - were ordered to the capital region earlier this week after growing protests and civil unrest over the death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody.

The Pentagon’s reversal comes after a break in messaging between the White House and the Defense Department reportedly caused tensions between Trump and his Pentagon chief.

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Trump, who has threatened to deploy troops to quash protests if governors do not “dominate” the demonstrators, was reportedly unhappy with a press conference given by Esper during which he announced that he opposes invoking the Insurrection Act, the 1807 law that would allow Trump to deploy active-duty troops around the country to respond to the protests.

“I say this not only as secretary of Defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard, the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations," Esper said. "We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sidestepped questions about whether Trump still had confidence in Esper, saying only that “should the president lose faith, we will all learn about that in the future.”