Department Of Defense Shares Details Of Massive Troop Deployment To Border
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Defense Department is sending 5,200 active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. This follows an order from President Trump last week when he said the group of migrants from Central America moving toward that border poses a national security threat. Here's Air Force General Terrence O'Shaughnessy who's in charge of Northern Command.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GEN TERRENCE O'SHAUGHNESSY: We know border security is national security. And the U.S. military will advance CBP's capability to harden the border.
KELLY: NPR's Tom Bowman is at the Pentagon, and he joins me now.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So there were already something like 2,000 National Guard troops deployed to the border. Right? Is this 5,200 active duty on top of those existing 2,000?
BOWMAN: This goes beyond the 2,000. And those guard troops are providing support duties such as transportation, aerial surveillance, that kind of thing. And the guard is not taking part in any law enforcement activities. And these additional 5,000 or so active-duty Army troops will also be in a support role - again, no law enforcement activity, no interacting with migrants, we're told.
But this new group of soldiers will provide more support to Border Patrol. First, they'll do what's called hardening border entry points in California, Arizona and Texas, creating more car barriers, more razor wire fencing at crossing points. And they'll also transport border agencies to more remote locations by cargo aircraft and helicopter. There's also a surge, by the way, of hundreds of additional border agents. So these soldiers will also build camps, provide housing, medical assistance, camp kitchens for these additional border agents as well.
KELLY: And I presume this is all legal. There's a law called Posse Comitatus which prohibits military forces from acting as law enforcement inside the borders of the U.S. This is all legit?
BOWMAN: Well, that's what the officials say. They made clear these troops will not take part in any law enforcement duties. They're only in a support role again. And the Posse Comitatus law dates from the post-Civil War era in the 1870s. And that was a reaction to federal troops being used in former Confederate states. And that law prohibits the military from engaging in any law enforcement activities. So officials say they're well aware of the restrictions on these troops.
KELLY: You mentioned that these troops are not going to have contact with migrants. Will they be armed?
BOWMAN: Well, some of them will be armed. They say those who would normally carry arms will continue to carry arms. They didn't specify exactly who. But clearly, military police would be carrying arms. As far as which others would be carrying arms - or if any others - we just don't know at this point. They didn't specify.
KELLY: OK. What's the precedent for this, Tom - for sending 5,000 active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border?
BOWMAN: I don't recall a precedent for sending active-duty troops. There have been some sent in the past - and again - in a support role. And in this case, you know, it's a pretty large number. It's called Operation Faithful Patriot. These troops will be doing everything, again, from constructing camps, flying Border Patrol agents. So you have engineers, planners, military police, pilots, medical personnel, cooks, even lawyers and public affairs staff. And again, General O'Shaughnessy was asked - well, wait a minute - why is this being done? You're talking about the same number of troops now in Iraq...
BOWMAN: ...And maybe - not as many as in Syria. And he basically brushed that all aside, and again, he said, border security is national security.
KELLY: All right. That's NPR's Tom Bowman getting us up to speed on the latest developments at the Pentagon.
Thank you, Tom.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.