Critics Question Using Nat'l Guard Troops at the Border
NOAH ADAMS, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand.
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ADAMS: But first.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: It is important for Americans to know that we have enough guard forces to win the war on terror, to respond to natural disasters, and to help secure our border.
ADAMS: That was President Bush, last night, from the Oval Office at the White House. He is calling the National Guard to the border with Mexico. As many as 6,000 more troops, to help the border patrol there. Joining me is David McGinnis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He keeps track of National Guard issues. Welcome, Mr. McGinnis.
Mr. DAVID McGINNIS (National Security Analyst, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Thank you.
ADAMS: Now, there have been a few National Guard for quite a while, at that southern border, yes?
Mr. McGINNIS: The Guard's been working the border for a longtime, dating back to the mid eighties with the war on drugs. And after 9/11, they've been doing work, from time to time, to help secure the border.
ADAMS: But the president's asking to go up perhaps, from 200 to as many as 6,000. That's a pretty big deal.
Mr. McGINNIS: It's a significant increase. And it will help the Border Patrol free up commissioned Border Patrol officers, to get back on the streets, to use a colloquialism. In addition, it's going to allow their operation to be enhanced by additional surveillance; and also construction efforts to deny the ability to cross the border in certain areas; and also to give them more mobility around the border area.
ADAMS: It would be, for the Guard, for the National Guard, strictly a support mission for the Border Patrol - which is intended to be increased, anyway.
Mr. McGINNIS: It is a support mission. I'd have to disagree with the president saying it's not a law enforcement mission. The constitutional role of the guard has only one military function, that's to repel invasion. And the rest of its constitutional functions are civil, as enforcing law. That's why you see the guard used a lot, by governors, in crisis. And in the past, by presidents.
ADAMS: What about the cultures here, border patrol, National Guard? When groups of law enforcement agencies start showing up at different scenes, there's always a little bit of a tension.
Mr. McGINNIS: There is, but I would say that there's a long history with the guard and police agencies on the border. Most of those road bumps have already been overcome, probably over a decade ago.
ADAMS: If I'm in the National Guard, in, let's say, Iowa, and I'm sent to the border to help out. How long would I be expected to stay?
Mr. McGINNIS: That hasn't been determined yet. But my guess is, it would be in terms of weeks, rather than months. They're talking a total of about 156,000 possibly being tapped for this. I think that's rather high with 6,000 as the top number actually on the border. We've maintained rotations like this in the past - even nation building in South and Central America - where we've kept the mission going by rotating guardsmen on three week cycles, and overlapping them, or rotating them in on a little bit longer cycles. We've also maintained the Northern watch and Southern watch in Iraq, before the invasion, with the Air Guard doing the same thing. So there's a lot of experience in the Guard, for approaching these types of operations without putting a lot of demand on the people.
ADAMS: You know when you just pick up any day's newspaper, you find the Guard in a big role in Iraq, and now you have the Border Patrol help. And you have hurricane season coming up, and forest fires, and flooding along the Northeast Coast. How can there be enough people left in the National Guard to do this?
Mr. McGINNIS: Well there's about 50,000 deployed overseas, right now as, we speak. And that leaves us about 400,000 left. I think there's more than enough guardsmen to deal with this. My main concern is equipment. I don't think the guard has a people problem, but I know the guard has an equipment problem. Iraq and Afghanistan have required the guard to leave most of their equipment overseas, because the Army doesn't have enough equipment for the entire Army. And now we have a guard back here with about 38 percent of the equipment they should have. The Army guard is down to that level. Most of it is obsolete. So that's my real concern, that the guard is going to have the vehicles and radios that they're going to need to be able to pull this mission off.
ADAMS: David McGinnis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thank you, sir.
Mr. McGINNIS: You're welcome, sir.
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