Pentagon To Send Thousands More Active-Duty Troops To U.S.-Mexico Border

Jan 31, 2019
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Pentagon is sending thousands more active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Orders were signed today for an initial deployment of 2,400 troops with more to follow. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now with more. Hi, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Is this a surprise?

BOWMAN: You know, it really isn't. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan raised the issue publicly at a White House meeting a few weeks back. And, of course, troops were first sent to the border last year in the run-up to the midterm elections. Now, the numbers have since come down, but the Department of Homeland Security asked the Pentagon for more assistance.

So today, orders were signed for another 2,400 active-duty troops to be sent to the border within a couple of weeks, another 1,100 active troops within a month. And they'll join the active-duty troops there already, about 2,300, with the Guard troops there, another 2,100. And they'll be stringing concertina wire, providing mobile surveillance transport for Customs and Border Protection.

SHAPIRO: Why does the Trump administration say these troops are needed right now?

BOWMAN: Well, there's a lot of wire to string, a lot of razor wire - 150 to 160 miles mostly in California and Arizona. And the additional active troops will bring the numbers back up to the original force of almost 6,000 that were deployed last fall. Now, President Trump says the numbers of migrants heading to the border - it's a crisis, a threat to national security. He said it's an invasion. But there's a lot of skepticism in D.C. and along the border about whether this is necessary.

And also at the Pentagon, people I talk with say, listen; this is a waste of money. You don't use active-duty troops for this. You can use - they don't believe there is a crisis or an invasion. They say you can use some Guard troops for this. And, of course, all of this is happening in the midst of a fierce debate about whether to provide funding for the border wall President Trump wants to build.

SHAPIRO: Right. Members of Congress are negotiating on that right now. How do they play into all of this?

BOWMAN: Well, members of Congress - two days ago, there were - Pentagon officials testified before the House Armed Services Committee about military assistance at the border. John Rood, who's the undersecretary of defense for policy, was there. And he basically didn't mention anything about these additional troops heading to the border.

And today, the chairman of the committee, Democrat Adam Smith of Washington state, put out this blistering statement. He said he only learned about the deployment by making a phone call to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, although Shanahan mentioned it at a press briefing. I actually asked him about this. Are you going to send more troops? He said a few thousand. So Adam Smith, the congressman, put out a statement saying, quote, "this was at best an error in judgment and at worst flat-out dishonesty by Pentagon officials."

SHAPIRO: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman on the deployment of thousands more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.