TrumpWatch, Day 440: Pentagon Frets But Trump Orders US Troops to Mexico Border

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Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis in Norfolk, Virginia, July 2017 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Frustrated over The Wall, Trump moves ahead without consulting Pentagon


Developments on Day 440 of the Trump Administration:

Homeland Security Secretary Announces National Guard Deployment

Despite the concerns of the Pentagon, Donald Trump implements his demand that US troops go to the Mexico border.

After Trump’s surprise declaration on Tuesday, without consulting the Pentagon, that National Guards units would be deployed, “several current and former Defense Department officials” told media of worries about picking a fight with Mexico. They noted that the message of hostility, amplified by Trump’s Twitter messages in recent days, would come as the US military is facing challenges such as the Islamic State, North Korea, Russia, and the Syrian conflict.

“We are so lucky here in this country when you look at our borders,” said retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton. “We’ve got the Pacific on one side, the Atlantic on the other and allies to the north and the south. Mexico is not an adversary. Why would you present this offensive barrier to a friendly country?”

But Trump, egged on by hard-right, anti-immigration advisor Stephen Miller, pressed ahead yesterday. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — not Defense Secretary James Mattis — announced the deployment of the National Guard:

The White House line is in sharp contrast to that just over a year ago, when it said reports of mobilization of up to 100,000 National Guard troops to round up undocumented immigrants were “irresponsible”. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “That is 100% not true. There is no effort at all to round up, to utilize the National Guard to round up illegal immigrants.”

Defense Department officials said Secretary Mattis accepts the deployment if it is similar to those under George W. Bush and Barack Obama when troops were sent in a support, but not enforcement, role. The active-duty military is generally barred by law from carrying out domestic law enforcement functions.

Bush sent more than 6,000 National Guard troops in 2006, in the two-year Operation Jump Start, to repair a secondary border fence, construct almost 1,000 metal barriers, and fly border protection agents by helicopter to intercept immigrants. In 2010, the Obama Administration put almost 1,200 National Guard troops in place for a year, assisting Customs and Border Protection with surveillance and intelligence gathering while CBP hired additional staff.

Pentagon officials on Tuesday said they knew of Trump’s desire to step up border security, but are not sure about the extent or his plans for implementation.

The officials said yesterday that they are concerned that Trump — upset by the failure to get full funding for his $25 billion Wall with Mexico — will be unsatisfied to keep deployments at the level of the Bush and Obama Administrations.

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