With active US forces on its border facing south, Esper finally speaks...

With active US forces on its border facing south, Esper finally speaks to Mexican counterparts

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Then-Defense Secretary Jiames Mattis meets with Mexico’s then-Secretary of National Defense, General Cienfuegos Zepeda (center) and then-Secretary of Navy, Adm. Vidal Soberon (right), at the Pentagon on May 22, 2017. (DOD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Defense Secretary finally spoke to his Mexican counterpart about the deployment of active U.S. forces on the border between the two nations, as the one year anniversary of that full deployment nears.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper called his Mexican counterpart on Monday and spoke for about 30 minutes, Pentagon officials told TMN. The contents of that call were not shared.

There are about 5,000 U.S. forces on the U.S.-Mexico border, making it the third largest deployment of troops in an active theater after the 14,500 in Afghanistan and the 5,200 in Iraq.

The U.S, deployment is roughly 2,900 active duty and 2,000 National Guard forces. National Guard troops first arrived in April 2018, while active forces began deploying around October 29, 2018.

In September, Esper told TMN he had been trying to call his Mexican counterpart, Luis Cresencio Sandoval Gonzalez, and that calls had been scheduled but fell through.

His predecessor, Patrick Shanahan, said the same thing when asked if he had communicated with Mexican defense officials. Mexico has two co-equal defense leaders — Sandoval who heads the Army and Air Force, and José Rafael Ojeda Durán, who heads the Navy.

In September 2017, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis became the first Pentagon chief to travel to Mexico for its Independence Day activities. That was only the fifth time a U.S. defense secretary went to Mexico.

That visit was before the deployment of U.S. troops to the shared border.

Since the deployment of the U.S. troops, there has been only one high level militry-to-military meeting between the two neighbors. That occurred in the spring of this year when Gen. Joe Dunford, then-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with his counterpsrts, Joint Staff officials told TMN.

In response to TMN’s question, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) — which is in charge of the border deployment — provided a statement that said, in part, how NORTHCOM “leads our military-to-military efforts with Mexico.

“We have a long-term partnership designed to help both nations better contribute to North American defense and security.  As such, our engagements and relationships with the Mexican military remain strong.  We regularly engage in areas such as logistics, communications, education and training opportunities, information sharing, exercises, familiarization visits between our two militaries, and routine mil-to-mil border security issues through regular contact and quarterly commanders’ conferences.  All of these activities help foster mutual understanding and interoperability,” the statement said, in part.

About 2,200 National Guard troops were initially deployed to assist the Department of Homeland Security on the U.S.-Mexico border under Operation Guardian Support. That deployment started in April 2018 and is open-ended.

Active-duty troops first arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border on Oct. 29, 2018, and reached 5,600 on Nov. 8, 2018. That number edged up to 5,900 and then dropped steadily until Super Bowl Sunday, when the Pentagon announced the deployment of 3,750 active troops.

The initial deployment, called Operation Faithful Patriot until the November mid-term elections, was to end in mid-December 2018. That was extended until Jan. 30, 2019, then extended again until Sept. 30, 2019, and then recently extended into 2020.

The last time U.S. forces were on the shared border was in 1916 and 1917, when they entered Mexico to chase the outlaw Pancho Villa. Those troops were awarded a special medal for that deployment.

Mexico has long been wary of the U.S. military, a concern that started with the U.S.-Mexico war of 1846 to 1848, in which Mexico lost half of its territory.

–By Tom Squitieri

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