WASHINGTON — The flow of U.S. active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border is likely to slow or cease, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said — just as asylum seekers are arriving at the demarcation line.
“We’re pretty much peaked in terms of the number of people that are down there right now,’ Shanahan told Pentagon reporters.
Shanahan agreed with Defense Secretary James Mattis who said that the troops essentially have performed all the supporting role tasks assigned to them by Customs and Border Protection officials. Mattis said additional needs are being discussed with the Department of Homeland Security, according to news reports.
The deployment of the active forces, under what was called Operation Faithful Patriot, has the authority to last until December 15. “There’s still a number of days between now and the 15th of December, so that can always be amended,” Shanahan told Pentagon reporters on Thursday.
Deployment of active troops to the U.S.-Mexican border started around October 28.
There are roughly 5,800 active troops at the border, with the deployment range earmarked to around 7,000. At one point President Trump said he would order between 10,000 to 15,000 active troops to the border to confront what he termed an “invasion” of asylum seekers.
The commander of the border mission, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, told Reuters news service on Thursday that he will assess the situation next week and then consider either sending some troops back to home bases or relocating to other border positions.
Troops are currently station at makeshift facilities in Arizona, California and Texas. Their primary duties have focused on stringing concertina wire and constructing barriers.
Estimates of the size of the asylum seekers have been put at roughly 3,500, down from a top estimate of 7,000. They are traveling from Central American nations to flee harsh economic, political and human rights conditions, according to news reports.
The Associated Press news service reported Friday that an estimated 2,000 asylum seekers have reached Tijuana, Mexico, preparing for processing with U.S. border agents.