WASHINGTON — Thousands of new active-duty troops are to be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to do what the Pentagon is saying are the same tasks now being performed by a smaller contingent.
Or maybe they will do something else. That the Pentagon is not ready to say.
The infusion of troops reverses the downward trend of the border deployment, a switch that began in mid-December. Left unanswered are how many additional troops will be added to the force and what they will do.
“We are supporting our federal partners on the border and that mission has been extended until September,” Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesperson, said in an email. “We are currently sourcing the units involved and there will be an increase of a few thousand troops. We will provide more clarity on the numbers when we have it.”
Roughly 2,350 active-duty troops are assisting the Department of Homeland Security in the border operation, down from the high of 5,900.
The original deployment of active troops — called “Operation Faithful Patriot” and starting before the November 2018 election — was to end in mid-December 2018. That deadline was extended to Jan. 30, 2019 and then, on Jan. 14, extended to Sept. 30, 2019.
However, when acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced that last extension, Pentagon officials said it was to transition the duties “from hardening ports of entry to mobile surveillance and detection, as well as concertina wire emplacement between ports of entry. DoD will continue to provide aviation support.”
Atop the list of duties: Install an additional 160 miles of concertina wire in Arizona and California, Pentagon officials said then. At the time, they said no significant increases in the deployment would be required.
“DHS has asked us to support them in additional concertina wire, and then expanded surveillance capability,” Shanahan told Pentagon reporters on Tuesday. “And we’ve responded with, you know, ‘Here’s how many people it would take, and this is the … timing and mix of the people to support that.’ ”
Shanahan would not detail what new tasks are being added to require the jump in troops. “Several thousand. I’ll leave it at that number,” he said. “It’s really around this mission of monitoring, surveilling and detection.”
There are also about 2,200 National Guard troops helping DHS under “Operation Guardian Support;” that deployment started in April 2018.
Similar questions were asked on Capitol Hill on Tuesday by members of the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on the border deployment.
“One portion of them (active troops) has been approved to be deployed through January of 2019. There will be additional deployments of active duty troops that will go through the end of this fiscal year, September 30th, in response to the latest request from the Department of Homeland Security,” John Rood, under secretary of defense for policy, told committee members.
However, he could not say what tasks they were to perform.
Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said it “is very, very rare to send troops to the border” and that he and others remain skeptical of the true intentions.
Rood said active troops were sent because they were ready to go, unlike National Guard forces that have to be called up from civilian ranks. However, that explanation contradicted previous ones from Pentagon officials, who said active troops were sent because of skill sets only they were able to provide.