On the one hand, the Defense Department announced Thursday it would keep deploying troops to the southern border to assist Customer and Border Patrol through October 2021. On the other, the new limit is 4,000, a drop of 1,500 from the previous cap.
Effectively, Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Christian Mitchell confirmed to Military Times, that means about 1,000 troops are going home.
That will mean fewer reservists and active-duty troops but more Guardsmen deployed, he said, and they will be there on federal orders, entitled to the benefits that come with racking up those days.
Since Defense Secretary Mark Esper upped the capacity to 5,500 last fall, just over 5,000 personnel ― many of them from Texas and other border states ― have been supporting surveillance, logistics and detention missions at soft spots in the border, as miles of fence have gone up.
The Pentagon announced in February that it would kick in several billion more of its own dollars for contracting out by the Army Corps of Engineers, which would likely be the end of its monetary contributions.
“Based on where we are in the process, the ability to speed that up and deliver on the border barrier construction has obviously increased significantly,” Bob Salesses, the deputy assistant defense secretary for homeland defense integration, told reporters when asked when asked how they could estimate that all of the money required would be set aside this year.
“I don’t have anything specific, but it’s clear that we’ll be meeting the requirements that have been identified by the president to accelerate and build the border barrier as quickly and effectively as possible,” he said.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, construction has continued.
At the same time, more barriers have meant less need for troops to man the border, decreasing the Homeland Security Department’s need for back-up.
“The duties to be performed by military personnel include the same categories of support as those currently being carried out along the border, including detection and monitoring, logistics, and transportation support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mitchell said. “Military personnel will not directly participate in civilian law enforcement activities.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.