Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Race for the Borders

I still do not think the president's plans for Guardsmen on the southern border — defined as "supportive roles only" — is nearly comprehensive enough, but I must admit I am impressed with the swiftness with which the implementation has begun.
The first wave of about 800 National Guard soldiers will head to the U.S-Mexico border as early as next week, including planners and leadership personnel who will stay longer than the planned 21-day missions, the National Guard chief told lawmakers Wednesday.

Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said 200 soldiers are preparing to go to the four border states — California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico — around June 1. He said the initial troops will be part of a longer-term force of project managers who will stay on the job over time to provide continuity in the new border program.
Homeland Security officials again stated that the Guardsmen will be armed for personal defense, but that they "would not do significant law enforcement duties"; rather, their supportive role would be to provide "engineering, road and fence building, transportation, logistics and surveillance and reconnaissance" for Border Patrol agents. I trust, however, that they their deployment orders would allow them to "defend themselves" if encountering any armed Mexican military incursions.

UPDATE: Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, gave the following report to members of the House Armed Services Committee today:
"This limited, temporary deployment will not adversely affect operational readiness or DoD's ability to conduct the global war on terrorism, nor hinder the National Guard's ability or capacity to aid their states in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency," Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, said in his prepared remarks. The maximum 6,000 National Guard members to support the mission represent just 2 percent of the Guard force, Blum noted. That number, even when added to the 71,000 National Guard members currently deployed in support of the war on terror, "still leaves a pretty robust inventory of over 350,000 citizen soldiers" to respond to hurricanes and other natural disasters, he said.

McHale told committee members the border-security mission will track closely with the counternarcotics mission the National Guard has been conducting along the southwest border for more than two decades. "The difference is the size of the force, and the commitment of resources will be far greater than anything we have done in the past," he said.

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