WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has no plans to interact with migrants or protesters who may converge on the U.S.-Mexico border. When it comes to dealing with armed militias of U.S. citizens heading to the border, the Pentagon is uncertain on its plans.
“There is no plan to interact with migrants or protesters,” Pentagon spokesperson Col. Rob Manning told Pentagon reporters on Monday. “We don’t anticipate there will be that type of interaction.”
He said the active troops heading to the border — or some who are already in place in Texas, Arizona and California — are going through “vignettes” to rehearse how to act should they get face-to-face with an asylum seeker or for other likely scenarios. However, Manning said he did not know if those vignettes included dealing with armed militia.
“That only soldiers in that region to be armed are those who are providing force protection,” Manning said. “There are soldiers, not civilians. They have the discipline, they have the training for weapons control …and they are proficient. They are at their staging basis, going through vignette training, to make sure they are prepared.”
As for dealing with the militias, Manning said, “I don’t know. I’m not sure. I don’t know the composition of the vignettes.”
As of Monday morning there were 1,110 active duty troops in California, 1,100 in Arizona and 2,600 in Texas, Manning said. He said 5,200 active forces should be at the border by the end of the day and a total of 7,000 as early as Tuesday.
“It is a dynamic situation,”Manning said, meaning the numbers could change rapidly.
The troops are there to defend the country against what President Donald Trump called an invasion by asylum seekers.
The deployment, called Operation Faithful Patriot, is in support of efforts by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to deal with a caravan of asylum seekers traveling through Mexico seeking refugee status in the United States. News reports put the caravan size at about 3,500. Another 1,700 who had been in the caravan applied for asylum in Mexico or returned to their Central American homes, according to news reports.
Over the weekend various militias groups told news outlets they would be joining the troops at the border, bringing with them drones, camping supplies, weapons — and unclear rules of engagement.
Newsweek quoted from a Pentagon document for the border deployment that said roughly “200 unregulated armed militia members (are) currently operating along the southwest border” and that the militias “operate under the guise of citizen patrols supporting” border officials. Newsweek said the document emphasizes “reported incidents of unregulated militias stealing National Guard equipment during deployments.”
Manning said he did not see that report and does not know of those documents. However, he said military police that are part of the active troop deployment include safeguarding weapons and protection of active troops as prime missions.
Last month the U.S. Border Patrol — which specifically requested active troops from the Pentagon, Manning said — told landowners near the border to be aware of armed civilians heading to confront migrants, according to news reports.
Manning said the deployed active troops bring “an array of capabilities” that include hardening points of entry and key gaps in the border, setting up vehicle barriers and fencing, providing fixed and rotary wing support to move Custom and Border Patrol agents, medical teams and command and control facilities.
“These are the right units with the right capability that we could rapidly deploy and get into position,” Manning said. He said the numbers will not impact national security elsewhere.
“We are an agile military, we are an agile department, and we will adjust to make sure we do not atrophy,” he said.
Manning said the Pentagon would absorb the cost of the deployment but no cost estimate is available. “Our comptroller is working through that process right now.”