WASHINGTON — The general in charge of sending military troops to the border with Mexico said Tuesday that no one knows how many troops eventually will be deployed or how much it will cost.
What Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command, does know is this caravan of migrants traveling north through Mexico are “different than what we’ve seen in the past.
“What we have seen is clearly an organization at a higher level than we have seen before,” O’Shaughnessy told Pentagon reporters at an impromptu late afternoon news conference. “We’ve seen violence coming out of the caravan, and we have seen as they pass other international borders — we’ve seen them behave in a nature that we have not seen in the past.”
O’Shaughnessy was responding to a reporter’s question if the caravan included terrorists, as President Donald Trump has alleged. The general said intelligence showed the make-up of this caravan is different but would not provide examples of any differences.
He said 5,239 troops are slated for the border as of 3:15 EDT Tuesday for Operation Faithful Patriot. The troops are arriving first in Texas, then will flow to Arizona and California, he said. They will use military bases in those states as jumping-off points to help secure the entire border, he said.
“The 5,239 are going forward and there will be additional forces over and above the 5,239,” O’Shaughnessy said. That number “is not the top line” and anyone saying a firm number does not know what they are talking about, he said.
“We will continue to adjust,” he said.
The number of migrants in the caravan depends on the report being read. What started out as 7,200 now is placed at around 4,000 by many news organizations. A second caravan with about 1,000 persons is reported leaving from Guatemala, also with the U.S. as its destination, according to news reports.
The caravans are composed mostly of individuals who are allegedly seeking asylum in the United States because of harsh economic or dangerous political conditions in their home nations, primarily Central American countries. According to multiple news reports, such caravans have occurred since 2008.
Trump has said the caravan includes Middle Easterners, gang members and “some very bad people.” He has vowed that the military will stop the “invasion.”
O’Shaughnessy said there may be a few “incidental” incidents involving direct contact between active military troops and the migrants but he would not define “incidental.” Most of the active troops will be armed and are authorized to use force in self-defense.
He did not have a cost estimate for the deployment.
A deployment of 5,239 to the border would outnumber the publicly announced number of troops in Syria, which is roughly 3,000, and exceeds the roughly 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. There are also about 15,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
On Monday, O’Shaughnessy told reporters the mission will include transporting Customs and Border Protection personnel, providing medical care, building crossings for vehicles and stringing concertina wire — a form of barbed wire. The troops’ duties also will involve constructing facilities to house CBP agents along the border, he said.