WASHINGTON — For the moment, the border wall demanded by President Trump is going down— not up.
The dismantling happened despite the visit of the two top leaders in the Pentagon, who even took time from their weekend border reconnaissance mission to shoot a few practice rounds of a riot control weapon.
In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said Sunday that eight prototype designs for Trump’s proposed border wall that shimmered on the California-Mexico began to be taken down. They cost up to $4 million to build and put in place; CBP said the show slabs are being removed for a more permanent structure.
The removal began as Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Gen. Joe Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were on what one Pentagon spokesperson said was a “reconnaissance mission” to the U.S.-Mexico border.
During the border visit, the two men took time to shoot a few practice rounds of a riot control weapon — even though the active duty troops they dispatched to the border are not supposed to engage in crowd or riot control.
Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, a spokesman for Shanahan, told reporters the firing of the non-lethal paintball had “no broader message,” according to the media pool report.
“During a reconnaissance of the southern border today to determine requirements to support CBP, Acting Secretary Shanahan received a capabilities briefing from CBP agents. During a portion of that briefing, a CBP officer demonstrated the equipment and then offered the Secretary an opportunity to put ‘hands on’ the equipment,” Buccino said to reporters.
Dunford’s spokesperson offered a similar response.
“During his visit to the southwest border today, Gen. Dunford received briefings and observed demonstrations from CBP officials detailing current border control efforts. After watching a demonstration by a CBP officer who was proudly employing his equipment (in this case, a non-lethal paintball gun), he offered Gen. Dunford the chance to try it, so he did,” Col. Patrick Ryder said to reporters.
The two were joined byClaire Grady, the acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, and uniformed officials with U.S. Northern Command and the Army Corps of Engineers, in what was described as inspecting border areas vulnerable to drug smuggling, according to Pentagon officials who briefed reporters prior to the trip.
The media was forbidden to write about the trip until after it occurred.
President Trump is seeking to transfer $3.6 billion in military construction funds and $2.5 billion of Pentagon drug interdiction money to pay for new construction of the wall he seeks on the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Friday, two senior Pentagon officials said much of the anti-drug money to be transferred would be used to construct and put in place sensors and cameras, fencing, lighting, and roads related to drug-smuggling corridors.
The two officials briefed reporters on the condition they not be identified. They said efforts to get the money transferred are being “expedited.”
However, they saw it could be months before construction begins, even without legal or political roadblocks.
“We’re talking a matter of weeks for the assessment leading up to the decision by the secretary and then we’re looking at months for the actual implementation to the point of construction, breaking ground, and then we’re talking longer than months for the completion of the construction,” one of the senior defense officials said.
Whoever is defense secretary is required by law to make a determination that military construction funds switched for a border wall are being used to support the armed forces, there is no checklist roadmap to make that decision, the officials said.
“There are no formal criteria for that assessment,” one of the officials said. He said that Shanahan “will make a very deliberate decision per the law but the law does not proscribe explicit criteria.”
There are 2,900 active-duty troops and 2,100 National Guard troops on the border in support of Customs and Border Protection. That number is expected to rise to about 6,000 by March, the senior officials said.