U.S. General: ‘More Troops’ Needed to Secure the Southwest Border

National Guard along southwest border

Arizona National Guard soldiers train in August 2010 for an operation along the southwest border. Up to 1,200 National Guard troops were deployed to support the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the four southwest border states. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill)

(CNSNews.com) – More troops or law enforcement agents are required to secure the southwest border, National Guard Maj. Gen. John Nichols told CNSNews.com after testifying on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

First, however, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to formulate a comprehensive plan for border security that will allow the National Guard to “put forces in the proper place,” he added.

Nichols, who serves as the adjutant-general of the National Guard in Texas, indicated that he supports Gov. Rick Perry’s call for 1.000 troops to be deployed to the border in that state alone.

President Obama in 2010 ordered the temporary deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to the southwest border, but this year the number has been reduced to 300, with the focus shifting from ground observation to aerial surveillance. (President Bush sent about 6,000 National Guard troops to the border in 2006-2008.)

Tuesday’s hearing of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border and maritime security was entitled, “Boots on the Ground or Eyes in the Sky: How Best to Utilize the National Guard to Achieve Operation Control.”

After the general testified before the panel, CNSNews.com asked him whether it would be beneficial to deploy more National Guard ground troops along the border.

“You know, just like my governor said earlier, he’d still like a thousand troops on the border, just in Texas. But I still think there needs to be a comprehensive plan because simply putting troops on the border without a plan is not effective,” he replied.

“So there needs to be a comprehensive plan from DHS, coordinated with DOD [the Department of Defense], and then our force provider the National Guard can put the forces in the proper place.”

“Our border is still a sieve and we need more troops on the border, or some law enforcement agency, or troops to secure the border,” he added.

Nevertheless, officials from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of DHS, told lawmakers in prepared testimony that the Obama administration’s approach to border security has been effective.

“During Fiscal Years (FY) 2009 through 2011, DHS seized 74 percent more currency, 41 percent more drugs, and 159 percent more weapons along the southwest border as compared to FY 2006-2008 – these results demonstrate the effectiveness of our layered approach to security,” stated Ronald Vitiello, deputy chief of Border Patrol, and Martin Vaughan, the executive director of CBP’s office of air and marine in the southwest region.

Under President Obama, they added, DHS “has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology, and resources in support of our border security efforts.”

Brian Lepore, the director of defense capabilities and management issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) who also testified, echoed the general’s concern about the lack of a comprehensive DHS plan to secure the border.

“DOD officials expressed concerns about the absence of a comprehensive strategy for southwest border security and the resulting challenges to identify and plan a DOD role,” Lepore stated in his prepared testimony.

National Guard near California-Mexico border

Members of the California National Guard and Customs and Border Protection agents tour the San Ysidro Mountains on Aug. 4, 2010. The California Guard and CBP were working together to secure the state’s border. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica Inigo, California National Guard)

Lepore said that although the troops sent to the border were granted Title 32 status – allowing them to participate in law enforcement activities – “the Secretary of Defense has precluded National Guard forces from making arrests while performing border missions because of concerns raised about militarizing the U.S. border.”

Despite that, he said federal officials noted various benefits from a military presence on the southwest border.

“For example, DOD assistance has (1) provided a bridge or augmentation until newly hired Border Patrol agents are trained and deployed to the border; (2) provided training opportunities for military personnel in a geographic environment similar to combat theaters abroad; (3) contributed to apprehensions and seizures made by Border Patrol along the border; (4) deterred illegal activity at the border; (5) built relationships with law enforcement agencies; and (6) maintained and strengthened military-to-military relationships with forces from Mexico,” Lepore said.

Obama ordered the temporary deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to the southwest border in May 2010 to conduct entry identification, criminal analysis, and command and control, a mission known as Operation Phalanx.

Last December the DOD announced that the deployed force would be reduced from 1,200 to 300 troops by March 1, 2012.

According to Nichols’ prepared testimony Tuesday, the mission also changed “from a ground-observation mission to an aerial detection and monitoring mission.”

Nichols told CNSNews.com that of the remaining National Guard troops along the border, only some are now armed, “for their own protection.”  Prior to the reduction of troops, all had been armed, he said.

Perry has asked Obama and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas border. Texas accounts for 1,265 miles of the roughly 2,000 mile-long border between the U.S. and Mexico.

In February, Former DEA Chief Michael Braun said the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which the U.S. government has designated as a foreign terrorist organization, “have their eye on the southwest border and all of our country.”

 

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