Defense Secretary Mattis to visit U.S. troops stationed on southwest border
Defense Secretary James Mattis will travel down to the U.S.-Mexico border on Wednesday, to meet with U.S. commanders and troops carrying out the White House-mandated border security operation.
Mr. Mattis announced plans for his visit to the thousands of active duty U.S. service members deployed to the southwestern U.S., supporting Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Police-led operations, during a joint press conference with Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah at the Pentagon Tuesday.
The Pentagon chief provided little detail as to which units he would be visiting or which military commanders or Homeland Security officials he would be meeting with as part of the trip. The visit comes as the Defense Department confirmed late last week that a majority of the 7,000 American troops ordered by the Trump administration to the U.S. border were on location in Texas, Arizona and California.
The largest U.S. troop contingent has been deployed to Texas, with nearly 2,800 American soldiers on station there, with 1,500 based along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and another 1,300 along the border in California, according to troop counts provided by U.S. Northern Command last Thursday.
“The [Department of Defense} has a long history of support for DHS and CBP in their mission to secure the U.S. border. All units supporting [Northern Command’s] mission to support CBP will adhere to authorities, law and policy,” command officials said in the statement.
Mr. Trump last month said as many as 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops could end up being sent to the border, to prevent a growing caravan of thousands of Mexican, Central and South American migrants seeking refuge in the United States. Administration critics claim the troop deployment was politically motivated, in an attempt by the White House to generate support among the Republican voter base ahead of last Tuesday’s midterm vote.
Mr. Mattis and others at the Defense Department dismissed claims that the border security mission was a political ploy designed to gin up GOP voter turnout. “We don’t do stunts,” Mr. Mattis said when asked if the border security mission was the result of a political stunt.
However, a day after the midterm vote, Pentagon officials quietly dropped the moniker for the border mission dubbed “Operation Faithful Patriot” characterizing the effort as a “border support” operation. Department officials declined to explain why the Pentagon had taken the unusual step of dropping an operational title.