By Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON - The National Guard is sending 1,200 troops to the Southwest border states to provide temporary support for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, officials announced Monday.
The citizen-soldiers and airmen will serve alongside federal agents for one year as an augmentation force. The troops will work to prevent illegal immigration and drug trafficking north of the border, as well as to counter weapons and cash smuggling going south, Alan Bersin, agency commissioner, said during a Pentagon news conference.
The deployment will give the agency and the Department of Homeland Security the time to hire and train 1,000 more border patrol agents and agency officers, Bersin said.
The deployment and measures to increase border patrol personnel are part of ongoing efforts to strengthen the border, he said. More than 340,000 illegal aliens and smugglers have been apprehended along the border since October.
"What we have to do is continue ... to be able to deal with the trans-national criminal organizations ...," Bersin said. "To this extent, the Guard has been a tried and tested support to law enforcement on the border, and I'm confident [it] will prove again this instance."
Deployment set to begin by Aug. 1
Troops are expected to begin deploying to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California by Aug. 1. All 1,200 troops should be on the ground by September, Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, National Guard Bureau chief, said at the news conference.
"We're very pleased to be in support of our interagency partners," McKinley said. "Our ramp-up will be over time, and we'll make sure that all our soldiers and airmen are well qualified, well integrated and well briefed on the mission at hand."
Some troops will work as criminal and intelligence analysts. Others will support the agency entry identification teams.
Troops operating in those capacities are undergoing training now, McKinley said. Also, about 300 guardsmen are already on the ground working on counter-narcotics teams, he added.
"Those are specifically the jobs that we've been asked to do," McKinley said, noting those specialties are well within the "job jar" of the National Guard.
"These are efforts that I think will bring synergy and bring real teamwork together," he said. "I know our young men and women will do a great job."
Weapons are for self-defense
Troops will be armed during the deployment. However, their weapons are for self-defense purposes, the general explained. The agency and border patrol agents "have the lead" and determine the amount of force necessary for certain situations, he added.
"Self-protection means just that, that if under some kind of danger, they are able to protect themselves, to extricate themselves from the situation," McKinley said. "(Guardsmen) will be taking the lead from the law-enforcement personnel who they will be assisting."
The troops will only be deployed on the United States side of the border and will follow the rules of engagement set by the agencies in each state, the general said. The troops will fall under the command and control of the state governors, he said.
"We have done this before," he said. "It is common practice for our soldiers and airmen to follow the leads, to only take that action which is necessary to extricate themselves from the situation and not be provocative."
The border deployment does not hinder the Guard's mission overseas, McKinley said. Although states are providing guardsmen for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a "sizeable" number of troops remain available for duty.
"Right now I cannot see a case where we would be overextending the National Guard in this effort," he said.