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2400 boots on the ground in search of a mission

26 May 2010

Boz, our “inside the beltway embedded blogger” on Latin American security issues  takes the news “1200 troops to border” one step beyond, and asks the obvious question:  to do  what?

How did the administration arrive at this mission? Under what authorities will the military will be doing intelligence activities inside the US? Aren’t there civilian agencies (FBI, DEA, etc) who could do that better than the National Guard? How does the military “support” counternarcotics enforcement if it is specifically forbidden from being involved in law enforcement? Will the troops be dealing with the south-bound flow of weapons and money too? How many people are Customs and Border Patrol hiring, how long will it take to hire and train them, and is the funding included in the supplemental money? What will the troops be doing on a daily basis? What are the rules of engagement? Are there geographic limits to their activities? How are we coordinating this with the Mexican military fighting on the other side?

I lived on the Texas Big Bend during the last “surge” — which not coincidentally ramped up when immigration and drugs surged as a political issue — and recall several unpleasant incidents.  Nothing too serious, and for the most part, people were ok with the extra guys around (the motels and restaurants loved the extra trade) but throwing people at the border, especially soldiers who had no understanding of the border culture (or just the basic demography of the region — Brewster County, where I lived is about half “Hispanic”, Presidio County about 85 percent).  Then, as now, it appeared the soldiers were being sent as “backup” to more Border Patrol and other federal agency paramilitary groups mostly to mollify politicians from outside the region who demanded “something must be done” about … what exactly?

Ramon Bracamontes, in the El Paso Times, leads off his report on the troop deployment:

EL PASO — President Barack Obama wants to send 1,200 soldiers and $500 million more to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Obama wants to help Mexico right itself from a drug war while assuring U.S. citizens that the border is secure. The White House staff on Tuesday announced the deployment plan, but would not say when or where on the border soldiers would serve.

Silvestre Reyes and Ciro Rodriguez — the two federal Representatives from the region — both support the deployment, but with reservations.

For Reyes (who worked for over 25 years as a Border Patrol officer and serves on both the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees in the House of Representatives) there is a dual mission:

“The important thing here is that there is a big difference between using the National Guard on the border in a training capacity, as opposed to just deploying soldiers to the border.

“This is a dual request. We get them to help with efforts on the border, and they get training that will help them when they go overseas.”

Which sounds as if sending soldiers to the border is meant to train them to fight “enemies”.  One thing I always heard from the soldiers when they were in the Big Bend (many having just returned from overseas assignments without getting a break) was that the region looked like Afghanistan.  It does, and the big worry was that WE were seen as the Afghans.

Congressman Rodriguez isn’t specially alluding to that worry (not shared it seems, by all his “Anglo” constituents) when he says:

“Although it’s not clear exactly where these troops will end up, we know they will have a narrowly defined mission and will be at our borders for the express purpose of shoring up existing law enforcement efforts…. Communities like Fort Hancock are living with fear, and that is not acceptable. I am glad that the White House has acknowledged the very real crisis and is sending support troops to the region.”

The “real crisis” of course, being the U.S. supported “drug war”, which this move seeks to escalate, creating even more of a “crisis”.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary O'Grady permalink
    26 May 2010 1:12 pm

    I fear we will only see more innocent casualties, like that poor teenage boy Esequiel Hernandez, shot by a US soldier in yeti-like camouflage.

  2. 26 May 2010 2:13 pm

    Good information. I’ve linked to it. When we lived in San Antonio up until four or so years ago, we frequently drove to the border — and crossed it. I keep thinking someone should take an extended and extensive video of the Texas border, at least, and show it like it is, pretty empty, or dotted with poorish colonias except around Ciudad Juarez, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo and the Brownsville-McAllen area. People I think get the narco stuff mixed up in their heads with migrants who are just very poor people straggling across.

  3. aikanae permalink
    28 May 2010 10:05 am

    After 9/11, Bush sent the national guard into airports – to do what? It was a show of force, mainly for the US and lasted 3 months. It had little to do with security.

    Obama was in a catch 22 of “show of force” or get branded as being “weak on terror” by the same people who’ll believe anything.

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