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Mattis: DHS may request extension of troops at border support mission

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks to reporters at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2018. (Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/Department of Defense)
November 29, 2018

Defense Secretary James Mattis suggested that the border support mission may be extended, keeping U.S. troops at the southern border longer than anticipated.

Mattis told reporters outside the Pentagon on Monday that an extension for the border support mission was under consideration, though the Department of Defense had not received an official request yet, Army Times reported.

“The ports of entry I think are pretty much done,” Mattis said. “There’s a little on the flanks of a couple of them we are still working on. So we’ll have to see if the request extends further.”

“You haven’t received one yet?” one reporter asked him.

“They’re working on it right now,” Mattis replied.

He noted that DoD officials were assessing the situation at the border to identify needs that would determine if an extension was necessary. DoD staff are reportedly working up the details of a potential extension in preparation for such a request.

“There are discussions about extending the mission,” a defense official told NBC News, “but without a formal request, it may not actually happen. It still depends on if DHS wants to make the request or not.”

The extension could last for 45 days.

Last week, reporters asked Mattis if troops would return home by Dec. 15, when the mission was originally scheduled to end.

“That’ll be mission-dependent, situation-dependent if they need to be extended,” he said. “So some of those troops certainly will be home, I would anticipate they would be. But some troops may not be or some new troops may be assigned to new missions. But this is a dynamic situation.”

Mattis said again on Wednesday that a DHS request for an extension had not yet been received.

“We are closing out the [DHS] requests for assistance by meeting the requests. In some cases, those requests have been modified, either reduced or removed altogether, or broadened, and we work daily on it,” Mattis said, according to Washington Examiner. “Right now, we have no new requests, although we are discussing every day the situation. So I can’t forecast what that will be.”

The possibility of an extension comes less than a week after a clash at the border on Nov. 24. A group of approximately 500 migrants from the Central American caravan attempted to rush the border and overcome blockades.

Border patrol agents deployed canisters of tear gas to break up the rush of migrants. Some of the migrants became combative, throwing the tear gas canisters back at the agents, along with rocks.

After the incident, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen vowed, “I will continue to aggressively support DHS personnel as they work to safely secure our border.”

At least 42 migrants were arrested by U.S. agents for illegally breaching the border, although no charges were filed against them. Mexican authorities also arrested dozens more migrants, vowing to deport those who were verified in connection with the “illegal” and “violent” acts.

Approximately 5,900 U.S. troops were recently deployed to the southern border, in addition to 2,100 National Guard troops deployed earlier in the year to assist with general border security efforts in addressing illegal immigration.