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US troops at border should ‘consider it a rifle’ if migrants throw rocks, Trump says

President Donald J. Trump talks with reporters along the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, prior to boarding Marine One to begin his trip to Fort Myers, Fla. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)
November 02, 2018

If migrants throw rocks at U.S. troops stationed at the southern border, the troops should “consider it a rifle” and that they’re being shot at when responding, President Donald Trump said this week, seemingly contradicting the military’s rules of engagement.

Trump was asked at a press conference on Thursday if he sees the military firing at migrants who are trying to cross the border.

“I hope not,” Trump said. “I hope there won’t be that. But I will tell you this: anybody throwing stones, rocks – like they did to Mexico and the Mexican military, Mexican police – where they badly hurt police and soldiers – we will consider that a firearm, because there’s not much difference when you get hit in the face with a rock.”

Trump told them to “consider it a rifle” if migrants throw rocks, he said.

“You saw that three days ago [in Mexico] – [the caravan is] really hurting the military. We’re not going to put up with that. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. We’re going to consider it – I told them: Consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military and police, I said: Consider it a rifle,” Trump said.

This week, Trump said that up to 15,000 troops could be sent to the southern border – which would be more than double the roughly 7,000 troops that are to be stationed there already – in advance of the migrant caravan making its way through Mexico to the United States.

This, after it was announced earlier this week that an additional 5,200 troops would deploy to the border. Such a number of troops is comparable to the number of troops currently deployed to Afghanistan.

There are several ongoing, concurrent missions taking place at the southern border:

  • Operation Secure Line, which is the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) mission to prepare for the arrival and attempted crossing of the migrant caravan;
  • Operation Guardian Support, which is the National Guard deployment of 2,100 troops via state governors to logistically support local law enforcement; and,
  • Operation Faithful Patriot, the most recently announced mission of 5,200 active duty U.S. troops to build barriers, erect wire fencing to secure gaps along the border and build tent cities, among other things.

It has been reported that not all deployed troops will be armed at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Newsweek reported this week on leaked documents that reportedly detail how troops are preparing for various situations at the border, from “unregulated militias to transcontinental criminal organizations,” and that those groups might be armed.

The U.S. Military’s Standard Rules for the Use of Force are explicitly outlined, and they include rules on self-defense and use of deadly force.

Task & Purpose spoke exclusively to Air Force Gen. Terrence John O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which is leading the operations at the southern border.

“The U.S. military personnel that are going have very clear guidance that we’ve given them: It’s the standard rules for the use of force. It’s similar to if we were going to any location within the United States, we have these rules in place for a reason,” O’Shaughnessy told T&P. “It allows us to have a very standardized set that applies to multiple situations. Our forces are trained to that. We are the most disciplined force in the world, from a military perspective. Secretary [Jim] Mattis has made it very clear that we are able to train; we are able to ensure that every airman, soldier, sailor, and Marine going there fully understands the rules for the use of force. We are, in fact, as an example, setting up training programs that’ll be all the way from a large scale mass training that will then go down to unit training. And then individual training where they’ll go through vignettes and operational consideration, that they will have that level of understanding exactly what it is to be expected of them. Then in addition that, we’re working with CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] to have training venues that will work with CBP to ensure that we fully understand each other’s rules for the use of force … to make sure that we are compatible in our operations, together.”

The caravan is comprised of an estimated 7,000 migrants mostly from Honduras. It is currently said to be about 800 miles from the border.

It was announced earlier this week that the Pentagon will deploy an additional 5,200 U.S. troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and troops would be sent from Texas, Arizona and California. The number was a sharp increase from the 800-troop deployment that was reported last week, as the migrant caravan heads through Mexico toward the United States.

The caravan of approximately 7,000 migrants is trekking northward through Mexico with the goal of entering the U.S. Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico have failed to stop the caravan so far, prompting President Trump to announce he would follow through with his threat and begin cutting foreign aid to those countries.

President Trump in April signed an order that deployed the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, when there was another, smaller migrant caravan en route to the U.S. at that time.

Trump had said prior to that, that he was sending the military to guard the border until the wall between the U.S. and Mexico can be built. The move would help prevent illegal crossings, the President has said.

About 900 U.S. troops were deployed in the spring, and Trump had said he wanted between 2,000 and 4,000 troops deployed. There were reportedly already about 2,000 U.S. troops deployed to the southern border prior to the most recent announcement.

Trump had previously said that the U.S. military and border authorities have been notified that the incoming migrant caravan is considered a national emergency.

“Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National [Emergency]. Must change laws!” Trump tweeted last month.

In October, Trump had warned that he would “call up” the U.S. military to close the U.S.-Mexico border if the migrant caravan was not stopped.