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House Armed Services chairman: Another 3,500 troops heading to the U.S.-Mexico border

U.S. Marines with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, walk along the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Point of Entry in Winterhaven, California, Nov. 30, 2018. U.S. Northern Command is providing military support to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to secure the southwest border of the United States. (Spc. Ethan Valetski/U.S. Army)

Another 3,500 active-duty troops will deploy to the U.S.-Mexico border, House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith revealed Thursday in a news release blasting Pentagon officials’ unwillingness to discuss openly in Congress the military’s involvement along the southern border.

Defense officials were called to a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday to discuss the military’s border mission and failed to disclose that additional troops would be sent to the border, Smith wrote Wednesday in a letter to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan admonishing them for withholding information.

“I am deeply troubled that the witnesses did not disclose the upcoming increase in [National Guard], reserve, and active-duty personnel, even though we asked them multiple times during a two-and-a-half-hour hearing what would happen next on the border,” Smith, D-Wash., said in a statement about the letter. “They never mentioned it, despite the fact that the secretary of defense was revealing an increase in personnel that same day. This was at best an error in judgment, and at worst flat-out dishonesty.”

Minutes before defense officials testified Tuesday to the House committee, Shanahan held a news briefing with Pentagon reporters were he revealed a few thousand more troops would be deployed to the southern border.

“The members of the committee would have been extremely interested in discussing what the 3,500 troops going to the border in response to [the Department of Homeland Security’s] latest request will be doing there,” Smith said. “This is a violation of the executive branch’s obligation to be transparent with Congress, which oversees, authorizes, and funds its operations. It also raises questions about whether the Department thinks the policy of sending additional troops to the border is so unjustified that they cannot defend an increase in public.”

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On Thursday, a defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity did not dispute that an additional 3,500 active-duty troops will deploy to the southern U.S. border. He said they could be there by mid-February.

With the 2,300 active-duty troops already deployed in Texas, California and Arizona, the military will have 5,800 troops along the border within weeks. There are also 2,270 National Guard members deployed to those states as well as New Mexico. All the troops are expected to remain along the border through fiscal year 2019, which ends Sept. 30.

Troops are providing various duties in support of Customs and Border Protection agents on the border. Military engineers at the border have already laid 70 miles of concertina wire along the ports of entry, but are now being asked to place an additional 150 miles on existing barriers between ports of entry in Arizona and California by March 31. Military police have and will continue to serve with Border Patrols agents and protect them should it become necessary. Medical and aviation assets also have deployed in support of Border Patrol.

At the height of troop deployments in early November, about 5,900 active-duty servicemembers were stationed along the border. Troops levels reached its current status at about Christmas, Navy Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, director of operations for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, said Tuesday during the House hearing. John Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy, also gave testimony.

Smith also said Thursday that he and Shanahan had a phone conversation and the congressman received more details about the upcoming border deployments.

“But a phone call is not a substitute for transparency before Congress and public candor,” Smith said. “Does their refusal to publicly discuss what they are doing indicate that this is a policy they believe they cannot defend in an open public hearing before the full Armed Services Committee, where all 57 members have the opportunity to ask questions?”

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