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DHS says military needed on southern border 3-5 more years, ‘possibly more’

U.S. Marines walk along the California-Mexico border, Nov. 30, 2018. (Spc. Ethan Valetski/U.S. Army)
February 24, 2021

Military personnel will be needed along the southwestern border of the United States for a minimum of three more years, according to Department of Homeland Security officials.

A new report released Tuesday from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) explained that troops and equipment from the U.S. military are tasked with removing vegetation in which migrants hide, maintaining the Border Patrol’s vehicles and providing detection, monitoring and surveillance support.  

Those missions will be required for at least three to five more years, “possibly more,” Homeland Security officials told the GAO.

“DHS officials plan to request assistance from DOD for at least the next 3-5 years, according to DHS officials that served on the Interagency Planning Team,” the auditors said.

According to the GAO, the department was prepared to provide support at the southern border for several more years under former-President Donald Trump, but President Joe Biden’s administration could impact the department’s stance on the situation.

The Department of Defense is obligated to remain at the southern border through September when the 2021 fiscal year ends.

The GAO’s audit also found that the Defense Department did not file reports to Congress explaining the costs of providing support at the border, adding that the department is also measuring the costs incorrectly.

The Accountability Office recommended both departments coordinate their plans for ongoing defense assistance at the border.

Officials at the Pentagon rejected the office’s recommendations, defending their approach to measuring costs and adding that establishing a formal relationship between Homeland Security and the DOD on border operations would cross a line, the Washington Times reported.  

“DOD support is provided to assist DHS in filling temporary gaps in capabilities needed to achieve DHS border security objectives,” wrote Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert G. Salesses. “Agreeing to a common outcome beyond fiscal year 2021, which would represent a more permanent and enduring commitment of DOD resources, may create an impression that DoD has a border security mission.”

Salesses said that while the Defense Department is providing backup, Congress should properly fund the DHS so Homeland Security doesn’t depend on the DOD for border security.

“Since April 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has submitted 33 requests for assistance (RFA) to the Department of Defense (DOD) for support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) mission at the southwest border,” the report found.

According to the GAO, the DOD has supported Homeland Security’s mission at the southern border since 2002, helping to combat illegal activity including illegal entries, smuggling of drugs and contraband and terrorist activities.