On Tuesday evening, the Pentagon announced it had extended the deployments of nearly 2,300 National Guard troops in Washington D.C. through May 23.
The announcement amounts to a two-month extension in the deployment, which was set to end on March 12. President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin approved the latest deployment extension, which was requested by Capitol Police last week.
Currently about 5,000 troops remain in D.C., so about half that number will remain in the city for the two month extension.
At its peak, the D.C. Guard deployment saw around 26,000 troops flood the streets of the city in the days after demonstrators entered the U.S. Capitol building, clashed with police, and forced the building into a lockdown.
The latest deployment extension comes a week after lawmakers in the House of Representatives rescheduled hearings and votes, out of concerns of another possible attack at the Capitol on March 4. No such attack or security incident ever materialized on that day. The theories about a March 4 attack on the Capitol were based on FBI and DHS assessments of QAnon-related claims.
Speaking with reporters earlier on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Johnathan Kirby said the extension is partly linked to assessments of specific threats in D.C., but also to help fill gaps in the capabilities of the Capitol Police.
“The Guard presence on the Hill, while certainly there to address a requirement that is based on law enforcement’s concerns, is also there to help bolster and support the Capitol Police and their capabilities, which may not be at the level where it needs to be, given the fact that we’re in sort of a new environment in this country,” Kirby said. “So it’s not just about a threat assessment. It’s about assisting and supporting capabilities that the Capitol Police may now lack and may need to look at improving on their own, in their own sense, and I think that, again, without speaking to the Secretary’s decision here, that I think that’s largely what was behind the extension request was.”
Asked if the National Guard mission in D.C. will become an enduring mission, potentially extending beyond even May, Kirby said, “I don’t think anybody can answer that question right now. Right now, we’re really dealing with a specific request for assistance for an additional couple of months extension at a reduced number from what we’re seeing now.”
Kirby added, “I’m in no position to speculate beyond that.”
The extension also comes amid complaints from lawmakers and state governors about the continued need for the troop deployment and concerns about the conditions troops have been exposed to while in D.C.
Republican Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas abruptly pulled all of their state’s troops from D.C. after thousands of troops were kicked out of a Senate office building and forced to shelter in a parking garage. Troops have also reported problems being served inedible food while in D.C., including undercook meat, moldy bread and reportedly even metal shavings and worms. At least 50 troops have reportedly been sickened by the food catering while deployed in D.C.
Sen. Tom Cotton, (R-AR) has said, since Jan 27, that the mission of the initial troop deployment is complete and the guard should be sent home. Other Republican lawmakers have also joined calls for the troops to be sent back to their home states.
Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI), whose home-states troops were among those served contaminated food, said “it’s past time to get our National Guard troops back home to Michigan.”