WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced this afternoon that Defense Secretary James Mattis has approved sending active-duty troops to the border as a caravan of Central American migrants moves slowly on foot north from southern Mexico.
The statement said Mattis approved the request from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to provide “mission-enhancing capabilities” to DHS and Customs and Border Protection “in addition to the previously authorized support to CBP’s Operation Guardian Support mission.”
“The DoD will provide Defense Support of Civil Authorities with planning assistance, engineering support (temporary barriers, barricades and fencing), fixed and rotary wing aviation support to move CBP personnel, medical teams to triage, treat and prepare for commercial transport of patients, command and control facilities, temporary housing for CBP personnel, and personal protective equipment for CBP personnel,” the Pentagon said. “USNORTHCOM will be in the lead for the duration of the operation and is in support of Customs and Border Protection.”
No other details were provided, such as how many personnel will be allocated to the mission or how much it will cost.
The caravan is still nearly 2,000 miles from the border, a journey that would take weeks on foot. It began Oct. 12 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and only recently crossed from Guatemala into Mexico.
The growth trajectory of the caravan, estimated by the UN’s International Organization for Migration at some 7,000 people on Monday, appears to be reversing due to illness and injury, groups splitting up, people returning home, and more than 1,700 migrants applying for asylum in Mexico. The Mexican government estimated Wednesday evening that 3,630 migrants were still headed on the journey north.
When a similar caravan arrived at the U.S. border in April, migrants experienced lengthy delays waiting at ports of entry to apply for asylum. The U.S. government has been talking with the Mexican government about potentially holding the migrants in Mexico while their claims are processed in the U.S.
President Trump tweeted on Thursday, “To those in the Caravan, turnaround, we are not letting people into the United States illegally. Go back to your Country and if you want, apply for citizenship like millions of others are doing!”
Nielsen told Fox News on Thursday that “all of the rules of engagement are up to Secretary Mattis.”
“The rules of the engagement for us are the same as they’ve always been. For DOD, we’re still in discussions and we’re working them out. We’re waiting to see what the caravan’s going to do, what numbers are looking like, what the — where they’re headed. Each port is different, as you know; you’ve been to one port, you’ve been to one port. So the needs will be different,” she said.
“But what we want to do is bolster. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that what we saw in Guatemala, between the Guatemala and Mexican border, we do not see here. So we’re bringing everything we can to protect the ports of entry and all the people who work at them.”
Asked if members of the military could shoot at people trying to cross the border, Nielsen replied, “We do not have any intention right now to shoot at people; they will be apprehended, however. But I also take my officers and agents, their own personal safety, extraordinarily seriously. They do have the ability, of course, to defend themselves.”
“I will not tolerate Mexicans or anybody else acting in a violent way towards our men and women on the border,” she added.