WASHINGTON - The National Guard is sending 1,200 troops to the Southwest border states to provide temporary support for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, officials announced Monday.

The citizen-Soldiers and Airmen will serve alongside federal agents for one year as an augmentation force. The troops will work to prevent illegal immigration and drug trafficking north of the border, as well as to counter weapons and cash smuggling going south, Alan Bersin, CBP commissioner, said at a Pentagon news conference.

The deployment will give CBP and the Department of Homeland Security the time to hire and train 1,000 more border patrol agents and CBP officers, Bersin said.

The deployment and measures to increase border patrol personnel, he said, are part of ongoing efforts to strengthen the border, he said. More than 340,000 illegal aliens and smugglers have been apprehended along the border since October, he added.

"What we have to do is continue ... to be able to deal with the transnational criminal organizations ...," Bersin said. "To this extent, the Guard has been a tried and tested support to law enforcement on the border, and I'm confident [it] will prove again this instance."

Troops are expected to begin deploying to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California by Aug. 1. All 1,200 troops should be on the ground by September, Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, National Guard Bureau chief, said at the news conference.

"We're very pleased to be in support of our interagency partners," McKinley said. "Our ramp-up will be over time, and we'll make sure that all our Soldiers and Airmen are well qualified, well integrated and well briefed on the mission at hand."

Some troops will work as criminal and intelligence analysts. Others will support CBP entry identification teams. Also, about 300 guardsmen are already on the ground working on counternarcotics teams, he added.

"These are efforts that I think will bring synergy and bring real teamwork together," he said. "I know our young men and women will do a great job."

Troops will be armed during the deployment for self-defense purposes only, the general explained. The CBP and border patrol agents "have the lead" and determine the amount of force necessary for certain situations, he added.

McKinley said. "[Guardsmen] will be taking the lead from the law-enforcement personnel who they will be assisting."

The troops will only be deployed on the United States side of the border and will follow the rules of engagement set by the agencies in each state. The troops will fall under the command and control of the state governors.

The border deployment does not hinder the Guard's mission overseas, McKinley said. Although states are providing guardsmen for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a "sizeable" number of troops remain available for duty, he said.

"Right now I cannot see a case where we would be overextending the National Guard in this effort," he said.

Page last updated Mon July 26th, 2010 at 15:25