WASHINGTON, March 12, 2009 - As President Barack Obama considers deploying National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to control escalating violence, Arizona's governor has requested about 250 more National Guard troops on its border with Mexico, and the Texas governor is considering a similar action.
"We're going to examine whether, and if, National Guard deployments would make sense and in what circumstances they would make sense as part of this overall review of our border situation," Obama told reporters yesterday, according to media reports. The White House confirmed his comments, made during a media roundtable session.
"I haven't drawn any conclusions yet," Obama said. "I don't have a particular tipping point in mind."
While emphasizing that he does not want to "militarize" the border, Obama called it "unacceptable if you've got drug gangs crossing our borders and killing our citizens."
"I think if one U.S. citizen is killed because of foreign nationals who are engaging in violent crime, that's enough of a concern to do something about it," he said.
The president noted that Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Mexico last week to meet with his Mexican counterparts about the situation and to discuss additional support the United States could provide.
Meanwhile, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates requesting 250 more National Guard Soldiers to be posted along the 350-mile Arizona-Mexico border.
Although Brewer has the authority to call up the troops, she asked Gates to mobilize them as part of the federally funded Joint Counter Narco-terrorism Task Force. That force currently includes about 150 Army and Air National Guard members.
"Arizona communities and citizens are negatively affected by the impacts of the illegal drug trade and related border violence, and enforcement agencies in all jurisdictions are stretched as they attempt to address the enormity of the problems," Brewer said. "The support these additional Soldiers can provide to law enforcement agency operations would prove invaluable."
In neighboring Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has expressed the need for more troops or border agents along its border with Mexico. Perry reiterated at a ceremony last week the need for more help to disrupt operations of the Mexican Mafia, Texas Syndicate, Barrio Azteca, MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters today it's too soon to know if additional military support will be granted.
The last major federal National Guard mission along the U.S.-Mexico border was Operation Jump Start. The two-year mission, from June 2006 to July 2008, dispatched as many as 6,000 National Guard members to Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas to make the border more secure for legal immigration and commerce until the U.S. Border Patrol could boost its own ranks.
Guard members did not serve in a direct law-enforcement role, but provided vital reinforcement to the Border Patrol. Their missions included engineering, aviation, entry identification teams, and a wide range of technical, logistical and administrative support.
By the time the mission ended in July, more than 30,000 citizen-Soldiers and -airmen from across the nation had participated.
Whitman emphasized that the proposed border mission, if ultimately approved, would have a very different purpose and timeline than Operation Jump Start.
In the meantime, the United States is exploring other ways it can help Mexico deal with escalating violence, he said. "We continue to offer Mexico assistance in any number of ways," he told reporters.
The Merida Initiative, for example, provides Mexico and several other countries funding to counter drug trafficking, and the U.S. military has a strong military-to-military partnership with Mexico. The United States also is providing Mexico foreign military financing for five helicopters, a maritime surveillance aircraft and handheld scanners used for detection purposes, Whitman said.
"The U.S. government as a whole is concerned about the escalating violence and its effect on public security as well as the Southwest U.S. border," he said. "I think that what you are seeing is a recognition of the problem that is facing the Mexican government, and as good neighbors, the United States is looking at any number of ways in which we might be able to render some additional assistance."