U.S. service members currently deployed to the southern border can expect to stay there for another nine months. Although originally the deployment to the area was slated to conclude later this month, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced on Monday evening that the current operation would extend until September 30, 2019. The DoD did not mention how current troop levels may change nor what the additional costs of the extension might be; however, Stars and Stripes has reported estimated costs for all DoD activities in the region will surpass $70 million.
The extension was approved by acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan at the request of the Department of Homeland Security. The original deployment occurred under former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who resigned in late December. According to the Washington Post, Secretary Mattis was adamant that the military’s mission not include any type of law enforcement actions.
“We are not doing law enforcement. We do not have arrest authority,” said Mattis while speaking to reporters in November, 2018. The former secretary of defense did point out that certain military personnel may detain suspects who attack Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, but that the detentions would last “minutes, not even hours.”
The U.S. military’s mission at the border is changing, as well. Currently, operations require service members to guard points of entry, but under the new plan, soldiers at the border will begin focusing on “mobile surveillance and detection, as well as concertina wire emplacement between ports of entry.” Air assets currently deployed to the area will continue to support the DHS as well as the DoD.
The DoD’s deployment on the U.S./Mexico border began early in 2018, starting with a contingent of National Guard soldiers—the majority of units being air assets—in April. According to a report from Voice of America (VOA), President Trump ordered additional active-duty soldiers to the region in October. The number of service members deployed to the area is believed to have peaked at 5,800 in November. At the present time, Reuters is placing the number of troops at 2,350.
This extension comes during a partial government shutdown, which is centered around funding for a border wall. The wall has been a goal of President Trump’s since his presidential campaign. However, Democratic opposition has been vehemently against the construction of a barrier since Trump took office. The DoD’s operations at the border are not included in the discussion surrounding the wall.