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DOD Officials Testify on Military Support to Southwest Border

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John C. Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy and Navy Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, the Joint Staff director of operations, told the House Armed Services Committee today that the support DOD personnel provided allowed Customs and Border Patrol agents to deploy where they were most needed.

Defense officials emphasized that service members deployed late last year to the Southwest border area, only to support civilian law enforcement agencies.

Rood told the House committee that DOD has provided support to civilian agencies on the border going back to the early 1990s. DOD personnel have enabled law enforcement agents to concentrate on “border security activities, counterdrug activities and activities to counter transnational organized crime and other transnational threats,” Rood said.

Active-duty and Reserve component personnel have provided this support in the past as they are doing today. The military has supported the agents with aerial reconnaissance, ground surveillance, search and rescue support and medical support.

DOD has loaned civilian agencies such capabilities as aerostats, ground surveillance radars and ground sensors.

Presidential Order

The basis for the current mission on the border is found in President Donald J. Trump’s April 2018 memo on “Securing the Southern Border of the United States.” The president directed DOD to support the Department of Homeland Security in “securing the Southern Border and taking other necessary actions to stop the flow of deadly drugs and other contraband, gang members, and other criminals and illegal aliens into this country.”

National Guard personnel were the first to be deployed to the region. They were joined later by active-duty forces. Rood emphasized that “military support has been, and will continue to be provided consistent with the law, including the Posse Comitatus Act.”

Military personnel have supported civilian law enforcement efforts, but do not directly participate in law enforcement activities such as search, seizure, and arrest, the undersecretary said.

Gilday noted that the Department of Homeland Security and DOD are intertwined in the mission to protect the U.S. and its citizens. Personnel from the two agencies work together daily to ensure the safety of Americans from the threats of natural or manmade disasters, cyberattack and border threats. There is no better example of this close partnership than “the ongoing efforts of our active and guard personnel supporting Customs and Border Protection along our southern border today,” the admiral said.

Types of Support

Gilday spoke of the support that National Guardsmen have provided to the Border Patrol since April and what active-duty personnel have accomplished since October. The guardsmen have been supporting the agents via Operation Guardian Support. They have provided administrative, logistical, and operational support tasks, he said.

Active-duty military personnel “have supported CBP's Operation Secure Line since October in the areas of aviation, engineering, facilities and medical support,” he said. They have also provided protection for Customs and Border Patrol personnel performing their federal functions at ports of entry along the border.

“This support is now transitioning to the operation of mobile surveillance cameras in support of CBP and all nine border patrol sectors across four states,” Gilday said. “And the emplacement of concertina wire on existing barriers at areas designated by CBP between ports of entry in Arizona and in California. We believe that our military's presence and support have served to increase the effectiveness of CBP's border security operation by enabling them to focus on their law enforcement duties at our ports of entry.”

The situation on the border is not static, Rood said, and both DOD and Homeland Security are adjusting responses to fit the threats. DOD will continue to “work with the services, the National Guard Bureau and U.S. Northern Command to evaluate mission requirements and associated risks,” he said.

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