The head of the U.S. National Guard surprised Border Patrol officials, declaring some of the troops he will send to assist them will work in close proximity to the border, be armed and allowed to fire their weapons if necessary.
Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum
“Any soldier assigned to a mission where he would be placed in harm or danger, where his life would be threatened potentially, will in fact be armed and will have the inherent right of self-protection,” Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum told the San Antonio Express-News Thursday.
Federal troops are scheduled to begin deployment to the four states on the Mexican border next week once the Guard and the Defense Department approve the memorandum of understanding that will define the mission’s parameters. The document will also require signatures from the border governors.
Representatives from the National Guard and the offices of the governors of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California have been meeting in Phoenix this week to craft an agreement on the use of force. The talks have focused on “harmonization” of the different states’ laws on self-defense and the use of deadly force, said Texas National Guard commander Army Maj. Gen. Charles G. Rodriguez.
The rules of engagement “will be the same in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas,” said Blum.
According to the current plan, the National Guard will conduct border securty operations for two years while the Border Patrol and U.S. Customs increase their numbers. The number of troops deployed at any given time would represent less than 2 percent of available Guard forces, none of which will be assigned from states likely to experience hurricanes this year.
While the Guard will assist with many support functions – conducting aerial surveillance and reconnaissance, building new roads and fences, providing intelligence and analysis to help track illegal crossings, transporting Border Patrol officers and detainees, and assisting with a number of logistics functions – some of their duties will put them in close proximity to the border and illegal crossers.
Troops stationed at vehicle inspection stations and engineers working along the border could be armed, said Blum, with M-16s, 9-mm handguns and shotguns.
“But we’re not going to be carrying machine guns. We’re not going to be carrying heavy weapons. We’re not at war here,” Blum said, adding he wants his troops “to be in a position to protect themselves.”
Blum pointed to a long-standing relationship between the National Guard and the Mexican government stemming from past cooperative drug-interdiction efforts to say he doesn’t believe the Guard’s presence will be viewed negatively by Mexico. Among Mexicans, he said, the Guard is viewed “in a far more positive light than they would active-duty troops.”
Border Patrol spokesman Todd Fraser expressed surprise that the Guard would be carrying out surveillance operations in close proximity to the border, saying his understanding was that troops would work in support roles repairing and maintaining Border Patrol vehicles, manning remote-surveillance cameras and giving agents advanced firearms training.
“As far as I know, a National Guard unit deployed along the border, right on the line, that’s not a scenario I had heard about,” said Fraser.
When told that Guard troops working as entry identification teams and engineers along the border would be armed and would not be required to wait for someone else to shoot at them first before using their weapons, Fraser termed the rule “silly.”
“If [a Guardsman] has to fire, he has a right to fire,” Blum said. “There are judgment calls that have to be made by mature, disciplined soldiers, and I’m confident that these soldiers have the discipline, the training, and the experience and judgment to make the proper call or we wouldn’t be employing them in this mission.”