April 18, 2012
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon began flying military helicopters and surveillance planes over the U.S. border with Mexico last month as part of an effort to withdraw all but 300 of the National Guard ground troops who have helped patrol the rugged border since mid-2010.
The 19-month deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops on the southwest border has hurt recruiting efforts and threatened to strain diplomatic relations with Mexico, Brian J. Lepore, a director at the U.S. Government and Accountability Office, told a House homeland security subcommittee hearing Tuesday.
About 12 Blackhawk helicopters and several fixed-wing manned surveillance planes began flying regular patrols over the Rio Grande in Texas for a mission called “Operation River Watch II” in March. The 300 troops will fly the aircraft, or analyze intelligence about smuggling routes in command centers miles from the border.