December 13, 2011

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will reduce the number of federally paid National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border amid questions about the cost and fading impact of a marquee operation to back up the U.S. Border Patrol, the Houston Chronicle has learned.

The Obama administration is planning to revamp the way it deploys military personnel along the boundary, shifting from “boots on the ground” to stop people from crossing illegally to a broader mission of aerial detection and additional border intelligence analysis.

The change in mission – a response to a steep drop in apprehensions along the border – is expected to gradually trim the 1,200 National Guard troops on border-related active duty in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, where 274 National Guardsmen are on duty.

“The National Guard has acted as a critical bridge while the administration brought new assets online dedicated to effective border management and security,” Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said.

Administration officials declined to specify the number of guardsmen who will remain on the border.

Ground troops will be replaced by Army National Guard and Air National Guard personnel carrying out surveillance by aircraft, helicopters and unmanned drones. Department of Homeland Security officials say the troop reduction is not a sign of a reduced commitment to border security but rather the result of lessons learned about border enforcement.

The focus on aerial surveillance “represents a historic and unprecedented enhancement in our ability to detect and deter illegal activity at the border,” said one federal official involved in administration planning. “If people concentrate on the number of troops on the ground, they’re sort of missing the point. This is next-generation border security.”

The shift in focus is long overdue, said Richard “Ozzie” Nelson, a veteran of the National Counterterrorism Center before joining the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“National Guard troops have been a stopgap measure until we get the Department of Homeland Security the resources it needs to do the job,” Nelson said. “At the end of the day this has to remain a law enforcement mission – not a military mission.”

Read full report here


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