WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has authorized the use of troops and other military resources at the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. officials said on Friday, bolstering President Donald Trump’s battle against migrants trekking toward the United States.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis answers a question from the news media as U.S. President Donald Trump spoke during a gathering for a briefing from his senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mattis’ authorization did not include a specific number of troops, something that would be determined at a later point, and was not itself a “deployment order.”
U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday that the Trump administration was considering deploying between 800 and 1,000 troops.
The Pentagon did not comment on potential troop numbers but said Mattis had authorized the military to provide “mission-enhancing capabilities” to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, including engineering support to help build temporary barriers and build temporary housing.
U.S. pilots would also provide transportation for civilian government personnel and medical teams, it said in a statement.
Officials said U.S. troops will not be engaged in any law enforcement activities, something that is prohibited under U.S. law, and instead focus on support roles in areas like infrastructure and logistics.
Trump has hammered away at the issue of illegal immigration two weeks ahead of congressional elections. Taking aim at the caravan of Central American migrants, Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday he was “bringing out the military for this National Emergency. They will be stopped!”
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in an interview with Fox News Channel on Thursday that her department had asked the Pentagon for help to bolster its capabilities as it polices the border, including asking for “some air support … some logistics, planning, vehicle barriers, engineering.”
The migrants appeared undeterred on Thursday night as several thousand of them bedded down more than 1,000 miles (1,610 km) from the U.S. border, in the town of Pijijiapan in Mexico’s southern Chiapas state, after hiking hours from their last stop.
Trump and his fellow Republicans have sought to make the caravan and immigration into major issues before the Nov. 6 elections, in which Republicans are battling to keep control of Congress.
Trump pledged during the 2016 presidential race to build a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico. But the funding for his signature campaign promise has been slow to materialize.
In April, frustrated by lack of progress on the wall, Trump ordered the National Guard to help secure the border.
Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas