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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

US general says troop numbers at Mexican border to rise further

General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of Northern Command, defended the operation at a briefing

US troops at Fort Knox, Kentucky prepare to deploy to the Mexican border. AP
US troops at Fort Knox, Kentucky prepare to deploy to the Mexican border. AP

The top US general overseeing a deployment of more than 5,200 troops to the border with Mexico said on Tuesday that troop levels would rise further, but declined to say how much or estimate what the operation will cost.

Many basic questions remained unanswered a day after the Pentagon announced the open-ended deployment of more than 5,200 active-duty troops to the border, including the scope of the mission as well as Pentagon’s assessment of any threat posed by arriving migrants.

President Donald Trump has hardened his stance on immigration ahead of the November 6 congressional elections. He has drawn attention to a caravan of migrants which is trekking through Mexico toward the United States as he seeks to fire up support for his party as the Republicans face some tough battles with Democrats seeking to wrest control of the US House of Representatives and the Senate.

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Read more:

5,000 US troops deployed to border as Honduran migrants cross into Mexico

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Republican lawmakers and other Trump supporters have applauded the deployment. But critics say Mr Trump is politicising the military, deploying them as a stunt to drive Republican voters to the polls without any real national security threat.

General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of US Northern Command, defended the operation at a briefing on Tuesday. He echoed Trump administration concerns about the caravan and compared the border support mission to other domestic military missions, like hurricane relief.

“I firmly believe that border security is national security,” General O’Shaughnessy said.

The US military still had no firm idea of what the operation would cost, he added. Pentagon officials have said the Defense Department will need to find a way to pay for the operation, suggesting money may need to be taken from other national security programs.

O’Shaughnessy said that more than 1,000 troops had deployed to Texas, where they will carry out tasks like building barriers, erecting tents, and flying government personnel by helicopter to and from different locations along the border.

He said the troops now slated to go to Texas, Arizona and California were only the start of a larger deployment and that they would go to New Mexico as well.

“What I can confirm is there will be additional force over and above the 5,239. The magnitude of that difference, I don’t have the answer for now,” he said.

The projected US deployment is roughly the same size as the US military contingent in Iraq.

Mr Trump railed against illegal immigration to win the 2016 presidential election and has seized on the caravan at campaign rallies in the run-up to next week’s vote.

Trump has characterised the migrants as an “invasion” and falsely stated they harbour terrorists and are financed in part by Democrats.

General O’Shaughnessy declined to comment on intelligence about the caravan when asked whether there were terrorists among the migrants. He said the caravan was “different” than those seen by the United States in the past, adding that they were better organised.

“We’ve seen violence coming out of the caravan,” he said.

Mexico’s government said on Tuesday that it had deported two Honduran men for whom there were arrest warrants back home, one for homicide, the other for a drug-related offense. The two men, ages 21 and 47, crossed into Mexico with the migrant caravan in the state of Chiapas.

Kevin McAleenan, the US commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, estimated on Monday that the caravan comprised about 3,500 migrants.