U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to reduce the number of federally paid National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border amid controversy regarding the operation’s impact related to its cost.
The plan is to revamp the deployment of military personnel along the boundary, moving from boots-on-the-ground to a broader mission of aerial detection and additional border intelligence analysis.
The change in mission strategy is in response to a steep drop in apprehensions along the border. Changes are also expected to to affect National Guard troops on border-related active duty in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Nearly 1,200 National Guard troops in those areas will be moved to other areas of need.
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 a better plan of action for today’s border issues.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon has long sought to end the roughly $10 million-a-month National Guard ground operation, and given the attempts to cut the deficit, now is an opportune time.
There are approximately 18,200 U.S. Border Patrol agents along the Southwestern border, but border apprehensions have plummeted from 1.6 million in 2000 to 340,252 in the last fiscal year. Part of that decline is due in part to the recent economic downturn.
National Guardsmen have assisted in only 6 percent of the apprehensions of undocumented immigrants during the opening 11 months of the Operation Phalanx, a $160 million project attempting to curb illegal immigration.
Administration officials declined to specify the number of guardsmen who will remain on the border.
Photo thanks to Chris Devers under creative commons license on Flickr.