U.S. Contingency Plan Would Deploy National Guard Troops Along Mexican Border

Mexican troops check for guns or drugs coming from the United States. A contingency plan is being prepared to give President Obama flexibility to address drug violence and smuggling near the border, officials say.
Mexican troops check for guns or drugs coming from the United States. A contingency plan is being prepared to give President Obama flexibility to address drug violence and smuggling near the border, officials say. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
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By Mary Beth Sheridan, Spencer S. Hsu and Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Pentagon and Homeland Security Department are developing contingency plans to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border under a $350 million initiative that would expand the U.S. military's role in the drug war, according to Obama administration officials.

The circumstances under which the troops could be deployed have not been determined, the officials said. They said the proposal was designed to give President Obama additional flexibility to respond to drug-related violence that has threatened to spill into the United States from Mexico and to curb southbound smuggling of cash and weapons.

The initiative, which was tucked into the supplemental budget request sent to Congress this month, has raised concerns over what some U.S. officials perceive as an effort by the Pentagon to increase its counternarcotics profile through a large pot of money that comes with few visible requirements.

The broadly worded proposal does not mention troop deployments, stipulating only that the military is to receive up to $350 million "for counter-narcotics and other activities . . . on the United States' border with Mexico."

If the contingency plans go unused, the money would be retained for military operations and maintenance after September 2010, an administration official said.

The proposal is being closely monitored by the State Department, which administers the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative, a three-year aid package to fight drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America. The new funding would be nearly as much as the 2009 budget for Merida, and some observers said they fear that the military could use the money to set up a parallel counternarcotics program with little oversight.

"The real question is what happens if this morphs into something else," said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

House and Senate committees began receiving briefings from White House budget staff this past week. Some lawmakers and aides said they were unaware that the funds would be allocated to deploy troops.

"Frankly, I'm baffled that an additional $350 million has been requested under the defense appropriation," Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, said Thursday.

Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America, which promotes democracy and human rights in the region, said the request lacks the accountability provisions included in the Merida Initiative, which was passed after more than a year of debate in both countries.

"They may say that this is for the National Guard, but the way it's written, it is really a blank check for the Defense Department to do whatever it wants on counter-drug issues at the border -- and it doesn't say which side of the border," Olson said.

The administration did not seek additional funding under Merida because the new assistance is targeted only on the U.S. side of the border, said an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan is still being formulated. A second administration official said $250 million is for the deployment of National Guard troops if they are needed, and the remaining $100 million would go to protect unaccompanied minors found crossing the border.


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