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Homeland Security, Pentagon Clash on Military's Role at Mexico Border
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) requested 1,000 guardsmen in January who he later said could form 24 border reconnaissance platoons, support Texas Ranger and parks and wildlife tracking teams, and back up air and marine operations. Perry, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) subsequently asked Congress to add personnel to the National Guard's Counter-Drug Program in their states. Troops provide translators, reconnaissance and administrative support, relaying aircraft surveillance images, for example.
Border states bear "unique and/or disproportionate" costs of dealing with illegal immigration, drugs and violence, Brewer wrote.
"It is abundantly clear that additional resources are needed -- and needed now," the governors wrote in a separate letter.
The fight is largely over money. For two years, Pentagon budget officials have tried to slash funding for state drug-fighting operations, citing the financial strain of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And military officials say governors could pay for their own Guard units.
But governors contend that securing the border is a federal responsibility.
Paul McHale, Gates's assistant secretary for homeland defense until early this year, said the broader worry is strategic. "The real concern is . . . at some point a temporary mission becomes permanent," he said. "Do it four or five times over a decade, and the political and military repercussions are likely negative."
A senior White House national security official said the president is comfortable with the disagreement. "It's the president's view that . . . frankly, that kind of debate among two Cabinet officers like Secretary Gates and Secretary Napolitano, both of whom he holds in high regard, will inevitably lead to a better policy," the official added.
The official noted that the administration has already taken steps, sending 450 DHS and Justice Department agents to the border in March to fight cash and weapons smuggling. And, he pointed out, crime in U.S. border communities and border arrests have fallen.
For now, administration officials are working through differences. Paul N. Stockton, McHale's successor, said the two departments are working closely to resolve their differences. In response to the Pentagon concerns that the troops could become permanent, DHS officials are searching for benchmarks that would end a deployment, such as a drop in cartel violence or improved Mexican enforcement.
When the Bush administration sent Guard units to the border, they went as a stopgap measure, backing up the U.S. Border Patrol for two years while it added 6,000 agents. The troops rotated through non-law enforcement duties.