The Pentagon has directed U.S. military commanders to stop calling the deployment of active-duty troops to the southern border “Operation Faithful Patriot,” a name derided by critics as overtly political while President Trump played up the mission in stumping for Republican candidates.
The decision was acknowledged Wednesday after the midterm elections, and it was not immediately clear what name the military operation may ultimately take instead.
“We are no longer calling it Operation Faithful Patriot,” said a Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis. “We are referring to it as border support. I have nothing further at this time.”
A second Pentagon spokesman, Chris Sherwood, said that simply referring to the military operation as “border support” is a “more accurate description” because the Department of Homeland Security is overseeing it. The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which said the directive was issued by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s office on Election Day. He has sought to shield the military from politics, with mixed results.
The operation has come under fire from some retired generals, who say it unnecessarily thrusts the military into politics. Trump sought to characterize migrants traveling north through Mexico from Central America in a “caravan” as an “invasion” of the United States. In reality, the group is believed to consist almost entirely of families who could legally apply for asylum at ports of entry at the border.
The operation, announced Oct. 29, is in support of the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection. The Pentagon has sought to stress that it has only a support role, while the president has suggested that the military will face the migrants at the border.
Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Monday that the administration specifically asked for active-duty service members to deploy for the operation. They are limited in what they can do by the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits federal military from involvement in most domestic law enforcement missions in the United States. About 5,200 active-duty troops were expected to be involved in Faithful Patriot by Monday.
The military has deployed the U.S. military to the border before, but not in such large numbers of active-duty troops in a century. More typically, National Guard units, which operate under state authority, are called upon to provide support.
The U.S. military has released dozens of photos and videos in recent days of service members on the border, including some Tuesday of Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, chief of U.S. Northern Command, visiting service members deployed to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as part of the operation. To date, the Pentagon has not allowed any independent media to cover the operations and provide a fuller account of what is occurring.