The Pentagon has approved a Homeland Security Department request to provide some contracting support to Customs and Border Protection at the U.S.-Mexico border, a spokesman confirmed to Military Times on Thursday.
The support will last for 90 days to start, Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell said, but will not include more troops or affect the length of time troops already stationed at the border are committed to stay.
“As we have done in the past, I approved the request,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. “We provide enabling support to DHS when and where we can, and where legally possible.”
Services will include some contracted bussing for transporting migrants, and potentially some space on military installations for processing migrants and housing federal employees, as well as contracted medical personnel, Mitchell said.
At the same time, there are roughly 2,500 federalized National Guardsmen still doing surveillance and intelligence for CBP, a mission that began in 2018 and once counted nearly 5,000 troops on the border.
Pentagon leaders have said that they don’t view the border as an indefinite military mission, but haven’t detailed which specific conditions are needed to end their involvement.
“I think, long term, this is not an enduring mission of the Department of Defense,” Air Force Gen. Glenn VanHerck said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March. “We need to fully fund and resource DHS to do their mission, and the DoD should be used in extremis times for the support on the border mission.”
Austin has said that he regularly consults with Homeland Security Secretary Alexandra Mayorkas, but hasn’t shared what the end game looks like.
“[W]e both agree that our goal is for them to develop the capability to conduct operations on their own,” Austin told Military Times in November. “And so over time you’ll see our presence diminish or — and — and you’ll see Homeland Security take this over on their own.”
The current authorization for troops at the border expires at the end of September.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.