Many of the 5,600 active-duty forces deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border may not be home in time for Christmas, NPR is reporting, citing defense officials.
The media outlet reports the Pentagon will extend those troops, who were to come home by Dec. 15, through January, citing the surge of as many as 5,000 migrants now at the Tijuana checkpoint.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Monday that the Pentagon was working daily with the Department of Homeland Security on what the agency needs at the border. When asked if DoD had received a request for an extension, Mattis initially replied one was under consideration.
“The ports of entry I think are pretty much done," Mattis said. "There’s a little on the flanks of a couple of them we are still working on. So we’ll have to see if the request extends further.”
“You haven’t received one yet?” A reporter asked.
“They’re working on it right now,” Mattis said. He later clarified DoD was working the overall needs at the border, however a defense official later confirmed that while no specific extension request has been received, the outlines of what one would contain was being worked at staff levels.
Mattis has previously hinted that an extension may be coming. In a briefing with reporters, Mattis was asked if the deployed active duty forces would be home by the 15th.
“That’ll be mission-dependent, situation-dependent if they need to be extended,” Mattis said the day before Thanksgiving. “So some of those troops certainly will be home, I would anticipate they would be. But some troops may not be or some new troops may be assigned to new missions. But this is a dynamic situation.”
Two defense officials told Military Times there has been no request received from the Department of Homeland Security. DHS would have to request the additional force presence and what capabilities they require; then the Pentagon would resource the request.
NPR reported that some of the original forces may rotate home and be replaced.
A DHS official did not have an immediate comment Wednesday on the reports of the extension.
Last week, the White House provided the military with additional authorities, including crowd control, temporary detention, search and other typically law enforcement roles to support border agents.
The troops are also authorized to use up to lethal force, but Mattis has repeatedly said those forces along the border, save for a few senior enlisted troops, will not carry firearms, and use shields and batons if necessary.
Photos over the weekend showed a surge of migrant men, women and young children fleeing tear gas and trying to breach the checkpoint at Tijuana, Mexico.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."