Roughly 5,000 troops are currently stationed on the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a mission that began in late 2018, and officials have said that will wind down as new barriers secure hundreds of miles in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Plans are on track to build 500 miles of wall by the end of this year, according to the Pentagon’s top spokesman, adding that he expects discussions whether to adjust troop levels to follow.
“We will take a look, but I have not seen a conversation whether that’s going to be an up or down at this point,” Jonathan Hoffman said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper authorized up to 5,500 troops back in September, but so far, totals have hovered at just over 5,000 active duty and National Guard troops.
“So anywhere you’ve now stopped the flow coming across, where we’ve committed both detection and monitoring personnel and border police, we no longer have to commit the same number of personnel,” Lt. Gen. Andrew Poppas, director of operations for the Joint Staff, told reporters in September.
At the time, the Pentagon had just agreed to chip in $3.6 billion in military construction funds to build 175 miles of border wall. As of Feb. 10, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, 0.05 miles of that goal had been built. Another 36 miles had gone up using Defense Department counter-drug funding.
The Pentagon announced Thursday that it would dip into that pot again in 2020, with another $3.8 million for 177 miles. On the chopping block were F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, some shipbuilding projects and the National Guard’s Humvee modernization program.
“Let’s identify projects that either have an excess need or we have an untimely need,” Hoffman said of that decision process. “That is, either things where Congress has funded us for more of what we asked for, or things where Congress has funded us before we are ready to purchase and move forward.”
In those cases, he explained, Congress had given DoD more money than they’d asked for, and the production base wouldn’t be able to deliver them during this fiscal year.
“The funds were better used for a different purpose now than just sitting there for the next two years,” Hoffman said.
Though internal White House documents published by The Washington Post in January showed that DoD also plans to divert roughly another $3 billion from the milcon account, officials have declined to speculate on whether that money might fund the border wall instead of on-base projects.
“I couldn’t say that right now,” Hoffman said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.