The Pentagon’s mobilization of thousands of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border is fully legal, the Defense Department’s inspector general confirmed in a report released Tuesday.
In providing aviation support, installing concertina wire and staffing mobile surveillance sites, the IG found, the troops are fully compliant with federal law and DoD policy.
“Additionally, we determined that DoD title 10 personnel had limited contact with civilians or migrants and contact that did occur was acceptable under DoD policy,” according to the report, which surveyed troops from October 2018 to December 2019.
Under pressure from Congress, the IG announced a review late last year.
“Based on several requests, we have decided to conduct an evaluation, in accord with our standard processes, to examine the use of military personnel along the southern border,” Glenn Fine, then the principal deputy inspector general performing the duties of the inspector general, said in a December memo. “In this evaluation, we will examine, among other issues, what they are doing at the border, what training they received, and whether their use complied with applicable law, DoD policy, and operating guidance. We intend to conduct this important evaluation as expeditiously as possible.”
Though all use of troops and funds was legal, according to the report, the IG recommended that Northern Command beef up on Standing Rules for Use of Force training ― which dictates how troops would engage with migrants or other civilians while patrolling the border ― for any troops who were not re-trained before deployment, and to create procedures to ensure that commanders are documenting completed training for their troops.
The IG’s findings come as the border mission shows signs of ramping down.
In June, Defense Secretary Mark Esper updated his authorization for border troops, dialing back to a maximum of 4,000, down from 5,500 for the past year. During most of that period, roughly 5,000 National Guard and Reserve troops have been deployed.
At the same time, the Pentagon signaled early this year that it might be wrapping up its financial obligation to the border wall, as well.
“Based on where we are in the process, the ability to speed that up and deliver on the border barrier construction has obviously increased significantly,” Bob Salesses, deputy assistant defense secretary for homeland defense integration, told reporters earlier this year.
Accordingly, the $3.8 billion the Pentagon kicked in for 177 miles of barrier this year should fund enough construction to meet President Donald Trump’s goal of about 900 miles by 2022.
“I don’t have anything specific, but it’s clear that we’ll be meeting the requirements that have been identified by the president to accelerate and build the border barrier as quickly and effectively as possible,” Salesses said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.