WASHINGTON — An extension of the National Guard deployment at the U.S. Capitol has been approved through May 23.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the request late Tuesday for nearly 2,300 Guard troops continue to provide security in Washington, D.C., at the request of the Capitol Police, amid worries about continued threats. Officials have been scrambling in recent days to determine if and how to fill the request for more than 2,000 Guard forces, as the original March 12 deadline for them to leave Washington looms.
The 2,300 figure is nearly a 50 percent reduction of the current support force, according to a Pentagon press release. DoD officials will work with U.S. Capitol Police to incrementally reduce the Guard footprint as conditions allows, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in the release.
The decision underscores concerns about the ongoing threat of violence at the Capitol, two months after rioters breached the building in violence that left five people dead. Law enforcement have remained in a heightened security posture in response to intelligence suggesting possible threats to the Capitol by militia groups.
The request to extend the deployment met resistance last week, as some governors expressed reluctance or flatly refused to commit their troops to more time in the city. There now appears to be enough states willing to provide Guard troops for the mission, said the defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Army leaders had also initially questioned whether the Capitol Police had exhausted all other options to fill the need, such as asking other federal law enforcement agencies to provide security. But officials said military leaders thought it was important to find ways to work out the details.
It was unclear Tuesday if Guard troops currently in Washington would have to stay an extra day or two while the new forces arrive and get trained and settled in.
The threat was tied to the far-right conspiracy theory promoted by QAnon supporters that former President Donald Trump would rise again to power on March 4, the original presidential inauguration day. That day passed with no problems, but law enforcement has said threats to buildings and personnel remain.
The Guard’s deployment to the Capitol has been troubled. Early on, Guard members were briefly forced to take rest breaks and meals in a nearby cold garage, sparking outrage within the Biden administration. Officials quickly found new spaces within congressional buildings for the on-duty breaks.
In addition, Guard members complained of bad food, including some who said they became sick. On Monday, Kirby said that about 50 Guard troops had been treated for gastrointestial issues, out of the 26,000 that deployed to Washington. He said six sought outpatient medical treatment, while the rest were treated at aid stations set up for the Capitol Hill mission.
Kirby said that Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, has been visiting the troops several times a week and eating with them to ensure that they were getting good food.
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman made the request to have the Guard members stay on, setting off a series of discussions with the Pentagon and National Guard leaders.
U.S. military officials have said the cost of deploying about 26,000 Guard troops to the U.S. Capitol from shortly after the Jan. 6 riot to this Friday, is close to $500 million. No cost estimate for the next two months has been released. The costs include housing, transportation, salaries, benefits and other essentials.