Federally-activated National Guard troops are expected to continue to deploy along the U.S. southern border through summer 2023, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed to Military Times on Friday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved a Homeland Security Department request sent in July to extend the mission through fiscal year 2023, according to the spokesman, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the decision.
Austin’s approval keeps the number of authorized troops capped at 2,500, though the spokesman said that there are currently 2,708 National Guard members deployed.
“The difference in those two numbers reflect overlap as units and personnel swap out during the month of October to coincide with the new [fiscal year],” the spokesman said.
The extension sends the border mission into its fourth year, after former President Donald Trump first sent more than 5,000 troops to the border in 2018, followed by a national emergency declaration in early 2019.
The authorized troop level has drawn down in the years since the mission began sending rotations of National Guard troops to support Customs and Border Protection with surveillance, intelligence and aviation support.
President Joe Biden canceled Trump’s emergency declaration after taking office in early 2021, but DHS has continued to ask DoD for support.
In addition to the federal presence, Texas has assigned 5,000 troops on state active duty to its border as part of Operation Lone Star.
Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, who oversees the border mission, has said that border protection shouldn’t be a military mission except in emergency situations.
“I think they (Customs and Border Protection personnel) need to be funded,” he said. “I think they need to also utilize technology, technology of the future that can help them get away from a manpower-based, intensive problem, to one [where] they can utilize technology as well, to solve their challenges.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Military Times in November 2021 that he and Homeland Security Secretary Alex Mayorkas have discussed the border mission, but didn’t offer any benchmarks or conditions for ending the mission.
“I’ve talked with the secretary on a number of occasions, and we both agree that our goal is for them to develop the capability to conduct operations on their own,” Lloyd said. “And so over time you’ll see our presence diminish, and you’ll see Homeland Security take this over on their own.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.