Pentagon says troops won't 'come in contact' with caravan migrants at Mexico border
Far from stopping a tide of weary refugees with cruel live fire, US troops sent to the southern border aren't even supposed to come into physical contact with caravan migrants, says Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford.
"There is no plan for US military forces to be involved in the actual mission of denying people entry to the United States," Dunford said during his remarks at Duke University on Monday.
The general assured his audience that there was "no plan for the soldiers to come in contact with immigrants or to reinforce the Department of Homeland Security as they are conducting their mission."
The primary tasks of the active-duty 5,200-strong contingent, expected to grow to 7,000 in the coming days, will be construction and engineering, Pentagon officials said.
The service personnel will continue installing barbed-wire fences, building barriers with vehicles and housing for extra US Customs and Border Protection personnel sent to the border.
Military helicopters will take part in the mission, codenamed Operation Faithful Patriot – not to track down migrants, however, but to transport CBP staff to the border.
Highlighting the limited scope of the military's involvement in the large-scale effort to plug the gaps in the porous border, Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said that of all the troops only Military Police servicemen will carry arms.
There had been fears, partially ignited by US President Donald Trump, that the army service personnel might retaliate against migrants by opening live fire.
Manning would not talk about the possible extent of permissible self-defense by the troops.
Trump stirred controversy last Thursday when he told reporters at the White House that if incoming migrants hurl rocks at the troops, they would be met with fire. The remark was short-lived as the next day Trump walked it back, saying that those who attack the US military will simply be arrested in accordance with US law.
Initially, Trump suggested that those arrested will be held in special tents that the army is erecting at the border. It was reported that although such a request was sent to the Pentagon by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it did not even reach the top brass and was rejected early on.
Pentagon spokesman Bill Speaks, meanwhile, said that the military "have not received a request from DHS to build facilities to house migrant families." Instead, the tents will serve as temporary shelters for border security reinforcements.
Trump on Sunday praised the military's strenuous effort to fortify the border, calling the barbed wire fence "beautiful."
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