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9 Jan, 2021 00:38

US Army chief says National Guard troops may carry firearms in DC ahead of inauguration amid heightened security concerns

US Army chief says National Guard troops may carry firearms in DC ahead of inauguration amid heightened security concerns

National Guard soldiers in the US capital could be cleared to carry their rifles or sidearms in the days leading up to the presidential inauguration, the Army secretary said, citing fears of violence after a riot in DC this week.

“We’ll be looking at the intelligence, and make a determination over the next day or so,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarty told the Associated Press on Friday, adding that the move is “going to require us to get better intel, and then we’ll have to make a risk assessment.”

The military’s assessment of its use-of-force guidelines comes days after a violent disturbance shook Washington, DC, seeing a raucous crowd break away from a rally in support of President Donald Trump to storm the US Capitol building, leaving five people dead in the chaos. As concerns about further unrest run high ahead of Inauguration Day on January 20, the Army is mulling whether to allow the National Guard to deploy with M-4 rifles or 9mm Beretta pistols, and reconsidering restrictions on the use of the military for domestic policing.

While a contingent of some 340 National Guard troops was sent into DC ahead of Wednesday’s Trump rally at the request of Mayor Muriel Bowser, they were unarmed and limited to only 100 or so on the ground at once, curbing their ability to confront potentially violent demonstrators or staff checkpoints around the city.

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The Pentagon has come under fire for its handling of the unrest, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanding that acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller explain “where the National Guard was” during the breach at the Capitol. McCarthy, however, defended the Guard’s response, arguing that local officials had only asked for a small number of troops for specific purposes, such as traffic and crowd control.

“No other requests were made after a series of meetings and deliberations with all stakeholders: the Interior, Department of Homeland Security, the Capitol Hill Police and others into the lead-up of Jan. 6,” he said.

The Army chief also said that while the Pentagon expects better intelligence on protests in the capital moving forward, he complained earlier this week that estimates on potential crowd sizes on Wednesday were “all over the board,” ranging wildly from 2,000 to 80,000 people. The Defense Department will now hold more frequent meetings with law enforcement to better coordinate intelligence, he added. 

As of Thursday night, the military has already implemented one rule-change: permitting Guard troops in DC to wear ballistic helmets. The move closely followed the death of a US Capitol Police officer, who reportedly succumbed to injuries after he was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher, according to the AP and DC-based journalist Alexandra Limon. Four others lost their lives during the unrest, including one woman who was shot by police as protesters attempted to breach the Senate chamber and three who died of “medical emergencies.”

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