President Trump said Wednesday that he is willing to send as many as 15,000 troops to the border in anticipation of a caravan of Central American migrants making its way north.
“As far as the caravan is concerned our military is out, we have about 5,000-8 [thousand], we’ll go up to anywhere between 10 [thousand] and 15,000 military personnel on top of border patrol, ICE and everybody else on the border,” he told reporters.
The Pentagon announced 5,200 active duty troops will be sent to the border on top of 2,100 National Guardsmen already assisting border patrol with tasks that do not include physically stopping illegal border crossers.
General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the commander of U.S. Northern Command, said the number of troops would exceed 5,200 but did not specify by how much.
The caravan of about 3,500 mostly Honduran asylum seekers, who say they are fleeing crime and violence in their own gang-ridden countries, is still over 800 miles away. Most are traveling on foot, making it weeks before they would arrive at the U.S. border.
“The number of troops deployed will change each day as military forces flow into the operating area, but the initial estimate is that the DOD [Department of Defense] will have more than 7,000 troops supporting DHS [Department of Homeland Security] across California, Arizona and Texas,” the Pentagon said in a statement after Trump’s remarks.
The extra troops will “provide a range of assistance, including planning, engineering, transportation, logistics and medical support to the US Customs and Border Protection,” the Pentagon said.
“We don’t do stunts,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said when asked whether Trump’s inflated number of potential troops was a political stunt to rally supporters.
As Tuesday’s midterm congressional elections approach, Trump has raised the alarm about potentially dangerous elements mixed in with the refugees traveling in the caravan, an issue popular with his base.