By Jim Kouri
U.S. Department of Defense and National Guard support to southwest U.S. border security will undergo a major change in both personnel and strategy in the next few months. The military presence on the U.S.-Mexican border will undergo a shift under President Barack Obama from a “boots on the ground” operation to primarily an aerial operation, according to officials at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
The Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection directorate is the lead federal agency charged with defending the southwest U.S border with Mexico, but the Defense Department, specifically the National Guard, works closely in support of the effort, and has done so since 2010, according to Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service.
“CBP has changed the kind of support that it is asking the Department of Defense to provide,” said Paul Stockton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas’ security affairs. “And DOD is transitioning to much more effective support … that not only matches up to what CBP needs, but provides more flexibility against an adaptive adversary.”
The border is better protected because of the cooperative relationship between defense and homeland security, said David Aguilar, the Customs and Border Protection agency’s deputy commissioner.
“Over the last year, we had over 1,200 National Guard representatives on the line with us,” Aguilar said. Under the new system, he said, fewer than 300 Guardsmen are needed.
While Aguilar has the confidence of his superiors in Washington, DC, he has been slammed repeatedly by members of the U.S. Border Patrol through their union, the National Border Patrol Council. They have claimed he and other bureaucrats have been deceptive over the true nature of the border security situation.
Until now, National Guardsmen worked with Border Patrol agents in running entry identification teams. These are fixed positions and were what was required at the time, according to Garamone. But times have changed, and now the Border Patrol requires aerial platforms to provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and mobility ability.
This mission will begin around the first of the year and completely transition by March, Aguilar said.
Originally, the National Guard was scheduled to end their border deployment, but there have been a number of complaints by lawmakers and citizens groups who demand tighter border security against criminal aliens, drug cartels and possible members of radical Islamic terrorist groups.
“There will be a ramp down of the static [entry identification teams] and the boots on the ground related to those [teams], but a ramp-up on the aerial support and platforms,” Aguilar told the news media.
The new Obama Administration strategy as written conspicuously leaves out any mention of a border fence, an issue that has been “tweaked to death by politicians,” according to political strategist Mike Baker.
“We’ve gone from building a giant border fence to a virtual fence to a loss of more than a billion dollars on a giant snafu. The bottomline is that the border security issue is a political football that is repeatedly fumbled by both political parties,” said Baker.
Meanwhile, Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher said the aviation assets will focus at first on detection and monitoring capabilities. Air National Guardsmen will fly specially equipped OH-58 and UH-72 helicopters with a detection radius of 6 and 12 nautical miles, respectively. In addition, Guardsmen will fly RC-26 fixed-wing aircraft with detection and monitoring capability of 12 nautical miles, Fisher added.
Such capability will enable the Border Patrol to work in more challenging terrain and give the patrol a faster reaction time to prevent illegal activities. These airborne assets will be able to look way over the horizon of a person on the ground and be able to flow personnel into an area, according to Garamone.
Defense officials will continue to work with Customs and Border Protection officials to figure the mix of aircraft and capabilities and where the aircraft and ground stations will be. The new National Guard mission will end December, 31, 2012, Garamone stated. That draw-down date is well after the 2012 election cycle.