Draw­down: Guard troops pulled away from border

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jerry Seper

Na­tional Guard troops as­signed to help in­crease se­cu­rity along the U.S.Mex­ico border are be­ing pulled off the line a year ear­lier than promised, and some state and fed­eral of­fi­cials are not happy about it.

“The draw­down of Op­er­a­tion Jump Start’s strength level is ill­timed and should be halted and re­ex­am­ined,” Ari­zona Gov. Janet Napoli­tano wrote in a let­ter two weeks ago to De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Michael Chertoff.

“Ari­zona re­mains a prob­lem­atic border in the South­west re­gion, and the long-planned draw­down in per­son­nel and pa­trol is pre­ma­ture,” she said.

Miss Napoli­tano said Pres­i­dent Bush’s de­ploy­ment of the Guard troops in her state had “made real progress” in cut­ting the num­ber of peo­ple sneak­ing il­le­gally into the coun­try, and noted that the Border Pa­trol is not yet up to the man­power to­tals promised by the pres­i­den­tially man­dated pro­gram.

The re­duc­tions, which be­gan July 1 and will be com­pleted by Sept. 1, will re­sult in a cut of Guard troops in Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia, New Mex­ico and Texas from 6,000 to 3,000 — half of that promised by Mr. Bush in 2006.

In Ari­zona, the na­tion’s most pop­u­lar alien- and drug-smug­gling cor­ri­dor, the num­ber of troops will be cut from 2,400 to 1,200.

Mr. Bush or­dered the Na­tional Guard troops’ de­ploy­ment while the Border Pa­trol re­cruited, hired, trained and as­signed 6,000 new agents, a re­cruit­ment goal the agency ex­pected to reach by the end of 2008.

The White House on Aug. 8 did not re­turn a call for com­ment, but of­fi­cials at Home­land Se­cu­rity told re­porters the Guard troops be­ing with­drawn have been as­signed to ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port or main­te­nance work and are be­ing re­placed.

“I re­ject the as­ser­tion that the grad­ual phase­out of the Na­tional Guard is go­ing to have a cor­re­spond­ing im­pact on crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity at the border,” said spokesman Russ Knocke. “We have more Border Pa­trol agents than when we started Op­er­a­tion Jump Start, more ve­hi­cle bar­ri­ers, more per­son­nel.”

Mem­bers of New Mex­ico’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion also have asked Mr. Bush not to cut the num­ber of Na­tional Guard troops sta­tioned along that state’s border with Mex­ico.

“If we pre­ma­turely re­duce the num­ber of Guard per­son­nel, it will be dif­fi­cult to main­tain re­cent achieve­ments,” Sen. Jeff Binga­man, New Mex­ico Demo­crat, said in a let­ter to Mr. Bush, not­ing that the num­ber of il­le­gal aliens ap­pre­hended at the New Mex­ico border had de­clined since 700 Guard troops were de­ployed.

“Al­though we are mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, I do not be­lieve there are enough Border Pa­trol agents on the ground in New Mex­ico yet to jus­tify a re­duc­tion of Na­tional Guard per­son­nel by over 50 per­cent,” he said.

Last month, U.S. Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion (CBP) said the num­ber of il­le­gal aliens caught try­ing to cross the U.S.-Mex­ico border dropped by 24 per­cent. CBP cred­ited in­creased border-se­cu­rity ef­forts for the de­cline, in­clud­ing the ad­di­tion of new agents and added tech­nol­ogy, com­bined with the de­ploy­ment of the Na­tional Guard troops.

From Oct. 1 through June 30, Border Pa­trol agents ap­pre­hended 682,468 il­le­gal aliens, com­pared with 894,496 dur­ing the same pe­riod last year.

While ar­rests de­clined, at the same time the amount of drugs seized on the border in­creased, with Border Pa­trol agents seiz­ing more than 1.47 mil­lion pounds of mar­i­juana (a 27 per­cent in­crease) and 9,514 pounds of co­caine (a 22 per­cent in­crease).

CBP spokesman Mike Friel, in an­nounc­ing the de­cline in ap­pre­hen­sions, said the agency con­tin­ued to en­hance border se­cu­rity through a “com­pre­hen­sive approach of im­ple­ment­ing in­no­va­tive pro­grams,” in­clud­ing an ex­pan­sion of Op­er­a­tion Jump Start.

Op­er­a­tion Jump Start was de­signed to free up Border Pa­trol agents for ex­panded pro­tec­tion along the 1,951-mile South­west border. The Na­tional Guard troops were as­signed to build ad­di­tional roads and fences, add cam­eras and sen­sors, con­duct ae­rial re­con­nais­sance and pro­vide med­i­cal aid and com­mu­ni­ca­tions sup­port.

They also per­formed ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties, gath­ered intelligence from border cam­eras for agents to act upon, as­sisted at high­way check­points and served on en­try-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion teams.

Bob Wright, for­mer Min­ute­man Civil De­fense Corps or­ga­nizer who helped cre­ate a new border vigil or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Pa­tri­ots’ Border Al­liance, called the de­ci­sion to pull the Na­tional Guard troops “an­other bro­ken prom­ise by this gov­ern­ment.”

“The com­mit­ment was for two years,” Mr. Wright said. “The lit­tle bit of ef­fort they put into it worked. It was cer­tainly a start to have our border pro­tected. Just their pres­ence is a de­ter­rent. Pulling them out is ir­re­spon­si­ble.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

U.S. Border Pa­trol agents take an il­le­gal alien into cus­tody atop an oil tanker train car north of Co­tulla, Texas on Aug. 6. The alien ini­tially re­fused to be taken into cus­tody and sought refuge atop the car out of reach of the agents. The Border Pa­trol rou­tinely stops trains here, ap­prox­i­mately 65 miles north of the border, and pulls il­le­gals off north­bound cars.

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