Deploying troops to border could cost $200 million
The price of President Donald Trump’s military deployment to the border, including the cost of National Guard forces that have been there since April, could climb well above $200 million by the end of 2018 and grow significantly if the deployments continue into next year, according to analyst estimates and Pentagon figures.
The deployment of as many as 15,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border – potentially equal in size to the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan – occurs as the budgetary largesse the military has enjoyed since Trump took office looks set to come to an end.
Although the costs of the border deployments will be a tiny slice of a $ 716 billion annual defense budget, they arrive as the Trump administration is calling on the Pentagon to cut unnecessary expenditures. The White House recently ordered the Pentagon to slash next year’s budget for the military by about $33 billion in response to the largest increase in the federal deficit in six years.
Veterans and Democratic lawmakers have complained that Trump is wasting military dollars in a politically motivated stunt ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, at a time when the Pentagon budget is under pressure.
“Instead of working in a bipartisan manner to make comprehensive, commonsense, and humane reforms to our immigration system, the President continues to turn to politically-motivated fear mongering and uses (Department of Defense) resources and personnel as a means to drive his troubling anti-immigration agenda,” more than 100 House Democrats wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday.
Retired Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the deployment as wasteful in a message on Twitter and said Marines and soldiers were already overstretched.
Administration officials have defended the deploy- ment. Mattis said this week that the military doesn’t do stunts. The commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, argued that the deployment is necessary to “effectively and safely” handle the possible arrival of as many as 7,000 migrants walking toward the border in caravans from Central America.
But military planning documents, dated Oct. 27 and published by Newsweek, predicted that only 20 percent of the migrants, or about 1,400 at the higher end of estimates, were likely to complete the journey to the border, raising questions about the size of the deployment.
“The military has a lot of things that it needs to be doing these days,” said Susanna Blume, a former Pentagon official and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “Looking at estimates of the size of the caravan, you could ask the question as to whether this is the most appropriate use of U.S. active-duty forces.”
It isn’t clear how many U.S. troops will end up on the U.S.-Mexico border.
About 2,000 forces from the National Guard are already there, operating under an order Trump issued in April. Northern Command has said more than 7,000 additional active-duty troops will join them in Arizona, Texas and California. Trump said this week that he will be deploying between 10,000 and 15,000 troops but didn’t make clear whether those figures included the National Guard.
The cost of the National Guard deployment from April 10 through Sept. 30 amounted to $103 million, according to Pentagon figures. The Defense Department expects the Guard deployment to cost an additional $308 million through the end of next September.
Military members tour the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge Saturday in McAllen, Texas.