Bor­der de­ploy­ment could cost more than $200 mil­lion

Op­er­a­tions come as Pen­tagon is asked to trim bud­get for next year

The Washington Post Sunday - - NEWS - BY PAUL SONNE paul.sonne@wash­post.com Dan Lamothe con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The to­tal price of Pres­i­dent 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, com­mon-sense, 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 Nov. 1.

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 de­ploy­ment. 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, in­clud­ing the last quar­ter of 2018, as long as the op­er­a­tions con­tinue apace.

Ac­tive-duty forces, which Trump de­ployed un­der his recent or­der, gen­er­ally are less ex­pen­sive be­cause they don’t re­quire ad­di­tional pay or ben­e­fits.

Travis Sharp, a re­search fel­low at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Bud­get As­sess­ments, es­ti­mated that the cost of de­ploy­ing 8,000 ac­tive-duty troops through mid-De­cem­ber in ad­di­tion to the Guard would amount to $40 mil­lion to $50 mil­lion. Should the ad­min­is­tra­tion de­ploy 15,000 ac­tive-duty troops, as Trump sug­gested, the es­ti­mated cost would rise to as much as $110 mil­lion, Sharp said.

The forces could end up stay­ing past mid-De­cem­ber, depend­ing on the sta­tus of the car­a­vans, which by most ac­counts are still weeks away from the bor­der. An ex­ten­sion of the de­ploy­ment could re­sult in costs in ex­cess of those es­ti­mates.

As of Satur­day morn­ing, about 3,500 ac­tive-duty ser­vice mem­bers have been de­ployed as a part of the mis­sion, dubbed Op­er­a­tion Faith­ful Pa­triot, said Maj. Mark Lazane, a North­ern Com­mand spokesman. They in­clude about 2,250 in Texas, 1,100 in Cal­i­for­nia and 170 in Ari­zona, he said.

Deputy De­fense Sec­re­tary Pa­trick M. Shana­han said last week that the White House had in­structed the Pen­tagon to pre­pare a $700 bil­lion bud­get for 2020 — about 4.5 per­cent less than the $733 bil­lion the depart­ment had planned.

Thomas Spoehr, a re­tired Army lieu­tenant gen­eral and di­rec­tor of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion’s Cen­ter for Na­tional De­fense, said many of the units de­ploy­ing to the bor­der are ful­fill­ing du­ties ap­prox­i­mate to their wartime mis­sions and could end up with good train­ing from the field. He said the ex­pen­di­ture would be mar­ginal in terms of the over­all Amer­i­can de­fense bud­get.

“The mil­i­tary needs ev­ery dol­lar it can get. Hav­ing said that, this is not in the scheme of things a huge thing,” Spoehr said. “It prob­a­bly will pass al­most un­no­ticed in terms of the bud­get.”

ERIC GAY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mem­bers of the U.S. Army build a ra­zor-wire fence around an area for tents near a U.S.-Mex­ico in­ter­na­tional bridge in Donna, Tex. As many as 15,000 troops are be­ing de­ployed to the bor­der.

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