The Department of Defense plans to deploy some 5,200 active duty troops to the southwestern border by the end of this week in support of Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) agents tracking a large group of migrants crossing through Mexico to seek asylum at the border, DoD and Department of Homeland Security officials confirmed Oct. 29.

The additional troops, operating as “Faithful Patriot,” will support the 2,092 National Guard personnel that have already been deployed to support CBP agents at the border, said U.S. Northern Command Commander, Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy at a press briefing in Washington, D.C.

U.S. NORTHCOM/NORAD Commander Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy speaks Oct. 29 in Washington, D.C. on additional deployments to the U.S.-Mexican border. Image still via Defense Dept.
U.S. NORTHCOM/NORAD Commander Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy speaks Oct. 29 in Washington, D.C. on additional deployments to the U.S.-Mexican border. Image still via Defense Dept.

The first level of effort will be to “harden the points of entry and address key gaps around the points of entry,” he said.

“Our concept of operations is to flow in our military assets with the priority to build up southern Texas, and then Arizona, and then California,” he added. “We will reinforce along priority points of entry so as to enhance CBP’s ability to harden and secure the border.”

Operation Faithful Patriot will include three combat engineering battalions to help build temporary vehicle barriers and fencing, as well as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel, O’Shaughnessy said.

Three medium-width helicopter companies outfitted with optic and night vision sensors are being deployed to provide assistance to CBP agents “regardless of the conditions,” he added. The Pentagon will also supply three C-130 and one C-17 military transport aircraft, along with deployable medical units and command posts, and enough concertina wire to reinforce over 150 miles of border wall as required, he noted.

Eight hundred of those new 5,200 troops are already en route from Fts. Knox and Campbell in Kentucky, O’Shaughnessy said. “They’re moving closer to the border, they’re going to continue their training and they’re ready to deploy to be actually employed on the border,” he said. Deployed units that typically are armed will also be armed at the border, he added.

But those numbers are “just the start of this operation,” he noted, adding, “We’ll continue to adjust the numbers.”

O’Shaughnessy emphasized that the troop build-up adheres to current U.S. authorities.

Kevin McAleenan, U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, said Monday that over two dozen CBP air assets will be deployed for surveillance and mobile response, to include four Black Hawk helicopters, six additional helicopters and “multiple fixed-wing assets and unmanned aerial systems.”

“CBP will ensure border security will not allow a large group to enter the U.S. unlawfully,” he said. “We will maintain lawful trade and travel to the greatest extent possible. We will act in accordance with the highest principals of law enforcement, we will treat impending migrants humanely and professionally at all times. And the safety of CBP personnel, especially our law enforcement personnel on the front lines as well as the traveling public, will remain paramount.”

McAleenan said the size of the traveling caravan of migrants coming from Central America is the cause for the planned troop buildup.

“We’ve got to be prepared or the potential arrival of a very large group,” he said. “Because of the size, we want to be able to handle it effectively and safely.”

The U.S. and Mexican governments have been in conversations about how to manage the potential arrival of thousands of migrants, McAleenan said. The Mexican government has offered to provide temporary status, employment opportunities and housing to caravan travelers, he noted. The group remains some 900 miles from the U.S. border, according to reports.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the new deployment numbers Monday.

McAleenan pushed back on the idea that the additional troops could be a political move meant to sway potential voters ahead of the Nov. 6 midterms. President Donald Trump, whose 2016 campaign focused on plans to build a new wall along the United States’ southern border, tweeted Monday that the caravan “is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

“This is a law enforcement operation from CBP’s perspective, and we partner with DOD all the time to help secure our border,” McAleenan said.

O’Shaughnessy said: “I think the president has made it clear that border security is national security. … Our orders are very clear. We are engaged. We are here to support CBP. We are going to secure the border.”