The U.S. military says National Guard troops who will be deployed along the U.S.-Mexican border starting next month will be armed, but officials say that with the jobs they will be doing they are not expected to encounter many would-be illegal immigrants.
At a news conference Thursday, the director of the Army National Guard, Lieutenant General Clyde Vaughn, said one basic element of being a soldier will not change during the deployment along the border.
"You know, soldiers carry weapons. As we head down this line, we have to remember that very thing," he said.
General Vaughn says the exact rules for using those weapons during the border assignment are still being worked out with the civilian governments in each U.S. state in the area. But Assistant Defense Secretary Paul McHale says that does not mean he expects there to be confrontations between armed U.S. soldiers and people trying to cross the border illegally.
"We do not expect that a large force of armed soldiers will be placed in close proximity to the border," he explained.
McHale says the National Guard soldiers will be performing the same type of duties they have done in the past in border areas to help fight drug trafficking. He says those missions include reconnaissance, transportation, logistics, medical services, translation and the engineering and construction of roads, barriers and other infrastructure improvements.
"Very few of our soldiers will likely be in positions where they face physical risk," he added. "Every soldier who is in such a position will be armed and there will be standardized rules for the use of force to guide that soldier his or her weapons, primarily for purposes, if not exclusively for purposes, of self defense."
President Bush announced Monday that 6,000 National Guard soldiers will support the civilian Border Patrol for the next year. But he said the part-time soldiers, who will serve about three weeks at a time, will not be directly involved in detaining people trying to cross the border illegally. Rather, the president said the soldiers will provide the kind of services Assistant Secretary McHale mentioned Friday, and also work in headquarters operations to free more Border Patrol agents to work the front lines.
On Thursday, McHale said there could also be a small number of active duty U.S. troops involved in the operation to do specific jobs that the Guard forces are not trained to do, such as operating unmanned surveillance technology on the ground and in the air.