The Bush administration is moving to deploy troops along the U.S. border with Canada as part of its plan to foil terrorist plots against the United States. The government denies it is militarizing the frontier.
The top U.S. law enforcement official, Attorney General John Ashcroft, is asking the military for aircraft and 400 soldiers to help monitor the 6,500 kilometer Canadian border.
Canadian intelligence officials estimate that 50 terrorist groups operate from their territory, including al-Qaida, the group that carried out the September 11 attacks against New York and Washington.
Speaking on Fox Television, Mr. Ashcroft said U.S. troops would relieve civilian immigration inspectors who were reassigned to the frontier from around the country after the attacks. "This is not militarizing our border with Canada," he said. "Just like we have some national guardsmen at our airports now, we need to relieve some of our folks to get back to their normal duties by having national guardsmen help with inspections at the border."
The Attorney General says the 500 U.S. personnel on the Canadian border is small compared to the 9,000 immigration and customs inspectors on the frontier with Mexico. The border with Mexico is half the length of the U.S.-Canadian border.
Nevertheless, the extra personnel at the northern border have helped relieve border congestion that developed as a result of increased inspections after September 11.
Mr. Ashcroft says the slowed traffic between the United States and Canada affected the U.S. automobile industry, which receives parts from Canada. He says continuing to bolster the checkpoints with soldiers would avoid new congestion. "We do not want to be shutting down our automotive industry because we do not have a fast enough inspection process," he continued. "This is designed to accommodate that need for elevated levels of speed and inspection to avoid congestion, to allow the harmonious relationship between our countries to continue."
The Washington Post newspaper says the troop deployment to the U.S.-Canadian border would be phased in over 12 to 18 months.
Mr. Ashcroft is expected to formally announce the deployment during a meeting Monday with Canadian justice officials.