June 15, 2006

National Guard begins border rollout

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The first 800 U.S. National Guard
troops are taking up positions along the U.S-Mexico border, but
will only support existing border patrol units, U.S. Defense
Department officials said on Thursday.

The roll-out of the National Guard troops, whose numbers
are expected to reach 6,000 by August 1, is part of a push by
the federal government to stem the flow of illegal immigrants
across the 2,000-mile (3,600-km) border.

About 50 percent of the troops will watch for illegal
crossings and report any they see to the U.S. Border Patrol,
said Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense Paul McHale at a
press conference at Camp Mabry, headquarters of the Texas
National Guard.

Within three weeks, the new troops will replace 581 Border
Patrol agents currently in desk jobs, freeing them up to return
to front-line law enforcement duties, McHale said.

The Guard also will help train some of the 6,000 new Border
Patrol agents to be added under a $1.9 billion border security
plan approved by Congress.

The National Guard deployment plan has angered many in
Mexico, where critics fear the move will militarize the border
that has long been a gateway for illegal aliens into the United

National Guard Bureau Chief Lt. General Steven Blum said
the troops looking for illegal crossings will be armed but will
be subject to "very strict" rules of engagement.

"They will not have offensive weapons," Blum said. "This is
not a combat operation."

Another quarter of the National Guard will be used to build
roads and metal barriers on the border, while the remaining
troops will serve as intelligence analysts and in various
command functions.

"We are not closing our border. We are trying to gain
control of our borders," Blum said.

Texas already has a guard mission along its 1,200-mile
(1,920-km) border with Mexico supporting the Border Patrol,
according to Maj. Gen. Charles Rodriguez, Adjutant General of
the Texas Military Forces.