President Trump announced late on Wednesday that his military surge along the border with Mexico could eventually see 15,000 troops deployed, three times the number previously been reported.
If he follows through on that promise, iIt would be the largest domestic deployment of active duty military in modern American history, and eclipse the number of troops currently stationed in Iraq. And it raises major questions about how that many active soldiers and Marines could possibly be used.
In simple terms, the scale and nature of Trump’s deployment along the southern border is unprecedented, but history offers a few hints at what might come next.
Presidents have deployed the military along the border a number of times in the past, but they’ve almost always used the National Guard
In 2010, Barack Obama sent 1,200 National Guardsmen to the border for 15 months, as part of a mission he called Operation Phalanx. It cost roughly $160 million. But the most comparable example can likely be found under George W. Bush, who in 2006, sent some 6,000 Guardsmen to the border for a two year period starting in 2006, a cost to taxpayers of $1.2 billion.
Once down there, the troops largely worked behind the scenes.
“They were not patrolling the border,” said Adam Isacson, the director of the defense oversight program at the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America, “They were monitoring the sensors, they’d be doing oil changes for the Border Patrol vehicles and maintaining equipment. And just a lot more of them also were sitting under tents in lawn chairs with binoculars looking at the border looking for anyone suspected of the crossing.”
Still, those jobs were not entirely inconsequential. Michael Fisher, who was Chief of the Border Patrol from 2010 to 2015, said that during his time in office, Guardsmen mostly focused on tasks that allowed Border Patrol agents to better do their own jobs, including surveillance and intelligence gathering missions.
“That would free up Border Patrol agents who in the absence of the military would be doing those types of missions,” Fisher said.
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