Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the Senate yesterday that dispatching 6,000 troops to support security efforts on the U.S.-Mexico border will be a test of a recently upgraded National Guard, but will not impede other missions.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the troops are a small part of the 445,000-member National Guard force and that the assignment will "provide useful, real-life training."
"We will see their flexibility with the president's proposal to temporarily increase the supporting role the Guard is already playing to secure our nation's borders," Mr. Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the Pentagon's 2007 budget request of $423.2 billion for Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the Army Reserve and National Guard troops in five years have gone from "chronically undermanned" to being comparable to active-duty units with the infusion of $21 billion for new equipment and a new brigade structure.
On a separate subject, Mr. Rumsfeld said Bush administration attorneys are debating differences between prisoners of war and unlawful combatants and how they will be treated under rules contained in a forthcoming revised Army field manual.
Regardless of the outcome, the manual will comply with U.S. laws, including the amendment sponsored by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that requires the Army to apply uniform standards of interrogation, he said.
The defense secretary also said he hoped U.S. troops could be reduced in Iraq this year but made no promises for cuts. About 19 percent of the 133,000 troops in Iraq are Guard and Reserve forces.
President Bush announced the border security initiative earlier this week.
Troops will assist Border Patrol agents but not in law-enforcement activities, Mr. Rumsfeld said. The 6,000 Guardsmen will be used for one year and 3,000 will be deployed in the second year of the program.
The troops will not be activated as they would for missions overseas, but will be used in the same way as for counternarcotics operations or disaster relief, he said. They will be sent to four border states: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the Department of Homeland Security is expected to request the use of National Guard unmanned aerial vehicles for the mission, along with other technicians, language specialists and construction crews.
Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the National Guard Bureau chief, said during the hearing that the border deployments are similar to the Guard's use in airport security after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"The Guard provided that capability for this nation on an interim basis until the proper federal agency could stand up, train and equip their people, and then they took over the mission and the Guard left that mission and went back to doing other things," Gen. Blum said.