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Schwarzenegger OKs Guard for border duty

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

From combined dispatches

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who initially opposed President Bush's plan to station up to 6,000 National Guard troops to help police the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, said yesterday that he was prepared to commit his state militia to aid the effort to curb illegal aliens.

Meanwhile yesterday, the National Guard chief told federal lawmakers in Washington that the first wave of 800 National Guard soldiers will head to the U.S.-Mexico border next week, including planners and leadership personnel who will stay longer than the planned 21-day missions.

A day before the Austrian-born movie star is to hold talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox in Sacramento, Mr. Schwarzenegger gave his clearest signal yet that he would support Mr. Bush's plan to use the Guard in a support role for the U.S. Border Patrol.

"I will make it clear to President Fox that I oppose the using of military for law-enforcement troops," Mr. Schwarzenegger said at a press conference in Sacramento. "However, I am prepared to commit the California National Guard troops in support of Border Patrol operations.

"However, as I say, it has to be on a temporary basis," he said, adding that he was still awaiting answers from the federal government on the cost and duration of the mission.

"The governor is prepared to take action on the president's proposal. However, he will not move forward until the questions he has been asking since day one are answered," Schwarzenegger communications director Adam Mendelsohn later told Reuters news agency. "Will the federal government fully reimburse the state of California for the cost of the mission?"

Earlier yesterday, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said 200 soldiers are preparing to go to each of the four southern border states -- California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico -- around June 1. He said the initial troops will be part of a longer-term force of project managers, who will stay on the job over time to provide continuity in the new border program.

It was not clear whether the initial influx of Guard members would come from the four border states or from other units across the country. Gen. Blum said the Guard troops that will be deployed longer than three weeks are volunteers.

Under the plan, most of the troops would spend about 21 days, which includes their normal annual two-week training mission, working along the border. The Guard troops would be used for engineering, road and fence building, transportation, logistics and surveillance and reconnaissance.

Gen. Blum and Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, repeatedly told members of the House Armed Services Committee that the Guard members would be armed for personal protection but would not do significant law-enforcement duties.