- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

National Guard soldiers who abandoned an observation post on the U.S.-Mexico border after spotting armed men approaching their position acted appropriately by retreating to a safer location, the U.S. Border Patrol said yesterday.

Border Patrol spokesman Mario Martinez at the agency’s D.C. headquarters said that although the National Guard troops were armed and authorized to use force in self-defense, they determined they were not in imminent danger and retreated to call for help.

“The Border Patrol responded within minutes with air and ground units, but found no one in the area,” Mr. Martinez said. “In this situation, the National Guard troops did exactly what was expected of them, exactly what they should have done.

“The Guard troops are not there to engage, interdict or arrest anyone but to man observation posts,” he said.

The troops were members of an entry-identification team, assigned to monitor major illegal-alien and drug-smuggling corridors.

Mr. Martinez said that no shots were exchanged and that no one was injured in the incident, which occurred Wednesday shortly after 11 p.m. near Sasabe, Ariz., about 70 miles southwest of Tucson. He said agents who responded to the site found footprints leading back to Mexico.

The armed men had come within 100 yards of the observation post.

Mr. Martinez said the Border Patrol has not identified the four or five armed men involved in the incident but said the Guard troops spotted them with their night-vision equipment and confirmed they were carrying rifles.

Several Border Patrol field agents said the armed men could have been a scouting party for drug smugglers or might have been testing the National Guard’s response to a cross-border intrusion.

In that same area in July 2005, two Border Patrol agents were shot and wounded by assailants in what law-enforcement authorities called a planned ambush by drug smugglers a mile north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

More than 50 rounds were fired at the agents after they spotted suspected drug smugglers in a canyon east of Nogales, Ariz., authorities said. Although most of the smugglers fled, one man used a hand-held radio to point out the agents’ location to other shooters hidden nearby, they said.

The agents, who were tracking a previous marijuana load on foot, were shot in the leg with high-powered weapons. Authorities said the gunmen withdrew from the canyon using military-style cover and concealment tactics to escape back into Mexico.

Authorities later found 500 pounds of marijuana near the site.

About 6,000 National Guard troops deployed along the 1,951-mile U.S.-Mexico border are part of President Bush’s $760 million Operation Jump Start. They have been deployed from California to Texas to upgrade border security and give the Border Patrol time to recruit, hire and train 6,000 new agents by the end of 2008.

The Guard troops are not empowered to get involved in law-enforcement duties. They cannot detain, arrest or interdict anyone or anything coming across the border — only report them to the Border Patrol.

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