- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

1:36 p.m.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld assured members of Congress today that using thousands of National Guard troops to help secure the U.S. border with Mexico will not detract from the troops’ ability to perform other missions at home and abroad. He said it would sharpen their skills.

“The up to 6,000 guardsmen and women proposed for this effort represent less than 2 percent of the total National Guard force of some 400,000, and for the most part, they will be deployed during their two- or three-week active duty training period,” he told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee.

“As such, this will not only not adversely affect America’s ability to conduct the war on terror or respond to other domestic emergencies, it will actually provide useful real-life training for the members of the National Guard,” he added.

In mostly amicable exchanges with Democratic panel members on the war in Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld was pressed to discuss the prospects for bringing U.S. troops home. He said, as he often has in recent months, that it depends largely on political progress in Baghdad and continued progress in training and equipping Iraqi security forces.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, asked whether there would be a significant troop reduction by the end of the year.

“Needless to say, we would hope so,” Mr. Rumsfeld replied. He added that President Bush is awaiting recommendations from the top U.S. commanders on the timing and pace of any substantial troop reductions.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who testified with Mr. Rumsfeld, was asked by Mr. Leahy whether U.S. troops could withdraw completely from any of Iraq’s 18 provinces within the next three months.

“No, sir,” Gen. Pace replied.

There are about 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the White House budget office was still considering whether the beefed-up border operation would require an immediate congressional appropriation of extra funds. The Department of Homeland Security, which is leading the border security program, has yet to tell the Pentagon exactly what missions it wants the National Guard to perform, he added.

“Our forces would not be doing law enforcement or standing on the border arresting people or anything like that,” he said. Instead, they will be providing surveillance, communications and construction help.

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