The active-duty U.S. Army soldiers on standby outside of Washington amid the racial unrest following the death of George Floyd are being sent back to their permanent bases, Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy said Friday.
Up to 200,000 protestors are expected to be marching in Washington Saturday, but thousands of U.S. National Guard troops and federal law enforcement officers from around the country who have flooded into the city and made any active duty military mission moot, Mr. McCarthy said.
Paratroops from the 82nd Airborne Division have already left the area and the 91st M.P. Battalion from Fort Drum, N.Y. received verbal orders to prepare to return home. The 3rd Infantry Regiment - better known as The Old Guard - is still on an alert status if necessary.
“It’s our intention to try and turn that off as soon as possible,” Mr. McCarthy said. “We’ve been able to generate enough personnel from the National Guard standpoint to support the operations.”
Mr. McCarthy said he talks to MPD Chief Peter Newsham five or six times a day since the demonstrations first began after Floyd died Memorial Day at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. The Army has done everything possible to tighten coordination with local officials, he said.
The Army was not in a position to conduct domestic intelligence activities so they turned to law enforcement. On Sunday, police in Washington were monitoring text messages from Antifa members that seemed to indicate a coordinated event was about to kick off.
In addition to the fire ignited at the historic St. John’s Church near the White House, the Lincoln Memorial was defaced and several National Guard troops were struck in the head.
“We just didn’t have enough people here. Sunday was an incredibly challenging night for us,” Mr. McCarthy said.
The active duty troops never left their staging areas outside Washington. Also, Mr. McCarthy said he hasn’t heard of any reports of National Guard troops having direct physical contact with protestors.
An investigation is continuing into the use of a low-flying National Guard medevac helicopter Monday night as a show of force against protesters. The crew has been grounded pending the outcome of the inquiry, Mr. McCarthy said.
Although he declined to comment further about the helicopter incident, the Army secretary said he didn’t receive any instructions from the White House to use the helicopter as a way to ward off protestors.