- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Pentagon had no desire to deploy active duty troops to Washington last week to quell rioting over George Floyd’s death on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, military officials said Sunday.

But Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said that officials had thoroughly discussed the idea, noting that an infantry battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division was put on alert at nearby Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Speaking Sunday to defense reporters, Mr. McCarthy said officials realized that would have been a major step in ratcheting up tension in the city.

“We did everything we could not to cross that line,” he said. “We came right up to the edge of bringing active duty troops here, but we didn’t.”

President Trump early last week threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, which authorizes the commander in chief to deploy federal troops in the U.S. under certain conditions.

Instead, National Guardsmen from 10 states and the District of Columbia were activated, and law enforcement officers from several federal agencies were deployed in Washington.

“We didn’t know if we could put enough support into the city quickly by martialing national guardsmen from the surrounding areas,” Mr. McCarthy said Sunday.

“We were the last line of defense,” added Arm Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard.

About 800 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as The Old Guard for their service at Arlington National Cemetery, were placed on alert but are returning to their normal duties, Mr. McCarthy said.

Because the situation in Washington has been calm over the last several days, National Guard troops from other states are being moved out, officials said Sunday.

“The National Guard defended themselves and held the line,” Gen. Walker said. “They were never aggressive. They were never offensive.”

Officials said an investigation is expected to be wrapped up by mid-week into the use of a low-flying military helicopter during marches that some have claimed used its rotor wash to harass protesters.

Meanwhile, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell announced Sunday that he would not be backing Mr. Trump for reelection and instead would support former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

Mr. Powell, a Republican and former secretary of state, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

A former Joint Chiefs chairman, Mr. Powell added his voice to a growing chorus of retired four-star officers critical of Mr. Trump. Last week, retired Marine Gens. James Mattis and John F. Kelly, who had served as Mr. Trump’s defense secretary and Homeland Security, respectively, issued statements criticizing the president’s leadership.

Two other retired four-star leaders have spoken out against Mr. Trump.

Retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former Joint Chiefs chairman, on Thursday told NPR that Mr. Trump’s threat to use active duty troops to quell protests was “very troubling” and “dangerous.”

On Sunday, Gen. Dempsey told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s “This Week” that he joined the Army soon after the Vietnam War during the military’s uncomfortable transition from the draft to an all-volunteer force.

“It took us a while to regain the trust of the American people,” Gen. Dempsey said, adding that Mr. Trump’s threats risk losing that trust. “Now we have a wonderful relationship with the people in this country.”

Appearing Sunday on Fox News, retired Navy Adm. Michael Mullen also criticized Mr. Trump’s threat of military force against protesters.

“We have a military to fight the enemy, not our own people,” Adm. Mullen told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.

Last week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper publicly stated that he opposed the use of active duty troops to quell rioting. But he later reversed a decision to pull National Guard troops out of Washington, allowing them to patrol D.C. streets for at least another 24 hours.

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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