Tag: troops

President Trump Again Orders Troops to the Border

President Trump recently said that he would deploy troops to the Mexican border in response to the 3,000-4,000 Central American migrants and asylum seekers who are walking to the U.S. border.  This follows President Trump’s earlier deployment of about 4,000 National Guardsmen (2,100 troops remain) to the border to respond to another caravan earlier this year.  American Presidents have ordered troops to the border to assist in immigration enforcement several times when the flow of illegal immigrants was significantly greater than it is today.  Deploying additional troops to deal the approaching migrant caravan is unjustified and unnecessary. 

Previous U.S. presidents have deployed troops to the U.S. border to assist in immigration enforcement and drug interdiction.  The first such request after World War II was in 1954 when the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) launched Operation Wetback (yes, that is what the government called it).  Then-Attorney General Herbert Brownell asked the U.S. Army to help round up and remove illegal immigrants.  According to Matt Matthews in his “The US Army on the Mexican Border: A Historical Perspective,” the Army refused to deploy troops for that purpose because it would disrupt training, cost too much money at a time of budget cuts, and it would have required at least a division of troops to secure the border.  Then-head of the INS General Swing remarked in 1954 that deploying U.S. Army troops on the border was a “perfectly horrible” idea that would “destroy relations with Mexico.”  It was also unnecessary. 

In 1954, the 1,079 Border Patrol agents made 1,028,246 illegal immigrant apprehensions or 953 apprehensions per agent that year along all U.S. borders.  For the entire border, Border Patrol agents collectively made 2,817 apprehensions per day in 1954 with a force that was 94 percent smaller than today’s Border Patrol.  In other words, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 2.6 illegal immigrants per day in 1954.  Neither President Eisenhower nor the Army considered that inflow of illegal immigrants to be large enough to warrant the deployment of troops along the border despite Brownell’s request.   

Earlier in 2018, President Trump ordered about 4,000 troops to help the 16,605 Border Patrol agents on the southwest border apprehend the roughly 1,000 Central American migrants from an earlier caravan.  About 2,100 of those troops remain.  At that time, there were about 16.6 Border Patrol agents for each Central American migrant.  As for the current caravan approaching, assuming the number does not decrease any further, there are 4 to 6 Border Patrol agents for each person traveling from Central America in this caravan.  It’s likely that troops deployed on the border will outnumber the most recent caravan when (if) it arrives.   

In fiscal year 2018, Border Patrol apprehended about 396,579 illegal immigrants or about 24 per Border Patrol agent over the entire year on the southwest border, which works out to one apprehension per Border Patrol agents every 15 days.  By that measure, Border Patrol agents in 1954 individually apprehended an average of 40 times as many illegal immigrants as Border Patrol agents did in 2018.  If the current caravan makes it to the United States border, it would add about one and a half days worth of apprehensions at the 1954 level.  Border Patrol should be able to handle this comparatively small number of asylum seekers and migrants without military aid as they have done so before many times with a much smaller force.

Other Border Deployments

Since 1982, most U.S. military deployments and operations along the Mexican border were intended to counter the import of illegal drugs.  Joint Task Force 6 was deployed to the border in 1989 to aid in drug interdiction.  The regular deployment of troops for that purpose ended in 1997 after a U.S. Marine shot and killed American citizen Esequiel Hernandez Jr.  By July of that year, Secretary of Defense William Cohen suspended the use of armed soldiers on the border for anti-drug missions. 

On May 15, 2006, President Bush ordered 6,000 National Guard troops to the border as part of Operation Jump Start to provide a surge of border enforcement while the government was hiring more Border Patrol agents.  In 2006, there were about 59 apprehensions per Border Patrol agent or one per agent every four days.  Operation Jump Start ended on July 15, 2008.  In that year, there were an average of 41 apprehensions per agent or one apprehension every nine days per agent during the entire year.  President Obama also deployed 1,200 troops to the border in 2010 to assist Border Patrol, but they left in 2012.  In that year, Border Patrol agents on the southwest border individually apprehended an average of one illegal immigrant every 19 days. 

The two recent deployments to assist in enforcing immigration law along the border occurred when there were fewer apprehensions, represented by more days between each apprehension for each agent (Figure 1).  The higher the number for the blue line in Figure 1, the fewer people Border Patrol agents individually apprehend.  From about 1975 through 2006, the Border Patrol faced an annual inflow of illegal immigrants far larger than anything seen in recent years. 

Figure 1

The Average Number of Days Between Each Border Patrol Apprehension on the Southwest Border, 1975-2018

Figure 1: Average Number of Days Between Each Border Patrol Apprehension on the Southwest Border

In years and decades past, the average amount of time between Border Patrol apprehensions of illegal immigrants could be measured in hours while now it is measured in weeks.  The proposed deployment of American troops to the border at a time of low and falling illegal immigrant entries is an unnecessary waste of time and resources.  

Sending Troops to the Border Is Unnecessary and Dangerous

President Trump recently said that he would deploy troops to the Mexican border in response to the over-hyped story of about 1,000 Central Americans who are walking to the U.S. border to ask for asylum, which is their right under American law. “Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” President Trump said on Tuesday. “That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.” On the contrary, American Presidents have ordered troops to the border to assist in immigration enforcement several times and all of them when the flow of illegal immigrants was significantly greater than it is today.

When the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) launched Operation Wetback in 1954 (yes, that is what the government called it), then-Attorney General Herbert Brownell asked the U.S. Army to help round up and remove illegal immigrants.  According to Matt Matthews in his “The US Army on the Mexican Border: A Historical Perspective,” the Army refused to deploy troops for that purpose because it would disrupt training, cost too much money at a time of budget cuts, and it would have required at least a division of troops to secure the border.  According to Matthews, head of the INS General Swing remarked in 1954 that deploying U.S. Army troops on the border was a “perfectly horrible” idea that would “destroy relations with Mexico.” It was also unnecessary.

In 1954, the 1,079 Border Patrol agents made 1,028,246 illegal immigrant apprehensions or 953 apprehensions per agent that year.  For the entire border, Border Patrol agents collectively made 2,817 apprehensions per day in 1954 with a force that was 95 percent smaller than today’s Border Patrol. In other words, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 2.6 illegal immigrants per day in 1954. Neither President Eisenhower nor the military considered that inflow of illegal immigrants to be large enough to warrant the deployment of troops along the border.  The expansion of the Bracero guest worker visa program increased the opportunity for legal migration to such an extent that it drove virtually all would-be illegal immigrants into the legal market, crashing the number of apprehensions by 93 percent by 1956.

In 2018, President Trump has ordered troops to the border to help the current number of 19,437 Border Patrol agents apprehend the roughly 1,000 Central American asylum seekers who are slowly making their way north (but probably won’t make it all the way to the border). There are currently about 19 Border Patrol agents for each Central American asylum-seeker in this caravan. In 2017, Border Patrol apprehended about 360,000 illegal immigrants or about 18 per Border Patrol agent over the entire year, which works out to one apprehension per Border Patrol agent every 20 days. By that measure, Border Patrol agents in 1954 individually apprehended an average of 53 times as many illegal immigrants as Border Patrol agents did in 2017. If the current caravan makes it to the United States border, it would add about a single day’s worth of apprehensions. Border Patrol should be able to handle this comparatively small number of asylum seekers without military aid as they have done so before many times.

It is also unclear what the troops will actually accomplish on the border. Since the members of the caravan intend to surrender to Border Patrol or Customs Officers and ask for asylum, the troops serve no purpose. They will not deter asylum seekers. Border Patrol agents are not overwhelmed by entries even though they constantly plead poverty in an effort to capture more taxpayer resources. The most likely explanation for the proposed deployment is politics, just like the previous deployments.

Other Border Deployments

Since 1982, most U.S. military deployments and operations along the Mexican border were intended to counter the import of illegal drugs.  The regular deployment of troops for that purpose ended in 1997 after a U.S. Marine shot and killed Esequiel Hernandez Jr., an American citizen, as he was out herding goats.  By July of that year, Secretary of Defense William Cohen suspended the use of armed soldiers on the border for anti-drug missions. 

On May 15, 2006, President Bush ordered 6,000 National Guard troops to the border as part of Operation Jump Start to provide a surge of border enforcement while the government was hiring more Border Patrol agents.  In 2006, there were about 59 apprehensions per Border Patrol agent or one per agent every four days.  Operation Jump Start ended on July 15, 2008.  In that year, there was an average of one apprehension every nine days per agent during the entire year.  President Obama also deployed 1,200 troops to the border in 2010 to assist Border Patrol during a time of falling apprehensions.  They left in 2012.  In that year, Border Patrol agents individually apprehended an average of one illegal immigrant every 16 days. 

The two recent deployments to assist in enforcing immigration law along the border occurred when there were fewer apprehensions, represented by more days between each apprehension for each agent (Figure 1).  The higher the number for the blue line in Figure 1, the fewer people Border Patrol agents individually apprehend.  From about 1970 through 2006, the Border Patrol faced an annual inflow of illegal immigrants far in excess of anything in recent years yet President Trump has decided that this is the time to put troops on the border.

Figure 1

The Average Number of Days Between Each Border Patrol Apprehension Per Year

Sources: Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Naturalization Service.  

Legal Issues

Whether President Trump’s proposed deployment of troops along the border is legal is a difficult question to answer.  The use of the military in domestic law enforcement has to be authorized by Congress but they have authorized it for drug enforcement several times along the border.  Furthermore, border enforcement might be distinct from domestic law enforcement as even the rights of American citizens are legally curtailed in border zones.  Additionally, Congress arguably granted funds and a blanket authority to deploy troops along the border in the Defense Authorization Act for 2005 to defend against a “threat” or “aggression” against the territory or domestic population of the United States.  As with most powers, Congress has ceded most of its authority to the President in this area.

Regardless of the legalities, the proposed deployment of American troops to the border without a clear mission at a time of low and falling illegal immigrant entries is an unnecessary waste of time and resources that could put Americans in harm’s way for no gain.  

Administration Should Speed Military Withdrawal From Afghanistan

America has been at war in Afghanistan for more than 13 years. U.S. troop levels peaked at 140,000 in 2010. More than 2200 Americans died in a conflict reflecting little more than purposeless inertia.

The U.S. is leaving, but not entirely and maybe not soon. Warned NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove in January, “we are going to continue to have casualties.” The formal combat mission might be over, but combat is not.

Roughly half of the 10,600 American troops are supposed to depart by the end of the year, with the rest scheduled to go in 2016. But the administration is considering slowing the withdrawal.

Washington intervened in Afghanistan with two overriding objectives:  destroy al-Qaeda and oust its Taliban hosts. The U.S. quickly fulfilled both goals. But then the Bush administration lost interest in the country.

Instead of ending Washington’s half-hearted misadventure at nation-building, the Obama administration twice doubled down. Some progress was made, but when I visited I found only limited confidence in private.

Washington and its allies built a large government bureaucracy and security force in Kabul, but on a potential foundation of sand. The Afghan government is noted for venality, incompetence, and corruption.

Thoughts on the F-35’s Extra Engine

I’m a bit late to the party in commenting on the passage of the Rooney Amendment, a successful effort on the part of 2nd-term Republican Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) to strip funding for the F-136, an engine that the Pentagon doesn’t want for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

A few additional thoughts: unlike nearly all other amendments to the CR, Rooney’s passed, and fairly easily. Part of the reason is strong administration support for the effort, key especially to securing votes from Democrats – those who don’t have F-136 plants in their districts, that is. But Gates had signaled his displeasure many times previously, so that alone doesn’t explain this rare victory for budget hawks.

I would guess that an additional factor is the slew of new Republicans elected on a platform of fiscal prudence. Having Rooney as a champion for the cause certainly helped, with 110 Republicans voting for the amendment (vote tally here). A majority within the GOP still treat weapons contractors with kid gloves, but claiming that every single weapon system is essential to the nation’s survival can get pretty laughable, especially when the Secretary of Defense and all the relevant uniformed officers disagree. 

(Speaking of laughable, wouldn’t it be absurd for the Obama administration to threaten to veto the CR because it now has too little money for the Pentagon? Wait. That happened.)

Much as I would like to dwell on the defeat of the F-136 in the House, however, I am sobered by the reality of budgeting for the military. This is hardly the final blow in this battle. Opponents and supporters of the extra engine in the Senate have already lined up their forces. The engine might yet re-emerge. And we must not lose sight of the fact that the total amount saved – $450 million – is tiny relative to the Pentagon’s budget of around $540 billion in this fiscal year. Perhaps rather than debating the need for a second engine, we should be debating the need for a plane that is grossly over budget, badly behind schedule, and riddled with performance problems?

So kudos to Congressman Rooney for leading this fight, but there is still much, much more to do to bring military spending down to reasonable levels. (For example, removing U.S. troops from Europe, a policy that already enjoys considerable support.)

Concerning the End of “Combat Operations” in Iraq

Several of today’s front pages feature iconic images of U.S. troops marching onto troop transports and into the sunset in Iraq. Today’s story by Ernesto Londoño in the Washington Post, features Lt. Col. Mark Bieger of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division,  “This is a historic mission!” Beiger bellows as his troops prepared to depart Baghdad for the last time, ”A truly historic end to seven years of war.”

No disrespect to Col. Bieger and his troops, but the war isn’t over, and it won’t be so long as there are significant number of U.S. troops in Iraq at risk of being caught in the cross-fire of a sectarian civil war.

The Iraqi government, more than five months after nationwide elections, remains in limbo. Talks over a power sharing arrangement have broken down. Meanwhile, violence is on the rise. Call it whatever you like, but the 50,000 troops who remain in Iraq are still dealing with a lot of challenges.

Much of the confusion in the media reporting revolves around semantics, words and phrases such as “combat” and “combat units.” It doesn’t help that George W. Bush declared on May 1, 2003 that ”major combat operations in Iraq have ended” under that infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner. But beyond Bush’s irrational exuberance, such terms are increasingly misleading in an era in which conventional, state vs. state organized violence – what we used to think of as war – has been replaced by murky, disorganized violence, perpetrated by disparate militias, or merely disgruntled individuals unhappy with their lot in life, and determined to take it out on anyone who happens to be around at the time.

Unfortunately, I have very little confidence that that state of affairs will change any time soon. And I seriously doubt that our people – our men and women in uniform, and, explains Michael Gordon in the New York Times, soon many more U.S. civilians and contractors – will be able to put everything right, and not for lack of trying. Meanwhile, I am deeply troubled by the rising chorus of voices calling on the Obama administration to ignore the remaining provisions of the status of forces agreement (SOFA) and prepare for an indefinite military presence in Iraq. (On this, see Ted Galen Carpenter’s latest entry at TNI’s The Skeptics blog.)

So, no, the war isn’t over. For better or worse (and chiefly the latter),  Americans will remain associated with an unpopular and government in Baghdad as it struggles to hold together the country’s disparate factions. They will be at great risk if the current political paralysis collapses into still wider violence.

Needless to say, I hope that doesn’t happen. But I won’t be striking up the band and declaring the war American in Iraq to be truly over, until all of our troops are back home.

It’s the End of 2009. Where Are Our Troops?

This is not the change we hoped for. President Obama rose to power on the basis of his early opposition to the Iraq war and his promise to end it. But after a year in the White House he has made both of George Bush’s wars his wars.

Speaking of Iraq in February 2008, candidate Barack Obama said, “I opposed this war in 2002. I will bring this war to an end in 2009. It is time to bring our troops home.” The following month, under fire from Hillary Clinton, he reiterated, ”I was opposed to this war in 2002….I have been against it in 2002, 2003, 2004, 5, 6, 7, 8 and I will bring this war to an end in 2009. So don’t be confused.”

Indeed, in his famous “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow” speech on the night he clinched the Democratic nomination, he also proclaimed, “I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that … this was the moment when we ended a war.”

Now he has doubled down on the war in Afghanistan and has promised to keep the war in Iraq going for another 19 months, after which we will have 50,000 American troops in Iraq for as far as the eye can see. If McCain had proposed this sort of minor tweaking of the Bush policy, I think we’d see antiwar rallies in 300 cities. Calling the antiwar movement!

President Obama’s promises are becoming less credible. He says that after all this vitally necessary and unprecedented federal spending, he will turn his attention to constraining spending at some uncertain date in the future. And he says that he will first put more troops into Afghanistan, and then withdraw them at some uncertain date in the future (“in July of 2011,” but “taking into account conditions on the ground”). Voters are going to be skeptical of both these promises to accelerate now and then put on the brakes later.

The real risk for Obama is becoming not JFK but LBJ – a president with an ambitious, expensive, and ultimately destructive domestic agenda, who ends up bogged down and destroyed by an endless war. Congress should press for a quicker conclusion to both wars – and should also remember the years of stagflation and slow growth that followed President Johnson’s expansion of the welfare state.

President Obama to Announce Troop Increase in Afghanistan

afghanistan mapThere are two things that President Obama’s plan won’t do: win the war, or end the war.

While all Americans hope that the mission in Afghanistan will turn out well, the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency doctrine says that stabilizing a country the size of Afghanistan would require far more troops than the most wild-eyed hawk has proposed: about 600,000 troops. An additional 30 to 40,000 troops isn’t just a case of too little, too late; it holds almost no prospect of winning the war. Accordingly, this likely won’t be the last prime-time address in which the president proposes sending many more troops to Afghanistan; my greatest fear is that this is only the first of many.

But we shouldn’t just commit still more troops. President Obama should have recognized that the goals he set forth in March went too far. A better strategic review would have revisited our core objectives and assumptions. It would have focused on a narrower set of achievable objectives that are directly connected to vital U.S. security interests—chiefly disrupting al Qaeda’s ability to do harm—and that would have left the rebuilding of Afghanistan to Afghans, not Americans. President Obama’s national security team seems not to have even considered this course. Instead, the administration focused on repackaging the same grandiose strategy.

Secretary of Defense Gates fixed on the dilemma several weeks ago when he pondered aloud: “How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans and the American people that this is not open-ended?”

It turns out you can’t. The president’s decision to deepen our commitment to Afghanistan while simultaneously promising an exit is ultimately absurd on its face.

I’d be surprised if any foreign policy analyst would bet his or her next paycheck that this is going to work. I wouldn’t.