US likely to give troops authority to protect border officials

FILE PHOTO: U.S. border patrol agents gather to look over the border fence between Mexico and the United States, where they expect a large group of caravan migrants to gather on Sunday, at Border State Park in San Diego, California, U.S. November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House is likely to grant U.S. troops on the border with Mexico additional authority to protect customs and border personnel if needed, a U.S. official said on Monday.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a public announcement could come around Tuesday and specific details were still being worked on. Currently troops do not have the authority to protect border officials.

There are about 5,900 active-duty troops on the border with Mexico. Reinforcements were sent by U.S. President Donald Trump with the goal of helping bolster the border ahead of the expected arrival of caravans of Central American migrants.

In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not comment on whether authority given to the troops would change but said it would not allow its personnel to be in harm’s way.

“We will do everything we can to protect those who defend our nation’s sovereignty and secure our border. We appreciate the Department of Defense stepping in to assist the Department of Homeland Security as needed,” Katie Waldman, a DHS spokeswoman, said.

The news was first reported by CNN.

The Pentagon has said in the past that there were no plans for U.S. forces to interact with migrants and that they have been carrying out support tasks, like stringing up wire and building temporary housing for themselves and border personnel.

Trump’s politically charged decision to send U.S. troops to the border with Mexico came ahead of U.S. congressional elections. Critics say it was designed to drive Republican voters to the polls.

The commander of the mission told Reuters last week that the number of troops may have peaked and he would soon look at whether to begin sending forces home or perhaps shifting some to new border positions.

About 6000 Central Americans have reached the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali, according to local officials. More bands of migrants are making their way toward Tijuana, with around 10,000 expected.

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