Troops not militarizing Mexico border: U.S. envoy

MEXICO CITY Wed May 26, 2010 7:35pm EDT

A view of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Nogales, Arizona is pictured in this photo taken April 28, 2010. REUTERS/John Russell

A view of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Nogales, Arizona is pictured in this photo taken April 28, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/John Russell

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - U.S. troops deployed to the Mexican border will take a backseat role to civilian security forces combating illegal flows of drugs and migrants and will not militarize the frontier, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico said on Wednesday.

In response to spiraling drug violence in northern Mexico where cartels are battling for smuggling routes, President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday he would send 1,200 more National Guard troops and ask for an additional $500 million to secure the almost 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

But U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual said the number of soldiers was tiny compared to the 26,000 immigration, customs and border patrol agents.

"This isn't a militarization of the border. In fact the overall share of the military is still relatively small," Pascual told correspondents at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. He said with the 300 National Guard troops already stationed at the border, the total number would not surpass 1,500.

"I think it is important that we continue to reinforce in our strategy that we are putting civilian law enforcement agencies out front and that they have the lead," he said.

The troops, rather than carrying out operations to dismantle drug cartels or human smuggling rings, will be working in back offices helping intelligence officials process information, or be posted as lookouts between ports of entry.

Border experts and human rights workers say the border is already militarized with parallel steel fences backed up by sensors and patrolled by helicopters and armed border agents.

Republicans have criticized Obama's plan for not going far enough. They want him to send 6,000 troops, which is how many his Republican predecessor George W. Bush sent in 2006, in "Operation Jump Start."

"Though this initial deployment is an important first step, the President is not sending enough troops," said Arizona's two U.S. senators, Republicans John McCain and Jon Kyl, who introduced an amendment seeking to force Obama to send more soldiers.

The lawmakers are concerned about Mexican drug violence spilling over the border. More than 23,000 people have been killed as drug gangs fight turf wars and battle federal agents and the army, since Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006 promising to attack the cartels head on.

The frightening daytime shootouts with automatic weapons that have become a common occurrence in northern Mexican cities like Ciudad Juarez have not been seen on the U.S. side of the border, Pascual said.

The flow of illegal immigrants, a hot button issue after Arizona passed a tough new illegal immigration crackdown, can only be solved with comprehensive reform backed both by Obama and Calderon when they met in Washington last week, he said. (Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington)

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Comments (14)
The_Traveler wrote:
So what? If we want to “militarize” our border, it’s our right to do so. We don’t have to justify to Calderon any border policy we want to bring into effect.

It would be far better to announce that we ARE militarizing our border to give pause to these people!

May 26, 2010 8:03pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
fred5407 wrote:
I think that a zero tolerance on illegal entry and also instant deportation with forfiture of all money and property would send the proper message. Really, enough is enough.

May 26, 2010 8:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
jaraus1966 wrote:
Obama still remains a wimp to Calderon as if he needs permission to militarize our own border. Didn’t Calderon order Obama to do more to curtail gun’s and laundered monies from coming into his country. Since when does our president kneel to special interests groups and Calderon. Comprehensive reform is not the answer. Shipping all illegals back by train loads is. Obama, read the polls Americans are sick and tired of supporting Calderons people. Send a strong message stay out of the U.S.

May 26, 2010 8:20pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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