March 12, 2009 / 7:48 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. troops at Mexico line 'last resort' -official

By Randall Mikkelsen

WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - Sending U.S. troops to the Mexican border is an unlikely "last resort" for combating any spillover of drug violence, but the Obama administration is updating contingency plans, officials said on Thursday.

Senior Homeland Security Department officials testified to Congress a day after President Barack Obama, under growing pressure from border-state governors, told reporters he was considering deploying National Guard troops but at no time soon.

The administration has contingency plans for dealing with border violence and an update is expected to be ready next month, said Roger Rufe, director of operations coordination for the Department of Homeland Security.

"We would exhaust all the resources of the federal government short of (sending) DoD (Department of Defense) and National Guard troops before we would reach that tipping point," Rufe told a House of Representatives Homeland Security subcommittee.

"We are very close in the planning process right now with our brethren in the National Guard and the Department of Defense, to make sure they’re ready when the time comes," Rufe said.

Despite the planning, it was unlikely troops would be needed, Rufe told Reuters after the hearing. "We’ve addressed the plan to obviously cover all the scenarios up to the most unexpected extreme. All the indications we have right now is that we will never get to that point. But we have a plan in place if we were to get there."

Lawmakers and local officials from U.S. states bordering Mexico have expressed growing concern that Mexico’s rising drug violence — more than 6,000 people were killed last year in battles over turf and smuggling routes — would spill over into the United States.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer asked the federal government on Wednesday to send 250 National Guard reserve troops to help 150 already there supporting local law enforcement against drug trafficking. Texas Governor Rick Perry has also asked for 1,000 National Guard troops.

Obama told regional news reporters on Wednesday that he was studying the issue, but did not have a particular "tipping point" in mind for sending in troops. "We’re going to examine whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense and under what circumstances they would make sense."

He said it would be unacceptable for Mexican drug gangs to endanger U.S. citizens, but also said, "I’m not interested in militarizing the border."

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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