Trump’s Defense Secretary Rejects Plan to Send 250,000 Troops to the Border
Former President Trump’s top national security advisers also pushed him off of authorizing military assaults against drug gangs within Mexico.
President Trump’s military secretary scoffed at the notion.
In the spring of 2020, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper was alarmed to learn of a plan being discussed at a top military command and the Department of Homeland Security to send up to 250,000 troops — more than half of the active United States Army and a sixth of all American forces — to the southern border, in what would have been the largest use of military forces inside the United States since the Civil War.
With the coronavirus pandemic raging, Mr. Trump’s immigration strategist, Stephen Miller, ordered the Homeland Security Department to draft a plan for the number of troops necessary to block the entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico. It is unclear whether homeland security officials or Pentagon officials determined that a quarter-million troops would be required.
According to numerous former top administration officials, the proposal was communicated to officials at the Defense Department’s Northern Command, which is responsible for all military operations within the United States and on its borders. Officials said the proposal was never formally offered to Mr. Trump for approval, but it was discussed during White House meetings as they reviewed other ideas for sealing the border to illegal immigration.
Mr. Esper declined to make a statement. However, those familiar with his chats, who requested anonymity, said he was furious by Mr. Miller’s idea. Additionally, homeland security officers bypassed his office by bringing the concept directly to Northern Command military authorities. Mr. Esper also worried that moving such a large number of troops to the border would jeopardize America’s global military readiness, officials said.
Mr. Esper terminated consideration of the idea at the Pentagon following a brief but contentious confrontation with Mr. Miller in the Oval Office.
By that time, Mr. Trump’s obsession with the southern border was well-known. He has regularly pondered about a moat filled with alligators and suggested shooting migrants in the leg as they reached the border. His advisers discussed using a heat-ray to make the skin of migrants feel warm.
At the same time that officials considered the massive deployment to the American side of the Mexican border, Mr. Trump pressed his top aides to send forces into Mexico to hunt drug cartels, similar to how American commandos have tracked and killed terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said.
Mr. Trump paused only after aides argued that military raids inside Mexico may appear to the rest of the world as the US conducting an act of war against one of its closest allies and largest trading partner, the officials said.