Members of Congress grumbled when the Obama administration pulled 1,200 National Guard soldiers off of the U.S. / Mexican border in February, with Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) complaining that “it defies logic that we would remove the National Guard from the border when the border is not secure . . . if anything, we need more National Guard troops.”
Well, it looks like the Pentagon wants to do Poe one better.
Beginning in February, the U.S. Army quietly deployed part of a Stryker brigade and an air defense unit to the Mexican border to assist local law enforcement and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Dubbed Operation Nimbus II, the deployment featured 500 soldiers from the 6th Sqdn., 1st Calvary Regiment, 1st Armored Div. (Stryker) from Ft. Bliss, Texas; and E Battery, 1st Battalion, 44th Air Defense Regiment from Ft. Hood, Texas.
Hardly a mention was made of the newest Army deployment, save for a press release put out by CBP on Feb. 9 telling people in southern Arizona and southern New Mexico that they “should expect to see additional military personnel, vehicles and equipment traveling throughout the border region in the near future.”
Jeremy Copeland, a CBP agent in the Tucson Sector, emails that the units are equipped with the Boeing-made Avenger Air Defense Systems (sans rockets) and Sentinel air defense radar systems, made by ThalesRaytheonSystems. The solders were sent to the Tucson, Arizona and El Paso, Texas, sectors “to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to the Border Patrol,” Copeland says. He was also quick to point out that the soldiers don’t have the power of arrest, but can only report what they see to CBP or local law enforcement, who will then act.
The Sentinel system is being deployed in an attempt to track the drug-laden light aircraft that Mexican cartels have been flying over the border in recent years.
Run through Joint Task Force-North (JTF-N) — the Ft. Bliss-based command that regularly tasks Army units to provide engineering support to border law enforcement agencies — the two Army units are using Nimbus II partially as a training exercise (thus the Avenger mobile missile launchers), much like other units that have cycled through in recent years.
“DoD personnel obtain necessary training and at the same time provide CBP with supplemental counter-drug efforts along the border by targeting, identifying and classifying all aircraft that enter the surrounding area of responsibility,” Copeland says. JTF-N has been tasking DoD units “to support the nation’s federal law enforcement agencies since 1989,” he adds, writing that “CBP works with DoD on a regular basis to identify joint operations that will allow DoD to fulfill training requirements and, at the same time, enhance CBP’s operational capabilities by leveraging DoD assets and experience.” The deployments are funded using DoD counterdrug accounts, a spokesman at JTF-N says.
This isn’t the first time Strykers have been deployed to the area. In 2005, the 4th Sqdn., 14th Calvary along with elements of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team patrolled the border in New Mexico supporting JTF-N. According to the Army, the 4-14’s deployment led to the seizure of “more than 4,000 pounds of illegal drugs and the apprehension of more than 2,000 illegal aliens.”
This latest deployment comes hard on the heels of the National Guard sending a variety of rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft to assist law enforcement along the border, in a move that will add significantly to Homeland Security’s robust drone and manned aircraft fleet.