Hundreds of paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division that deployed to the Washington, D.C., region in case they were needed for riot control are expected to begin returning on Thursday to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, defense officials said.
Other active-duty troops remain in the nation’s capital in case they are needed.
Roughly 1,600 troops from Fort Bragg and Fort Drum, New York, were dispatched to military bases outside of Washington, D.C., following protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man who died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
Federal troops are not allowed to enforce civilian laws within the United States unless the president invokes the Insurrection Act.
The paratroopers with the 82nd had been expected to begin returning to Fort Bragg on Wednesday, but Defense Secretary Mark Esper reportedly rescinded that decision after meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House.
Esper also reportedly angered Trump earlier on Wednesday when he said at a Pentagon news conference that he did not believe the president needed to invoke the Insurrection Act.
“I say this not only as secretary of defense but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard: The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort – and only in the most urgent and dire of situations,” Esper told reporters. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
On Thursday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley did not rule out the possibility that active-duty troops could be called on to help the National Guard and local and federal law enforcement curb domestic disturbances.
“The American people's safety and security is the number one thing, Donald Trump cares about. Period, Gidley told reporters, according to a White House press pool report. “All options are on the table.”