Pentagon watchdog launches 'evaluation' of what US troops are actually doing at the southern border

Soldiers deploy concertina wire in a location along the Southwest border of the United States near Hidalgo, Texas. U.S. Army North is deployed to the southwest border under the authority of U.S. Northern Command to support the Department of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection's mission to secure the border. (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol)

The Defense Department's Inspector General's Office has launched an "evaluation" of the deployment of active-duty and National Guard troops to the southern border, a news release said Tuesday.

"We will examine, among other issues, what they are doing at the border, what training they received, and whether their use complied with applicable law, DoD policy, and operating guidance," said Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general performing the duties of the inspector general, in the release.

The review will also look at how U.S. troops are trained to deal with possible contacts with civilians; how service members coordinate and interact the civil officials; and whether the funding for the deployments complies with federal law and Defense Department policies, the news release says.

Ultimately, Defense Secretary Mark Esper will decide whether to take any actions based on the evaluation's findings, said DOD IG spokeswoman Dwrena Allen.

It is too early to discuss what types of corrective actions that DOD IG can recommend, Allen said.

"We're not going to speculate because it depends on what we find," she said. "We're going to go wherever the evaluation takes us. Our recommendations will be based on our findings."

The deployments to the U.S.-Mexico border began in October 2018 after President Donald Trump claimed, without providing any evidence, that a caravan of asylum seekers from Central America included criminals that were trying to enter the United States. The mission has since been extended several times.

The deployed service members' tasks have included building and painting fences and other temporary barriers along the border.

Even though former Defense Secretary James Mattis said the troops were not expected to interact with the asylum seekers, NBC News first reported in July that service members at a detention camp in Texas were helping civil authorities monitor migrants in case any were suffering from medical problems.

As of Tuesday, roughly 3,900 active-duty service members and about 2,600 National Guardsmen were deployed to the southern border, said Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Christian Mitchell.

"The 3,900 active duty is higher than normal, due to units rotating in," Mitchell told Task & Purpose. "That number should be back to roughly 2,400 within the next week or so."

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