Thousands of National Guardsmen who’ve been rotating to the U.S.-Mexico border since 2018 are supposed to go home for good by Sept. 30, the chief of the National Guard Bureau told lawmakers on Tuesday, but because the Homeland Security Department wants that mission to continue, they could be replaced by active-duty troops.
All options are on the table, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson said, but a Pentagon spokesman declined to confirm Wednesday that active-duty troops are under consideration.
“I won’t speculate on what the answer to the request will be or how it will be sourced … the sourcing comes later in the process,” John Kirby told Military Times.
Kirby would not share whether DHS requested a specific number of troops to stay beyond September.
At the height of border deployments, in 2019, the Defense Department authorized up to 5,500 troops. That number has come down to roughly 3,500 National Guardsmen currently.
Active-duty troops were part of the first waves of border deployments, at one point making up half of those providing logistics, engineering and surveillance support to Customs and Border Protection.
“[Defense officials] are looking at all options now,” Hokanson said Tuesday. “We know the current units are scheduled to come home on Sept. 30, and we are working as quickly as possible to notify those forces so there is no break in coverage.”
Last year, a senior Pentagon official told reporters that he expected troops would draw down as more border wall went up. Indeed, in June, DoD announced it had dropped the troop cap from 5,500 to 4,000.
President Joe Biden canceled the border emergency following his inauguration in January, halting any further border construction or contracting.
In April, DoD announced that it would attempt to recoup unspent funds it kicked in for border construction from its military construction account, more than $3 billion, but Kirby could not say Wednesday how much of that money it expects to recover.
As of March, according to Army Corps of Engineers data, about $1.2 billion of that money had been awarded for contracts that were expected to be completed as late as September of this year.