On the deadline to have 2,500 troops along the Mexican border, the National Guard said Friday that only 483 were in position and working with the U.S. Border Patrol as the Bush administration had directed.
But Guard officials said more than 2,000 others were somewhere inside the four southwestern border states, training or helping plan the deployment. Bush administration officials argued Friday that the presence of troops in those states spelled success in the first stage of the mission.
Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, an arm of the Pentagon, had promised June 1 that by the end of the month 2,500 Guard troops would be working “on the border.”
“As defined by the operation, the National Guard has met and exceeded its goal of deploying 2,500 soldiers and airmen to the four Southwest border states,” said White House spokesman Blain Rethmeier. “Progress to date is real and the Guard’s efforts are making a positive difference in this national effort.”
As evidence, he said the early arrival of troops had allowed the Border Patrol to send 125 agents “back to the front lines,” and helped the Border Patrol catch nearly 200 illegal immigrants, seize 123 pounds of marijuana, 18 pounds of cocaine and seven vehicles.
Through initial pay requests filed with the Air Guard and orders filed with the Army Guard, the Guard bureau verified 2,547 troops were in the four border states for the mission, said Daniel Donohue, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau.
Only 483 were physically on the border, he conceded.
The remaining forces _ 1,816 _ are in training somewhere in the four states, with some at bases as far away as Sacramento _ 600 miles from the border. Donohue said 248 are assigned to headquarters and planning roles.
Asked to clarify, Blum spokesman Mark Allen responded by e-mail that the general had never specifically promised to deliver troops to a “geographically defined latitude and longitude.”
Still, there were signs the deployment was picking up speed.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said 1,000 Army and Air National Guardsmen were either on the border or “on their way,” adding 500 to totals released Thursday. But his office said the additional troops didn’t actually reach the border, but were considered deployed when they left Friday for two weeks of training.
Several states whose Guard leaders and governors had been contacted by the National Guard Bureau in the last 48 hours also made announcements Friday that they would send troops.
Gov. Mike Easley of North Carolina said he would reluctantly deploy 300 troops to the border in mid-July.
“I would prefer not to have any of the North Carolina National Guard deployed to other states at this time,” he said. “However, the Guard units in the western states are spread thin as they battle raging wildfires. We must all step up and do our part to keep our country safe.”
Kentucky announced it would send up to 650 National Guard troops. Arkansas also said it would send 200. New Jersey also said it would send up to 650 for three-week assignments.
Damon Foreman, senior patrol agent and spokesman for the Border Patrol in San Diego, said agents there eagerly await the Guard’s help.
“We would welcome all the help we could get. We could absorb them as fast as we could give them instructions on what to do,” Foreman said, adding that the delayed deployment, however, had not affected operations.
“We’ve been doing a considerably effective job for a long time now, we’ll keep doing our job whether the whole number of Guard show up tomorrow, a week from tomorrow, or a month from now.”
President Bush’s plan for stemming illegal immigration by using National Guardsmen in a support role called for 2,500 troops to be on the border by June 30, and 6,000 by the end of July.
Bush had said the mission would free up thousands of officers now on other duties to actively patrol the border. Guardsmen are expected to build fences, conduct routine surveillance and take care of other administrative duties for the border patrol.
© 2006 The Associated Press