Today's D Brief: Biden orders troops to the border; US forges deal with Mexico; Alleged drone attack on the Kremlin; New MidEast air defense plans; And a bit more.
President Joe Biden has ordered 1,500 active duty troops to the border with Mexico in anticipation of a possible surge in migrants looking to enter the U.S. after pandemic-related restrictions known as Title 42 loosen in just over a week—when the public health emergency formally expires on May 11.
Reminder: There are still 2,500 American troops already deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border, which is a legacy operation the White House inherited from the prior administration and hasn’t yet redeployed. Biden’s new order spans 90 days, after which reserve units or contractors could be called up to assist, if needed.
The incoming forces will not act as law enforcement and round up migrants, but instead are expected to “fill critical capability gaps such as ground-based detection and monitoring, data entry and warehouse support until [Customs and Border Protection personnel] can address these needs through contracted support,” Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday. The Department of Homeland Security put out its own statement Tuesday also saying the active duty forces will work on “ground-based detection and monitoring, data entry, and warehouse support.”
Background: The White House’s troop decision was announced the same day Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall and U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar visited officials in Mexico to discuss immigration and security issues. Shortly after that meeting, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wrote on Twitter that the U.S. officials “gave us the good news that the company Mexico Pacific Limited will build a gas pipeline and a liquefaction plant in Sonora, whose investment amounts to 14 billion dollars.” Reuters has more on that deal, here.
Also new: Mexico has agreed to accept migrants the U.S. has deported who are not from Mexico. And that is a “seismic shift” from past legal precedent, noted Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council. “At no point in U.S. history has there ever been another country which would take large numbers of deportations from the U.S. of people who aren't nationals of that country,” he tweeted upon hearing the news Tuesday evening. And according to the Mexican government’s announcement of this deal, “the U.S. apparently agreed to take 100,000 people through the new Honduran, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan family reunification parole program announced last week,” Reichlin-Melnick noted. The text of that agreement was published Tuesday evening by the White House, here.
One possible snag to that agreement with Mexico: Texas federal judge Drew Tipton could choose to “block the U.S. from upholding its side of the bargain as early as July,” Reichlin-Melnick warned, and asked rhetorically, “If he blocks it, how will Mexico respond?” CBS News has a bit more on that agreement, here.
Bigger picture: The White House’s decision to deploy troops appears to have been a can’t-win one, politically speaking, as both Democrat and Republican lawmakers lined up with statements lampooning the administration for taking action. The top senate Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, called the announcement an “unacceptable…militarization of the border” in his statement. “There is already a humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere, and deploying military personnel only signals that migrants are a threat that require our nation’s troops to contain. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he added.
Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn called the decision “More symbolic than a solution.” Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton dismissed it as a “publicity stunt.” His fellow Armed Services Committee colleague, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, criticized Biden for “wait[ing] until virtually the last minute to request Department of Defense support,” and said the announcement “will have negative impacts on readiness.”
House Republicans on the Homeland Security Committee deployed xenophobic rhetoric to slam the White House for “help[ing] move illegal aliens into the interior of the country quicker” by “having our men and women in uniform do administrative work…to facilitate the demise of our homeland.” Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Guy Reschenthaler said, “Biden could have finished the wall...Now, active-duty troops head to the border to clean up his mess.”
Texas Democrat Rep Veronica Escobar, who represents the Lone Star state’s 16th district in El Paso, pointed out that, “Last Congress, Republicans voted AGAINST: $7.2 billion for Border Patrol operations; $65 million for 300 new Border Patrol agents; $3.4 billion to modernize infrastructure at ports of entry; $60 million for CBP personnel at ports; [and] $230 million for between-the-ports technology.” And “just last week the [House Republicans] voted in favor of their Default on America Act, a REDUCTION in CBP frontline law enforcement staffing levels of up to 2,400 agents and officers…So next time you watch a Republican using their performative, divisive rhetoric at a hearing or a tv show, remember how they vote,” she said.
By the way: House Republicans just introduced what they describe as a “comprehensive border security and immigration reform bill” known as H.R. 2, or the “Secure the Border Act of 2023.” It’s doubtful the bill has a substantive chance at becoming law, especially with Republicans not holding a majority in the upper chamber. You may recall that the Democrats attempted to pass immigration reform in Biden’s first year as president; but the effort had zero support from Republicans, and fizzled out as a result.
“There is broad agreement that the United States is operating under a fundamentally outdated and broken immigration system, with the last comprehensive immigration reform enacted in 1986,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Monday reviewing how it’s preparing for an end to Title 42 policies and procedures. “These problems are only exacerbated by global increases in migration,” the agency added, and stressed, “The United States needs to confront the challenges at our border by addressing our broken immigration system. A long-term solution can only come from legislation.”
- “In 10 years, Democrats and Republicans have moved further apart on immigration,” NBC News reported Wednesday;
- “Texas governor backtracks on ‘illegal immigrants’ remarks after shooting,” the Guardian reported Tuesday;
- “Florida GOP passes sweeping anti-immigration bill that gives DeSantis $12 million for migrant transports,” Politico reported Tuesday from Tallahassee;
- And “Biden administration to let Afghan evacuees renew temporary legal status amid inaction in Congress,” CBS News reported Monday.
From Defense One
Where’d the Money Go? Lawmakers Press Air Force on Planned Radar Plane // Audrey Decker: Congress approved $200 million last year to get the first E-7s faster. That’s not happening.
Pentagon Network Chiefs Are Putting Automation to Work // Lauren C. Williams: Tireless cyber tools can patrol parts of DOD’s networks, tools, and applications where hackers like to hide.
What Sudan’s Plunge into Chaos Means for US Strategy // Christopher Tounsel, The Conversation: The 2019 coup led not to democracy but to a global rush for influence and mineral wealth.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. It was a bit hectic today. What'd we miss? Let us know what topics you'd like to see covered in the weeks ahead by sending us an email.
Russia says Ukraine sent two drones to attack the Kremlin, but “radar systems…disable[d] the devices” before they struck their targets Wednesday in Moscow. “We view these actions as a planned terrorist attack and an assassination attempt targeting the President, carried out ahead of Victory Day and the May 9 Parade,” the Kremlin said in a statement. Vladimir Putin was unharmed in the attack, his office added, and cautioned, “Russia reserves the right to take countermeasures wherever and whenever it deems appropriate.”
Observe: Mick Eckel of Radio Free Europe shared five video clips of the alleged incident posted to social media, here.
Expert reax: “[I]f we presume it was a Ukrainian attack, consider it a performative strike, a demonstration of capability and a declaration of intent: ‘don't think Moscow is safe,’” said Mark Galeotti, writing on Twitter. “What is less clear is whether it shakes Russians' nerve or angers them. We'll have to see. (And what Washington thinks, given that it seems to have been trying to get Kyiv to abandon, not step up its attacks deep into Russia.),” he added.
Panning out: This is at least the fifth apparent attack on Russian facilities over the last four days, Aric Toler of Bellingcat wrote on Twitter. The other incidents include an alleged drone attack on a fuel storage facility in Crimea; another such apparent attack on an oil depot near the Kerch Bridge; two trail derailments in the Bryansk region, bordering Ukraine; and the overnight drone attack on the Kremlin.
According to one top Ukrainian advisor to President Volodymir Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, “Russia is clearly preparing a large-scale terrorist attack,” he speculated on Twitter, and suggested “guerilla activities of local resistance forces” are to blame. After all, he insisted, the apparent attack on the Kremlin “does not solve any military issue. But it gives [Russian forces] grounds to justify its attacks on civilians.”
Russia’s military chief just ordered an acceleration of the “pace and volume of [weapons] production…in the shortest possible time,” the New York Times reported Tuesday. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called for a doubling of precision-guided munitions off the assembly lines at Russian arms manufacturers—all of which are presently under steep sanctions by the U.S. and European nations.
New: NATO will open its first liaison office in Asia this fall, in Tokyo, Japan’s Nikkei reported. That office “will allow the military alliance to conduct periodic consultations with Japan” as well as other countries in the region, “as China emerges as a new challenge,” according to Nikkei. The alliance also plans to sign an agreement with Japan in July that will increase their cooperation on addressing cybersecurity challenges, new technologies, and disinformation.
Four retired U.S. generals teamed up to formalize a plan to better integrate U.S. air and missile defense in the Middle East. The report comes from the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, or JINSA; and is a response to Section 1658 of the FY 2023 NDAA, which requires just such a plan from the Pentagon later this summer.
The report's authors include Air Force former Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella; former Air Combat Command Gen. Michael Hostage; former Missile Defense Agency Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering; and Army Lt. Gen. David Mann, who formerly led the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command.
Among their recommendations for the military: The Pentagon should establish “a dedicated unit under CENTCOM’s Area Air Defense Commander and headed by a senior officer that will be responsible for executing all data sharing agreements, technical requirements, and training programs”; they also call for “streamlining and fast-tracking CENTCOM-approved Foreign Military Sales (FMS) acquisitions by U.S. partners that are deemed essential”; and they recommend a “review of its arms sales policy in the Middle East to consider what more it could be doing to address the legitimate defense needs of its closest Arab allies—especially in light of China’s growing efforts to penetrate the region with its own unencumbered sales of advanced weaponry.” There’s also some advice for lawmakers.
Learn more about the report in a webinar later this afternoon scheduled for 2 p.m. ET. Details and RSVP, here.
- “Second Merchant Vessel Seized within a Week by Iran,” the U.S. Navy announced Wednesday from the Strait of Hormuz; Reuters has bit more, here;
- And “Syria and Iran sign long-term oil and trade agreements,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday from Damascus.
Lastly today: While the Marine Corps ends gender segregation at its boot camps, service officials announced Wednesday that they will deactivate Parris Island’s woman-only 4th Recruit Training Battalion. The Marine Corps, which has the smallest percentage of women of any of the military service branches, was the only service that still separated its recruits by gender during boot camp. Service officials have recently said separation was necessary, but Congress disagreed, and in the 2020 NDAA told the Marines to integrate recruit training promptly.
Background: Beginning in 1949, the Marines trained all female recruits at Parris Island, South Carolina, in the Fourth Recruit Training Battalion. Male recruits were trained in other battalions at Parris Island or at a recruit depot in San Diego, depending on where they lived when they signed the enlistment papers. Now, the Marine Corps will deactivate the all-woman battalion June 15, and “realign” the battalion’s drill instructors and other staff, it said Wednesday in a release.
Said Commandant Gen. David Berger: “I’m proud to see our male and female recruits benefit from having access to the quality of all our leaders—at Parris Island and San Diego—through an unchanging, tough, and realistic recruit training curriculum.”