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Archive for Thursday, May 18, 2006

On the border

It may work as a short-term solution, but using National Guard troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border also could diminish their ability to respond to emergencies at home.

May 18, 2006

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Governors across the nation have expressed concern about their National Guard troops being called up for duty patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border.

Although President Bush announced plans Monday to use 6,000 National Guard troops to secure the border, there appears to have been little communication with governors about the plan or how thinly stretched many of those state units already are.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Kansas Adjutant General's Department, which oversees the National Guard, probably are not the only state officials who have received little or no information about the president's plans. Although Kansas has about 1,000 Guard soldiers deployed in Iraq, about 6,700 soldiers could be available for other assignments.

Those units, however, would be without the equipment they were forced to leave behind in Iraq. Although some federal funding may be available to help replace equipment, it could fall far short of filling the need.

Training for border duty is another issue. It seems obvious that National Guard units from any state would need at least some special training to prepare for their patrol tasks.

However, in comments to a Senate subcommittee Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld didn't seem to think states would suffer by having their National Guard units assigned to border duty. He said the troops that would be needed represent only about 2 percent of the country's National Guard force and that soldiers mostly would serve during their normal two- or three-week active duty training period.

"This will not only not adversely affect America'a ability to conduct the war on terror or respond to other domestic emergencies," he said, "it will actually provide useful real-life training for the members of the National Guard."

Rumsfeld may be right, but there are bound to be problems. Can National Guard troops be effective at patrolling the border if they are rotated in and out of that duty every two to three weeks with little training in advance? Having them diverted to border duty during their normal training period also eliminates the opportunity for other training that prepares them to respond to natural disasters or other emergencies.

U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., says he supports "the temporary use of National Guard troops until robust border enforcement measures are in place."

For governors, "temporary" probably is the key word in that statement. Governors and states are willing to help, but adding border patrol duty to the current commitment of National Guard troops and equipment in Iraq gives state officials reason to question their ability to respond to emergencies at home.

The good thing is that Uncle Sam is taking positive, meaningful action - although long overdue - to try to stem the massive illegal immigration figures. It's possible even more severe measures will have to be used if the just-announced plan is not effective. It cannot be allowed to continue as it has in recent months.

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