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Troops Along The California Border Packed Up Last Week

U.S. Marines arrive at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to assist U.S. Customs an...

Photo by Steve Walsh

Above: U.S. Marines arrive at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection with border security, Nov. 8, 2018.

Most of the Marines from Camp Pendleton and 29 Palms quietly left the U.S.-Mexico border last week, according to military officials.

Since President Trump announced troops would be sent to the border, prior to the midterm elections, California has had, at times, more troops deployed along the border than any other border state. The Department of Defense said most of those troops left Feb. 1, after their mission expired.

Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, which included a large contingent to Marines from Southern California bases, was replaced by Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 17. Originally the mission involved laying concertina wire to harden the ports of entry ahead of a migrant caravan which arrived at the border in Tijuana. The mission then shifted to include a large number of military police, who drilled with border patrol agents.

In November, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis said troops were not expected to have direct contact with migrants. This week the military began releasing additional details about what the troops have been doing. Forces have been in the vicinity of rock throwing from the Mexican side of the border. The incidents are described as minor, said Col. Catherine Wilkinson, spokesperson for Army North, in a written statement.

From Jan. 5 to Jan. 31, military medical personnel evaluated and treated about 200 migrants for minor illnesses and ailments in California and Arizona, she said.

“Once evaluated and treated, migrants were returned to CBP for processing or transfer to local civilian health facilities as required,” Wilkinson said.

Most of the migrants were treated in San Diego, where border patrol agents handled an influx of migrants. Two border patrol agents are required to take a patient to the hospital. In San Diego, up to 40 border patrol agents, a day were being used to take patients for medical treatment, prior to the military stepping into that role, said Tekae Michaels, spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection in San Diego.

No further details were available on the status of any of the patients sent to the hospital.

Pentagon officials would not comment on the exact number of troops on the California border with Mexico. Some troops remain from the older mission, while new troops are put in place. California will receive some of the influx of 3,750 troops which were announced Sunday, said Capt. Bill Speaks, spokesperson for the Secretary of Defense, in a written statement.

Medical units have returned to base, as have aviation units that were used to move border patrol agents, he said.

Under the latest mission, troops will lay 160 miles of wire barriers along parts of the border, between ports of entry, from California to Texas. They will also conduct mobile surveillance. Most of the 3,750 troops will be used to lay wire, while roughly 1,200 will operate mobile security cameras, Speaks said.

Most of the local Marines went home after their original mission to the border ended, though more troops are expected as the Trump Administration shifts focus to laying barriers between the ports of entries.

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Update: Governor Newsom is pulling the state’s national guard from the border.


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Photo of Steve Walsh

Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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