AUSTIN, Texas -- National Guard personnel are authorized to remain on the U.S.-Mexico border for another year, the Defense Department confirmed Friday.
The authorization allows for up to 4,000 soldiers to serve with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents through Sept. 30, 2019 -- or the next fiscal year, said Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Defense Department spokesman.
How the extended mission along the southern border will be funded remains unclear.
There are 2,200 National Guard troops now serving on the border. There are 1,145 soldiers in Texas, 115 in New Mexico, 580 in Arizona and the remaining 360 in California. Those numbers likely will increase, given the new authorization, Davis said.
Each of these states is contributing members of its own Guard, with other states contributing mostly aviation assets. As of June, other participating states were Missouri, Indiana, Maine, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
The joint Guard-Border Patrol mission, known as Operation Guardian Support, does not deploy soldiers at the border but has them perform tasks such as vehicle maintenance, administrative duties, monitoring of surveillance data collected through cameras and sensors along the border, and clearing vegetation to improve sight lines in the field. Some troops do work in offices at five ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley, and UH-72 Lakota helicopter crews fly air-surveillance missions.
In Rio Grande Valley in Texas, one of the busiest sectors of the U.S. border with Mexico, Border Patrol leadership has transitioned 54 agents back to patrolling the Rio Grande River and surrounding areas of south Texas as the National Guard fills support roles such as surveillance and administrative duties.
“Moving forward, the National Guard will be ready to support as needed. We continue to emphasize three National Guard priorities: fight America’s wars, secure the homeland and sustain enduring partnerships,” said Kurt Rauschenberg, spokesman for the National Guard.
Operation Guardian Support was initiated April 13 in response to a call to action from President Donald Trump. At that time, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authorized up to 4,000 Guard members at a cost of $182 million to serve on the border for no longer than the end of fiscal year 2018, which ends Sept. 30.