Top US General Defends Deployment of Troops to Border as Legal

In this Oct. 23, 2017, file photo Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford speaks to reporters at the Pentagon. Afghan security forces have identified key areas of the country that must be secure for the elections later this year and have planned a series of military operations to free them from Taliban control, Dunford said March 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
In this Oct. 23, 2017, file photo Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford speaks to reporters at the Pentagon. Afghan security forces have identified key areas of the country that must be secure for the elections later this year and have planned a series of military operations to free them from Taliban control, Dunford said March 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke out Monday against several retired generals who have criticized the recent deployment of active-duty troops to the southwest border, countering that U.S. military leaders are following a "legal order" from President Donald Trump.

On Oct. 31, the Pentagon announced it would deploy roughly 5,200 active-duty troops to support Operation Faithful Patriot, a mission to reinforce U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in its effort to stop a large "caravan" of migrants approaching the United States from Central America.

In response, several high-ranking, retired U.S. generals criticized the use of active-duty forces as wasteful and unnecessary, The Washington Post reported.

"There [have] been a number of three- and four-stars who have publicly said and have used the words 'wasteful and inappropriate' and so forth, and they have the luxury of doing that; they are no longer in uniform," Gen. Joseph Dunford told an audience at Duke University during a speaking engagement Monday. "On the other hand, it's not my job to assess the appropriateness of the mission. It's my job to [assess] the legality of the mission and ... the capability of our forces to perform that mission."

Trump tasked the U.S. military with providing logistical, transportation and medical support for the Department of Homeland Security's border mission, Dunford said.

"When that comes to me as a military leader, I ask a couple of questions. One is, do we have unambiguous direction to what the soldiers ... have to do? And the answer is yes," he said. "I understand exactly what they have to do, and they understand. Number two, is it legal? Yes, it is legal."

Dunford emphasized that the active-duty forces will not prevent migrants from entering the U.S.

"There is no plan for U.S. military forces to be involved in the actual mission denying people entry to the United States," he said. "There is no plan for soldiers to come in contact with immigrants or to reinforce Department of Homeland Security as they are conducting their mission.

"Again, despite the noise in the media right now for all the reasons that we know, I would just tell you that the soldiers that are down there on the border right now know exactly what they are doing, they know why they are doing it, and they have the proper training and the proper equipment to do it," Dunford said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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