A top U.S. military general told lawmakers Tuesday that there is no specific force coming from the south toward the U.S. border that poses a significant threat to the homeland or to troops stationed there.
Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the "threats" coming from the southern border "are not military in nature."
"A secure border does reduce threats to the homeland [but] … it is not a military threat," he said, testifying alongside Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command. "Border security is national security. [But] right now, there is not a specific military force from the south that we are trying to take action against."
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Lawmakers took note that O'Shaughnessy, who assumed command of the homeland defense mission in May, pointed to threats such as Russia and China and their encroachment in the Arctic as larger priorities and direct threats to U.S. national security over the border mission.
Based on O'Shaughnessy's testimony, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said there is a lack of "specific facts" to support President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency.
"The president has declared that national emergency," O'Shaughnessy said. He said he had been consulted by senior leaders such as Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and had spoken with Trump about supporting the Customs and Border Patrol mission.
"I'm asking you. Did you recommend he declare a national emergency?" Blumenthal asked.
"I get my orders from the secretary of defense and the president," O'Shaughnessy demurred. "Those orders are very clear to me and, just like any other mission that I am given, when I get that legal order and have the troops to be able to enforce that, I do [it] with the same vigor and professionalism" as other missions.
He added, "We are trying to be a good partner" to the Department of Homeland Security "as they take on this challenge."
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said the prospect of using military funding for the wall sets a bad precedent in light of the national emergency.
"The question we're going to have to vote on is do we want the president to take Pentagon money for a threat that you acknowledge is not military in nature," Kaine said.
O'Shaughnessy's comments come as the Pentagon prepares to increase the number of troops stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border by roughly 1,000. The Washington Post reported Friday that the total will grow to about 6,000 in weeks to come.
In January, Shanahan told reporters that the Defense Department had been asked to put up more concertina wire and conduct expanded surveillance along the border, likely requiring "several thousand" more troops to be deployed.
Shanahan, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, toured the U.S. border over the weekend as the administration works to allocate billions of dollars for the border wall.
O'Shaughnessy said he accompanied Shanahan on the trip so that top leaders could better understand where potential funds from the military construction budget might go toward border security.
The White House has said it could dip into a number of military construction projects to cobble together $3.5 billion in funding.
The president on Feb. 15 said the $3.5 billion would be part of the $8 billion he intends to devote to new wall construction after declaring a national emergency to keep out an "invasion" of immigrants.
Some of the money could also be taken from the fund for Overseas Contingency Operations, the so-called "war budget" that funds the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.