WASHINGTON — Several hundred active-duty troops brought in to help if needed with the civil unrest in the nation’s capitol are leaving Washington, D.C. Thursday, just a day after their initially planned departure was abruptly delayed.
The soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division have been kept at military bases outside the city, and will now return to Fort Bragg, N.C., according to a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss impending troop movements. The official said Defense Secretary Mark Esper has approved the move.
On Wednesday, defense officials approved an order to send the soldiers home, but just a few hours later Esper reversed the decision, keeping them outside the city for another day amid growing tensions with the White House over the military response to the protests.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press that he was told about the reversal after Esper attended a meeting at the White House Wednesday, and after other internal Pentagon discussions. McCarthy said he believed the change was based on ensuring there is enough military support in the region to respond to any protest problems if needed.
Wednesday night marked the third night of more peaceful demonstrations in Washington, D.C.
The soldiers are the first active-duty to leave. The remainder of the active-duty troops are expected to get pulled home in the coming days if conditions allow. The active-duty troops were available, but were not used in response to the protests.
About 1,300 active-duty troops were brought in to the capital region early this week as protests in the city turned violent. The protests came in the aftermath of the death in Minnesota of a black man, George Floyd, who died after a white police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
The active-duty unit that will be last to remain on alert is the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, which is normally most visible as the soldiers who stand at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The troops, known as the Old Guard, are based close to D.C. at Fort Myer, Virginia, and have been on 30-minute alert status. They would continue to be prepared to respond to any emergency in the region within a half-hour for as long as needed.