Border Troop 'Surge' Underway, Debate Over Who's In Charge

Republicans accuse administration of lagging on Aug. 1 date for troops.

ByABC News
August 17, 2010, 10:37 AM

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2010 -- More than two weeks after National Guardsmen in four southwest states began assuming a new border security mission, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. John McCain are continuing to blast the federal government and the Obama administration over the timing and speed of the deployment.

"We haven't even seen the Guard that the president said they were going to send to the border," McCain told the Yuma Sun on Friday. "It's outrageous that they have said they would be here on August 1 and we haven't seen a single one."

"The fact of the matter is, when they came out and told us they were going to send the 524 National Guard troops to our (Arizona's) border, everybody assumed we would have 524 starting in August," added Brewer.

The Arizona National Guard confirms that no soldiers have yet assumed active roles assisting Border Patrol agents in the new mission, though several will complete training and join the ranks in the next few days.

But sources close to the operation say Aug. 1 was never a deadline for all troops to be in position on the ground, and that the persistent criticism reflects a misunderstanding of the word "deployment" and of the role and operation of the National Guard.

President Obama on May 25 authorized federal funding for 1,200 Guardsmen -- including 524 in Arizona -- to assist immigration enforcement operations in the four states bordering Mexico. Two months later the administration announced details on timing of the plan.

"Secretary Napolitano announced the active deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops on the southwest border, and that will begin on August 1st," said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin at a briefing on July 19.

"We believe that we'll be fully ready through the month of August as we ramp up," said Gen. Craig McKinley, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. "Surely by September we should have our full forces in the field working with our partners."

Lost in the ongoing debate over when the troops will arrive on the border, officials say, is the fact that each state is responsible for recruiting, training and assigning its own Guardsmen to support the southwest border mission in its state. The process ultimately remains under the direction of each state's governor, which in Arizona is Jan Brewer.

"Each state retains control of their Guardsmen under the command and control of the governor and the adjutant general of that particular state," said National Guard Bureau spokesman Jack Harrison, in a conference call with reporters. "So I would be very hesitant to get in front of the state as to its plans on timing in a very specific way."