Thousands of US troops could be sent to Mexico border: source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Thousands of U.S. troops may be headed to the border with Mexico ahead of a caravan of migrants trekking toward the United States, U.S. officials told Reuters on Monday, offering much higher estimates than the 800 to 1,000 initially forecast.

The Pentagon declined comment on potential troop numbers, saying planning was still underway for a mission that risks drawing the U.S. military into a politically charged operation just days ahead of Nov. 6 mid-term congressional elections.

President Donald Trump, who has seized upon the Central American migrant caravan in campaign rallies ahead of the vote, said on Twitter that the military would be waiting for the procession -- suggesting a far more direct role in confronting the migrants than U.S. defense officials have previously suggested.

"Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border," Trump tweeted.

18 PHOTOS
A day in the life of the migrant caravan in Mexico
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A day in the life of the migrant caravan in Mexico
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, takes a rest on the road, as she walks to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road with her son Adonai, as they make their way to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File photo SEARCH "GLENDA ESCOBAR" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, plays with her son Adonai in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, sleeps in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photograph with her children Adonai and Denzel in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, smiles as she rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses with her son Denzel, 8, as they rest in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road with her son Denzel as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her sons Adonai and Denzel, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Denzel, 8, holds his brother Adonai, 5, near their mother Glenda Escobar, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her sons Adonai and Denzel, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, cries after talking on the phone, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road, on her way to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photograph as she rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, takes a ride in a vintage car with her children Adonai and Denzel, as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Adonai, 5, son of Glenda Escobar, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, smiles as he rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her children Adonai and Denzel, in Pijijiapan, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
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"Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!" he added.

U.S. officials told Reuters last week the military will have not have an active law enforcement role, instead sending engineers, pilots and other support staff including some that may be able deal with crowd control on the U.S. side of the border. Pentagon officials declined comment on Monday.

Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authorized the use of troops and other military resources at the U.S-Mexico border. U.S. officials told Reuters they would begin deploying as soon as Tuesday and their mission was authorized through mid-December.

That authorization could be extended, they noted.

Mattis' authorization last week allowed the military to provide "mission-enhancing capabilities" to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to help build temporary barriers and housing.

On Sunday, Mattis told reporters that some construction materials were already being moved to the border, including barriers. He said the Department of Defense was still planning the logistics and details of the deployment.

Mattis suggested the mission would take time to develop, saying it would be a "phased" operation. U.S. officials have told Reuters the support mission would be coordinated by the U.S. military's Northern Command.

34 PHOTOS
Migrants travel through Central America to the U.S.
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Migrants travel through Central America to the U.S.
Thousands of Hondurans in U.S.-bound migrant caravan head into Mexico. (Reuters)
Rafts cross the Suchiate River to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., climbs down from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants making their way to the U.S. in a large caravan wave a Mexican flag as they arrive to Tapachula, Mexico, after a truck driver gave them a free ride, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the Guatemala-Mexico border, about 5,000 Central American migrants resumed their advance toward the U.S. border Sunday in southern Mexico. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants hitchhike along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A man holds his luggage a top his head amidst a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America as they walk towards Tapachula from Ciudad Hidalgo while en route to the United States, in Frontera Hidalgo, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America walk towards Tapachula from Ciudad Hidalgo while en route to the United States, in Frontera Hidalgo, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Honduran migrants children, Ian Enamorado, 9, Josen Enamorado, 6 and Jasabel Quintanilla, 3, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., wait with their parents to apply for asylum in Mexico at a checkpoint in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Children of Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., wait with their parents to apply for asylum in Mexico at a checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River on a raft to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., use a provisional ladder to climb down from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River on a raft to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Central American Migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., holds a child after crossing the Suchiate River on a raft to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Central American migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., holds a girl in his arms as he walks to Mexico after crossing the Suchiate river to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., sit on a raft after going down from a bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Central American migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., react on a raft after climbing down from a bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cross the Suchiate River on a raft to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., wait to cross the Suchiate River to avoid the border checkpoint in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., waits to open the gate on the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., wait to open the gate on the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., wait to open the gate on the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., rest at the checkpoint between Guatemala and Mexico in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, October 19, 2018.REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., rest on the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., are pictured after crossing into Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., climbs down from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
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Trump, who campaigned against illegal immigration to win the 2016 U.S. presidential vote, has seized on this caravan in the run-up to the congressional elections, firing up support for his Republican Party, which is seeking to maintain control of Congress.

If the Republicans lose Congress, it could make it much harder for Trump to pursue his policy agenda in the remaining two years of his term in office.

Estimates on the size of the caravan vary from around 3,500 to more than double that. Some migrants have abandoned the journey, deterred by the hardships or the possibility of making a new life in Mexico. Others joined it in southern Mexico.

Trump's decision to call in the military appears to be a departure from past practice, at least in recent years, in which such operations were carried out by National Guard forces -- largely part-time military members who are often called upon to serve in response to domestic emergencies.

There are 2,100 U.S. National Guard forces at the border already, sent after a previous Trump request in April.

The decision to send active duty forces this time gives the Pentagon the ability to more rapidly mobile greater capability than would be immediately available with the Guard, officials tell Reuters.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

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