Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is pushing back on suggestions that the move to send thousands of active-duty troops to the southern border is a political stunt ahead of the midterm elections next week.
Mattis explained on Wednesday at the Pentagon that the deployment of more than 5,200 troops is based on a request from the Department of Homeland Security.
He told one reporter, “We don’t do stunts in this department.”
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An estimated 4,000 Central American migrants in a caravan have been walking across Mexico toward the U.S. border. Mattis authorized the deployment of the active-duty troops, and 2,000 to 3,000 additional forces have been told to prepare to deploy if needed.
The forces are largely providing airlift transportation, tents, barriers and other logistical support for the Border Patrol.
“We do this following storms, we do this in support of the Department of Homeland Security. This is a different aspect of it, but that’s what we are doing,” Mattis said after meeting with the South Korean defense minister at the Pentagon.
“The support that we provide to the secretary for homeland security is practical support based on the request from the commissioner of customs and border police, so we don’t do stunts in this department,” Mattis told a reporter who asked if the move was a political stunt.
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On Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump announced that the number of troops deployed to the southern border in response to thousands of migrants approaching could reach up to 15,000.
The caravan has quickly dissipated in the face of Trump’s pressure.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.