The number of troops deployed to the southern border in response to thousands of migrants approaching could reach up to 15,000, President Donald Trump warned on Wednesday afternoon.
According to Fox News, Trump told reports, “we’ll go up to anywhere between 10 and 15,000 military personnel on top of Border Patrol, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and everybody else at the border.”
The Pentagon says “more than 7,000” troops were being sent to the southwest border to support the Customs and Border Protection agents. Officials said that number could reach a maximum of about 8,000 under present plans.
Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the commander of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters the number would exceed the initial contingent of 5,200, but he offered no estimate of the eventual total.
“As far as the caravan is concerned, our military is out,” Trump said. “We have about 5,800. We’ll go up to anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 military personnel on top of Border Patrol, ICE and everybody else at the border.”
Later Wednesday, Trump told ABC News, “We have to have a wall of people.”
Trump has railed against illegal immigration, including several caravans of migrants from Central America slowly moving on foot toward the U.S. border. The caravan of an estimated 4,000 people is still nearly 1,000 miles from the border. Several smaller groups, estimated at a combined 1,200 people, are farther away.
Trump insisted the media is underestimating the caravans. “You have caravans coming up that look a lot larger than it’s reported actually. I’m pretty good at estimating crowd size. And I’ll tell you they look a lot bigger than people would think,” he told ABC.
He has also promised to end so-called catch-and-release policies by erecting tent cities to hold those crossing illegally. And this week he is asserting he could act by executive order to unilaterally end birthright citizenship for the children of non-U.S. citizens.
Officials said they had no plans to deploy as many as 15,000 troops. But, the number conceivably could reach 10,000, counting the 2,100 National Guard soldiers who have been operating along the border for months as part of a separate but related mission. The number of active-duty troops tapped for deployment stood at 7,000 as of Wednesday but could reach 8,000.
A deployment of 15,000 would bring the military commitment on the border to roughly the same level as in war-torn Afghanistan. And it would more than double the number of people thought to be in the caravans.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.