Most of the 7,000 troops being deployed to the U.S. border with Mexico will not be armed, the Pentagon said Monday.
“The only soldiers that are going to be armed during this mission are the soldiers that are providing force protection,” said Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, echoing a statement by the Department of Defense that only “military police” who will be protecting the troops will be carrying weapons.
Manning’s statement came in response to comments by Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy that some of the troops being sent to the border will be armed.
It also follows remarks last week by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said that any rocks thrown by asylum-seeking migrants at the U.S. military would be “considered a firearm”.
He later attempted to clarify his comments, however.
“If our soldiers or Border Patrol or ICE are going to be hit in the face with rocks, we’re going to arrest those people. That doesn’t mean shoot them. But we’re going to arrest those people quickly and for a long time,” he told reporters.
The Pentagon’s statement is also aimed at dispelling the notion that the troops will be involved in law enforcement, but will rather be working on projects focused on “hardening” the border.
These include putting up more fences, creating temporary vehicle barriers and operating heavy machinery.
“Our first line of effort in support of CBP is hardening the ports of entry and addressing key gaps,” Manning said, referring to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
But he noted that the soldiers that will be armed will be allowed to exercise self-defense.
“Self-defense is an inherent right of a soldier. And so that’s at the basis of the rules of the use of force.”
The troops are being deployed as a migrant caravan makes its way north to the U.S. border.
Trump has been very vocal about the caravan, calling it an “invasion” and saying it will be met by the military.
“Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. 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 tweeted last week.
The caravan is comprised of around 3,500 people as it draws near the U.S. border. While beginning in Honduras, it reached a peak of 7,000 people as many from other Central American nations joined in the 1,553-mile (2,500-kilometer) journey to reach the U.S. by foot.
The caravan mostly consists of Hondurans who are fleeing from violence and poverty in their home country.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said there was a similar caravan at the Guatemala-Mexico border region consisting of 3,000 people.
So far, local police in Mexico have not tried to stop the caravan. During the walk from the Guatemalan-Mexican border to the Mexican region of Tapachula, police set up road blocks twice with hundreds of riot-control equipped officers, but they were lifted before the migrants got there.