US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis defended the deployment of thousands of troops to the border with Mexico as he travelled there on Wednesday, saying the mission was “absolutely legal” and justified, and that it was improving military readiness.
President Donald Trump’s politically charged decision to send US troops to the Mexico border came ahead of US midterm congressional elections last week, as Trump sought to strengthen border security as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration.
Trump’s supporters, including Republicans in Congress, have embraced the deployment.
But critics have assailed the decision, calling it a political stunt to drive Republican voters to the polls. They have scoffed at Trump’s comparison of caravans of Central American migrants, including women and children, to an”invasion.”
Mattis, speaking to a small group of reporters travelling with him, rejected criticism and said the deployment was the right thing to do.
“It’s very clear that support to border police or border patrol is necessary right now,” Mattis said, noting that that was the assessment of the Department of Homeland Security.
He added the deployment was deemed legal by Trump administration attorneys and was improving readiness by giving troops more experience in rapid deployment.
The visit took Mattis near the Texas town of Donna, where US troops have set up a base camp near a border crossing point with Mexico. General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of US Northern Command, greeted him as he landed.
Mattis said US soldiers were making rapid progress erecting barriers along the border and estimated the first, construction phase of the US military effort could be completed within 10 days.
“I would anticipate with what we’ve been asked to do so far, probably within a week to 10 days, we’ll have done what’s needed,” Mattis told the reporters.
“Of course, it will be a dynamic situation and there will be new requests coming in.”