Military Expands Role at U.S.-Mexico Border to Focus on 'Surveillance and Detection,' Starts Laying Concertina Wire

The U.S. military will take on an extended role at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Department of Defense announced Monday.

In a statement, the Pentagon said it had agreed, at the request of the Department of Homeland Security, to keep troops stationed at the southern border until September 30, extending the deployment for another eight months.

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There are about 2,350 active-duty troops currently stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border as part of the border mission that began on October 30 and had originally been expected to end on December 15, according to The Associated Press. It was extended to January 31, however, and will now continue into September 2019.

The military's focus at the southern border will also change, the Defense Department said, with military members expected to switch their focus from "hardening points of entry" to "mobile surveillance and detection," as well as installing concertina wire between ports of entry and continuing to provide aviation support.

Last year, troops helped lay around 70 miles of concertina wire along the border, according to the AP. Photos and video of their efforts at the border showed military members laying down the barbed wire between ports of entry as one of their first tasks in the border mission.

President Donald Trump initially ordered the deployment of more than 5,000 active-duty forces to the southwest border in late October of last year, as a caravan of Central American asylum seekers made its way toward the U.S.

The U.S. leader faced strong criticism, particularly from Democrats, over the timing of the deployment, which came days before November's midterm election, sparking accusations of political fear-mongering.

Even Pentagon officials criticized the mission, with multiple Defense Department sources with knowledge of the directive telling Newsweek that senior officers believed the move was politically motivated and a waste of money.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one such source told Newsweek that there was "no practical or tactical reason" for the deployment to happen.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned from his role last month, defended the order, telling reporters in November that "the support that we provide to the Department of Homeland Security is practical support based on the request from the commissioner of customs and border police."

"We don't do stunts in this department," he said at the time.

It is unclear whether the Pentagon will be sending more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in light of the current mission's extension.

The Defense Department has not immediately responded to a request from Newsweek for more information.

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U.S. Marines install razor wire along a U.S.-Mexico border fence on December 2, 2018, as seen from Tijuana, Mexico. The Department of Defense has extended its support at the U.S.-Mexico border until the end of September 2019. John Moore/Getty