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Military chief: No plan to ramp up border presence

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rejecting a growing number of calls from politicians, said Friday the U.S. military has no plans to send troops to the border with Mexico.

Adm. Michael Mullen, who spoke to reporters after a brief tour of the border in and around El Paso, Texas, said his first trip to the area should not be taken as a sign of any intentions to send the military to the border as a bloody drug cartel war plagues Mexico.

“There are (no plans) that I am aware of or that I would talk about,” Mullen said. “I’m here to learn more about it (the border), specifically because of my responsibilities, and we’ll continue to support just as we have in the past.”

Mullen said his briefings from commanders with the Army’s Joint Task Force North at nearby Fort Bliss and the U.S. Border Patrol were only designed to ensure continued cooperation among authorities.

As violence continues to mount in Mexico’s battle with warring drug cartels — more than 10,670 people have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a government offensive against the powerful drug gangs in 2006 — governors and members of Congress have increasingly called on President Barack Obama to send troops to the southern frontier.

In February, Texas Gov. Rick Perry asked U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for 1,000 troops to augment local efforts along the border.

Last month Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer wrote Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking for 250 National Guard troops to be sent to the Arizona-Mexico border to supplement 150 troops already there as part of a long-standing border assistance program.

Her spokesman, Paul Senseman, said the request was prompted by a combination of Arizona’s problems from immigrant and drug smuggling and Mexico’s war with drug cartels.

Arizona’s senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, both have urged the deployment of soldiers.

National Guard troops are already at the Arizona border assisting in anti-drug efforts, helping federal agents inspect vehicles at ports of entry.

The situation is similar in New Mexico, where this week National Guard officials also asked for 100 more troops — at a cost of about $5 million — to help with anti-drug missions along the state’s nearly 180-mile border with Mexico.

Capt. Amanda Straub, a New Mexico National Guard spokeswoman, said Friday that Guard officials there don’t want troops to act as law enforcement but just expand a nearly two-decade old anti-drug effort.

As governor, Napolitano in 2006 asked the federal government to pay for sending more troops to the border.

Despite Mullen’s statements Friday, Napolitano said the requests for troops were under consideration.

The reaction to the calls for help from the federal government has been mixed.

During a stop in Nogales, Ariz. Wednesday, Napolitano said the requests were being reviewed.

But hour’s before Napolitano stop in Nogales, her newly appointed “border czar” Alan Bersin said that the posse comitatus act, which limits the ability of military forces, including the National Guard, from performing law enforcement duties inside the United States, has served the country well.

“We should be very cautious to not … misstate the security situation,” Bersin said Wednesday in El Paso shortly after being introduced as Napolitano’s border czar. He noted that there had been no direct spillover of the violence seen in northern Mexico, though cartel-affiliated drug and immigrant traffickers are thought to be responsible for kidnapping and other crimes farther north of the border.

U.S. troops along the border is nothing new. In 2006, then President George W. Bush sent thousands of National Guard troops to the border to help the Border Patrol conduct surveillance and other security operations while that agency bolstered its own ranks.

U.S. Army soldiers from Joint Task Force North, whose commanders briefed Mullen Friday, has also long run anti-drug and other security missions along the Mexican border.

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