Trump ready to begin drawdown of troops at US-Mexico border

Donald Trump is poised to start withdrawing troops from the US-Mexico border as early as this week, according to a report that prompted instant criticism that their deployment was a political stunt.

The US president spent the final weeks of the midterms election campaign whipping up fears of a migrant caravan travelling through Mexico towards the border. He sent in about 5,900 troops to prevent the “invasion” but, once polls closed, talked far less about the issue.

On Monday the Politico website reported that the Pentagon is planning to begin a drawdown of the troops.

Army lieutenant-general Jeffrey Buchanan, overseeing the mission, said the first troops will start heading home in the coming days as some are already unneeded, having completed the missions they were sent for, Politico reported.

“The returning service members include engineering and logistics units whose jobs included placing concertina wire and other barriers to limit access to ports of entry at the US-Mexican border,” the website added.

Buchanan, based in Texas, added that the active-duty troops sent to assist Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the border should be home by Christmas. “Our end date right now is 15 December, and I’ve got no indications from anybody that we’ll go beyond that,” he was quoted as saying.

Trump’s decision to deploy troops at the border provoked a fierce backlash from commentators who regarded as it a blatant use of the military for electoral gain.

On Monday, three critics with military and national security experience – Gordon Adams, Lawrence Wilkerson and Isaiah Wilson III – wrote in the New York Times: “The president used America’s military forces not against any real threat but as toy soldiers, with the intent of manipulating a domestic midterm election outcome, an unprecedented use of the military by a sitting president.”

Trump’s apparent move now to withdraw them also caused criticism. Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute thinktank in Washington, tweeted: “Troops at border starting to withdraw. Proving again that this was a blatant misuse of our military and tax dollars for partisan political purposes by Trump.”

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David Smith and Sarah Kinosian