Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday denied accusations that the Trump administration was deploying 5,200 troops to the Mexican border as a political stunt to bolster Republican support for the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
While taking questions from the press after a meeting with South Korea’s national defense minister, Mattis rejected the accusation and said that the Department of Defense doesn’t “do stunts.”
Trump administration officials announced Monday that the additional troops would be deployed to join the estimated 2,100 National Guard troops that are already at the U.S.-Mexico border to assist with the approaching migrant caravan making its way from Honduras.
The total number of troops deployed at the border will be more than double the estimated 3,500 people currently marching in the caravan. According to The Wall Street Journal, there will be more troops deployed to the border than there are currently serving in Iraq and Syria.
When asked by a reporter whether the deployment was a political stunt, Mattis pointed out the additional troops were a request from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“The support that we provide to the secretary of Homeland Security is tactical support based on the request from the commissioner of customs and border police,” Mattis said. “So we don’t do stunts in this department, thank you.”
Without providing proof, Trump has claimed at his political rallies and on Twitter that there are “bad people” traveling in the Central American caravan, including people who are “in gangs,” who are trying to invade the U.S.
However, the caravan is filled mostly with Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran migrants, including many women and children, who are hoping to apply for asylum at the U.S. border. The caravan originated in San Pedro Sula in Honduras, which has earned a reputation of being one of the most violent places in Central America.
The caravan is still weeks from reaching the U.S. border.
Earlier this week, Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, also denied that deploying the troops was a politically motivated decision.
“This is a law enforcement operation,” he said at a Monday news conference.