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Trump Calls For U.S. Military On U.S.-Mexico Border


President Trump says his administration is making plans to send troops to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are preparing for the military to secure our border between Mexico and the United States. We have a meeting on it in a little while with General Mattis and everybody. And I think that it's something we have to do.

GREENE: All right, that was the president yesterday. He also said it is time to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.


TRUMP: I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.

GREENE: OK, the president's words there, though he did not provide a lot of details about either proposal, and Pentagon officials were actually a bit surprised by the president's remarks. I want to bring in NPR's Tom Bowman, who covers the Pentagon.

Hi, Tom.


GREENE: All right, let's work through exactly what we know here. Does the administration have a plan to put troops on the U.S. border with Mexico?

BOWMAN: Well, there isn't a plan yet. What we do know is there'll be National Guard troops, and that's not unusual. Both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush did that. But Pentagon officials, as you say, they were surprised that the president brought this up yesterday. And when Bush and Obama did it, it was, you know, for a relatively short period of time for specific operations. What President Trump has said - he wants the troops here until they can build his wall on the border. But that's not expected anytime soon, so it's really uncertain how many troops and how long they would be there.

GREENE: But what should we make, then, of him talking about this troop buildup - even if it is National Guard troops, as you said, has been done before - alongside bringing troops home from Syria?

BOWMAN: Well, again, he made this remark about bringing troops home from Syria - he actually made it twice - once last week and once yesterday - but as far as I can tell, there's no plan for a timetable for leaving Syria. That was a surprise at the Pentagon, as well. Now, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with President Trump at the White House. And the sense I get talking with Pentagon officials is that U.S. troops will likely remain in Syria - and there are about 2,000 of them there - to complete the destruction of the Islamic State. Officials estimate that about 90 percent of the Islamic State has been eradicated, but it's about 10 percent left, mostly along the border down the Euphrates River Valley into Iraq.

GREENE: So some mixed messages here - I mean, while Trump is making these comments, the people who are actually running military operations in Syria are saying something different.

BOWMAN: They were saying something different yesterday. Two officials - Army General Joe Votel, who oversees troops in the Middle East, and Brett McGurk, the State Department point person on the Islamic State operations - appeared at a forum yesterday in Washington, and they said, more needs to be done in Syria. Here's Brett McGurk.


BRETT MCGURK: We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission, and the mission isn't over. And we're going to complete that mission.

BOWMAN: And General Votel, by the way, said the U.S. has a role in reconstruction, helping stabilize the country beyond defeating ISIS. He said they'll be needed to provide security for those who deliver humanitarian supplies and the rebuilding projects like getting water and electricity restored.

GREENE: You were just in Syria - right? - not so long ago.

BOWMAN: That's right. I was there back in February for a few days.

GREENE: And what is the situation from what you saw and from what you're hearing from officials now, taken together?

BOWMAN: Well, when I was there back in February, they said it would be about two to six months to complete the destruction of the Islamic State. But now some of the Kurdish rebels fighting ISIS have gone up to the northwest part of Syria to fight Turkish troops. So what the Americans are saying is it could take even longer than that, beyond six months to defeat the Islamic State and many months beyond that to actually stabilize this section of Syria where the U.S. troops and the Kurdish rebels are now stationed.

GREENE: A reality that perhaps military officials are trying to stress to the president right now as he's making these comments.

BOWMAN: No, I think that's absolutely right, David.

GREENE: All right, NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.