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Mon, Dec 26, 2011

Ground Troops Replaced By Aircraft On US Border

Republicans Decry Cuts, But Aircraft Can Cover More Ground

National Guard troops deployed to patrol the southwestern US border with Mexico will see their numbers cut in January from the current 1,200 to about 300. Replacing them will be military planes and helicopters, according to the Arizona Republic.

The Pentagon reported announced the cost-saving strategy Tuesday, but President Obama is already under attack from Republicans for what they say is an inadequate presence to support the mission of the Border Patrol. The National Guard ground troops have been on duty there since June of 2010.

Representative Ben Quayle, an Arizona Republican, is the vice chairman of the House's border-security subcommittee. He credits a recent drop in illegal border crossings to a weak US economy, not major advancements in border security, as he says the administration has claimed. Arrests of illegal immigrants entering the US through Arizona reached a 17-year low in fiscal 2011, the year ending September 30th.

Going forward, National Guard helicopters and planes will augment the Border Patrol's current fleet of manned and unmanned aircraft. If spotters detect illegal activity, it will be reported to the Border Patrol.

Michael Lytle, a border expert at the University of Texas at Brownsville, says the shift in policy makes sense. "Intuitively, (aircraft) can get out in remote areas and cover a lot of areas. That is the upside of this. And if it does save us money, so much the better. And lastly, it shows the administration is still making the commitment to support these operations."



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