Military chief: No plan to ramp up border presence

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff toured a portion of the U.S.-Mexico border Friday but said there are no plans to send troops there as some politicians are seeking.

Adm. Michael Mullen took a brief tour of the border in and around El Paso, Texas, but 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 designed only to ensure continued cooperation among authorities. Soldiers run anti-drug and other security missions along the Mexican border but some border-state governors and members of Congress have increasingly called on President Barack Obama to send more troops to the southern frontier.

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.

In February, Texas Gov. Rick Perry asked U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for 1,000 troops to augment 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. Those troops assist in anti-drug efforts, helping federal agents inspect vehicles at ports of entry.

Brewer's 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, also have urged the deployment of soldiers.

This week, National Guard officials in New Mexico 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.

Napolitano said as recently as Wednesday that the requests for troops were being reviewed, though her newly appointed "border czar," Alan Bersin, said that the federal law barring the military from performing law enforcement duties inside the U.S. has served the country well.

Bersin 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.

Napolitano, who was Arizona's governor before becoming homeland security secretary, asked the federal government in 2006 to pay for sending more troops to the border. Then-President George W. Bush sent thousands of National Guard troops to the border that year to help the Border Patrol conduct surveillance and other security operations while that agency bolstered its own ranks.


Associated Press Writer Arthur Rotstein in Tucson, Ariz., contributed to this report.

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