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Arizona border incident takes a political turn

Arizona border incident takes a political turn

Over the last three weeks, the decision by National Guard troops to back off and call in federal agents as gunmen approached their post near the Arizona-Mexico border has disturbed advocates for tougher immigration enforcement.
While supporters of the decision said the Guard members did as they were supposed to, immigration hard-liners said officials have presented inconsistent details of the incident and questioned the point of having troops on the border if they can't confront such dangers.
The commander of the Arizona National Guard is expected to face this criticism Monday as he testifies before a homeland security committee of the state Legislature that's seeking specifics on the Jan. 3 incident at an observation post near Sasabe.
"As I learn more about this, I am more alarmed about this situation," said Republican Rep. Warde Nichols of Chandler, the committee chairman who believes the troops should have captured the gunmen.
Four National Guard soldiers from Tennessee were on the lookout at the border when they spotted six to eight gunmen wearing bulletproof vests. The soldiers contacted Border Patrol agents and pulled back, officials said in summaries released more than a week ago.
The Border Patrol tracked the armed men back to the border, but were unable to find them. No shots were fired.
Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, National Guard officials and some state lawmakers defended the decision to call in the Border Patrol, saying the troops aren't supposed to perform law enforcement duties.
The troops were among the 6,400 National Guard members sent to the four southern border states as part of President George W. Bush's plan to perform support duties that tie up immigration agents, who then have more time to catch illegal immigrants.
The support duties include monitoring border points, assisting with cargo inspection and operate surveillance cameras.
"We don't apprehend," said Maj. Paul Aguirre, a spokesman for the Arizona National Guard. "We don't detain. We don't transport. We don't do any law enforcement."
Aguirre objected to characterizations of the incident as a retreat, saying the soldiers didn't run from their post, nor were they overrun.
The troops monitored the situation, never lost contact with the gunmen and moved to another site to avoid any engagement with the armed men, Aguirre said.
Democratic Rep. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix, a member of the homeland security committee, said immigration hard-liners would use the questioning of Maj. Gen. David Rataczak of the Arizona National Guard to push their agenda.
"They are going to try and embarrass him. They are going to fail," Gallardo said, predicting the panel wouldn't respond with any significant action.
Nichols said his intentions were nonpolitical and that he seeks a clear picture of the incident, because he has read accounts with conflicting details.
Shortly after the encounter, authorities had said four to five armed men came within 100 yards (meters) of the troops. The summaries released more than a week ago said the troops spotted six to eight gunmen, one of whom came within 20 yards (meters) of the observation site.
Officials said the number of gunmen was always in question, because the incident happened at night and in terrain that made it hard to spot people. They also said their investigation has revealed that the gunmen were closer than they initially thought.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who maintains that drug and immigration problems in his non-border county prompted him to join the debate, said the retreat was an embarrassment and questioned the policies that prompted the troops to pull back.
"What purpose are they there for than to provide window dressing to a failed border policy," Thomas said.
Supporters of the Guard's support role said the presence of the troops has helped combat immigrant and drug smuggling in Arizona, the nation's busiest illegal entry point. One third of the troops along the nation's southern border are in the state.
Nichols said the incident had broader border security implications because armed people know the National Guard will retreat.
"From every account I can get, it appears they were testing our resolve and what our men at the border would do," Nichols said.
The governor's office has said the rules allow Guard members to use force when they believe they face an imminent threat and all other means are exhausted.
"I don't think that it's up to the committee to negotiate the rules of engagement," Napolitano said. "Those rules of engagement were negotiated with the National Guard at the federal level."
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On the Net:
http://www.azleg.state.az.us/
http://www.az.ngb.army.mil/
http://www.governor.state.az.us/
http://www.maricopacountyattorney.org/


Updated : 2021-05-07 18:17 GMT+08:00