WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump renewed his threat Wednesday to send more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border following an incident in which Mexican soldiers confronted U.S. personnel. Mexico blamed the incident on confusion, and said it was not looking for confrontation with the U.S.
In morning tweets, Trump said, “Mexico’s Soldiers recently pulled guns on our National Guard Soldiers,” claiming, without evidence, that it was done “probably as a diversionary tactic for drug smugglers on the Border.”
“Better not happen again!” he added. “We are now sending ARMED SOLDIERS to the Border. Mexico is not doing nearly enough in apprehending & returning!”
Trump last year dispatched U.S. troops to the border to assist border personnel in response to several caravans of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico in hopes of reaching the U.S. Many are already armed.
Earlier this month, two U.S. soldiers in a remote area of Texas were confronted by Mexican soldiers who thought the Americans had crossed into Mexico. The Mexican troops reportedly removed a weapon from one of the American soldiers. U.S. Northern Command, which manages military support for Customs and Border Protection, said the Americans were in a CBP vehicle in a remote area of U.S. territory south of the border wall but north of the actual border.
“After a brief discussion between the soldiers from the two nations, the Mexican military members departed the area,” Northern Command said in a statement about the encounter.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to investigate the incident at a Wednesday news conference.
“We are not going to fight with the government of the United States,” he said. “The most important thing is that we want a relationship of mutual respect and cooperation for development.”
Mexico’s foreign relations department characterized the incident as “routine” confusion in an area where the line separating the two countries is unclear.
While not every U.S. service member deployed to the border is armed, many — including those performing the “mobile surveillance camera” mission, like the two confronted by the Mexican soldiers — are armed for self-protection.
Asked whether Trump intended to deploy more troops in response, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Trump “may” do that, but suggested the tweet was more about putting Mexico on notice.
“I think the president is just making clear, as he always has, that he has many different actions at his disposal to try to stop this humanitarian crisis,” she told reporters after an interview on Fox News Channel.
The Department of Homeland Security already has been expected to ask the Pentagon for additional military assistance, and defense officials have said this likely will result in the deployment of 300 to 500 additional troops to provide various kinds of support to Customs and Border Protection. Such a move would not represent a major boost in troop strength or a change in the mission, however.
Trump’s tweets come two days after Mexican police and immigration agents detained hundreds of Central American migrants in the largest single raid on a migrant caravan since the groups started moving through the country last year.
Police targeted isolated groups at the tail end of a caravan of about 3,000 migrants who were making their way through the southern state of Chiapas with hopes of reaching the U.S. border. The group subsequently dissolved as people hopped on cargo trains heading north or fled into the countryside to avoid police.
In recent days, there have been about 8,000 Central American migrants moving through southern Mexico in various groups.
Trump greatly exaggerated that number in his tweets, claiming, “A very big Caravan of over 20,000 people” had “started up through Mexico.”
Attention to the recent caravans soared in late March, when Mexican Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero met with then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and told her “the mother of all caravans” was forming, with more than 20,000 people expected to join. That never materialized.
Trump has previously threatened to seal the southern border, but backed off earlier this month, citing stepped-up Mexican efforts to stop the migrant flow. But he has continued to criticize the country nonetheless.
He said Wednesday at an event in Atlanta that “Mexico is starting to detain” and send people “back to their country, where they came from,” but said too many drugs are still coming across the border.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington and Maria Verza and Peter Orsi in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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