SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This week, the Pentagon dropped the name Operation Faithful Patriot from its mobilization of thousands of U.S. troops to the Mexico border. The idea is to make its mission of assisting the U.S. Border Patrol's response to the migrant caravan moving through Mexico sound a little less like a military operation. The U.S. has put troops on the border previously, most recently members of the National Guard under Presidents Bush and Obama. Lieutenant General Steven Blum, now retired, oversaw those deployments. He joins us now. General, thanks for being with us.
STEVEN BLUM: Sure. Good morning, Scott. How are you?
SIMON: Fine, thank you, sir. We've seen photos of troops unspooling razor wire some spots near the border. From your experience, sir, what might they be doing there?
BLUM: Well, from what I can see - now, you got to understand, I don't have firsthand information. I'm not currently serving. But what this appears to be is a Department of Defense in support of the Department of Homeland Security operation. It's fairly routine. It goes on literally thousands of times a year but certainly not at this scale and not with this kind of visibility with the media or controversy attached to it. And it - what this looks like is a hybrid approach where they're using the National Guard in Title 32 under the control of the governors and at the same time having a complementary completing or not competing effort using Title 10 active duty forces to support the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
SIMON: And is the idea to free up Border Patrol agents for other duties?
BLUM: Well, frankly, use of the U.S. military along the border can be a very significant force multiplier for the Border Patrol and the - both in terms of capabilities and capacity. But it's not only just for the Border Patrol. It helps the local, state and federal agencies that are all working in a cooperative effort to keep a safe and secure environment on the southwest border.
SIMON: General Blum - I'm sorry, sir.
SIMON: Some people have called the whole operation essentially a PR stunt. What do you think about that?
BLUM: I guess it's - I guess it's in the eyes of the beholder. Any operation - any military operation is always going to have some political implications to it because the United States military - and, in fact, as long as we remain the United States of America, our military forces must always remain under civilian control. And that control is exercised by our constitutionally mandated and elected and appointed civilian leadership. So because of that, this is not a military operation. This is an operation that the Department of Defense has been asked to help another department of a federal agency - in this case, Department of Homeland Security. And at the end of the day, anything that soldiers do will have some political overtones because what sent them on that mission, what approved that mission, what directed that mission is the National Command Authority - in this case, the president the United States.
SIMON: Well, let me just try and encapsulate it in the 20 seconds we have left. Was there the need, as you see it from this mission, was there such a shortage of...
BLUM: Well, clearly...
BLUM: I can't - I will tell you clearly the Customs and Border Patrol - the U.S. Border Patrol has asked for this. They feel it's necessary. And all of the things that you talked about are really at the direction of the U.S. Border Patrol. They are asking the Department of Defense to send soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines - whatever we send down there with their special skills and equipment - to do things that they feel they either cannot do sufficiently and need done or to expand their capability and capacity. So everybody down there has a common objective, and that is based...
SIMON: Thank you. I'm afraid we've got to go, retired Lieutenant General Steven Blum. Thanks for being...
BLUM: OK, Scott.
SIMON: Thanks for being with us.
BLUM: Thanks, right, right. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.