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- The White House has reportedly sent a memo to the Pentagon authorizing US troops at the US-Mexico border to defend Customs and Border Protection personnel should the approaching migrant caravans turn violent.
- The Department of Homeland Security has reportedly assessed that the threat of violence posed to border personnel by the approaching caravans is "minimal," but the White House insists that there is a credible threat.
- There are presently 5,800 active-duty troops serving at the border as part of an operation that is estimated to cost roughly $72 million.
- The Department of Defense, according to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, has offered assurances that the military will stay "strictly within accordance of the law."
- The US Navy's 11 aircraft super carriers represent the envy of the world in terms of naval might and power projection, but their cult status and new threats from China and Russia could lose the US its next war.
- Aircraft carriers have become an almost mystical symbol of US power, according to experts, and losing one would have a damaging psychological toll on the country.
- An expert said the US president might not even want to send carriers into battle these days because losing one is a real possibility and it would significantly impact public support for fighting.
- But the carriers also deter war, because if an enemy fires on an aircraft carrier, they know the full might of the US will follow.
The White House has authorized US troops to take protective measures, including lethal force, to defend border personnel should the approaching migrant caravans turn violent, CNN first reported Tuesday.
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza confirmed to Business Insider that the Department of Defense received the memo, a "cabinet order" that reportedly permits"a show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary), crowd control, temporary detention, and cursory search."
Such activities could potentially be in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids active-duty military personnel from engaging in law enforcement activities on American soil, although the Department of Defense insists that it will not violate the law.
There are approximately 5,800 active-duty troops currently serving at the US-Mexico border — 2,800 in Texas, 1,500 in Arizona, and 1,500 in California. These troops, deployed in addition to the more than 2,000 National Guard personnel already present at the southern border, have been hardening ports of entry and securing key crossing points. Around 11 miles of concertina (razor) wire has been put down since their arrival, the Department of Defense revealed Monday.
The migrant caravans have clashed with authorities in other countries in incidents that led President Donald Trump to suggest that troops might open fire on migrants who throw rocks, a position from which he has since backed away. The odds that border personnel will encounter violence is reportedly low, but not nonexistent.
A leaked internal Department of Homeland Security document said the risk is "minimal,"according to The New York Times. "C.B.P. assesses the likelihood of violence directed against C.B.P. personnel along the border is minimal," the document reads.
White House chief of staff John Kelly, who signed the memo approving the new authorizations, argues that there is "credible evidence and intelligence" that the arrival of the migrants "may prompt incidents of violence and disorder."
The military's border mission, initially designated "Operation Faithful Patriot" but later referred to only as "border support," has drawn a significant amount of criticism since it began late last month, as critics have repeatedly called the deployment of thousands of active-duty troops to the border a political stunt, especially given the legal limitations on what they can do on US soil.
The Pentagon has pushed back against such accusations, with Secretary of Defense James Mattis saying "we don't do stunts in this department." The new protection authorizations would certainly expand the mission for deployed troops, giving them the ability to intervene in the event that CBP personnel came under attack.
As migrants begin pouring into border towns, the military has been at a loss about what the next step is for the active-duty troops at the border. With the memo sent to the Pentagon Tuesday, it appears the White House is offering to fill in the gaps.
Any protective measures taken by troops deployed at the border would be "proportional," officials told CNN. At the moment, Mattis is still reviewing the new authorities. "We’ll decide if [the authorities] are appropriate for the military," he told reporters Wednesday, according to Stars and Stripes. For the time being, the mission at the border has not changed.
In response to questions about the use of deadly force, Mattis further explained that DHS has not made a request for the use of lethal force, stressing that troops are not even carrying firearms.
"Relax. Don’t worry about it," he told reporters.
The Pentagon said Tuesday the cost of the deployment is $72 million, although that figure could change. Mattis said Wednesday he expects this figure to rise.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen expressed gratitude for the Department of Defense's support late Tuesday evening.
"[The Department of Homeland Security] and [Customs and Border Protection] will not permit unlawful entry into the US at or [between] our ports of entry [and] will continue to take all possible actions to stop such entry at our border," she wrote on Twitter, adding, "We appreciate [the Department of Defense] and [National Guard] for partnering [with] DHS on the border until the mission is complete."
The mission for active-duty troops is expected to run until December 15.
The US Navy's 11 aircraft super carriers represent the envy of the world in terms of naval might and power projection, but the cult status they've achieved and the rise of Russia and China's missile fleets could lose the US its next war.
The myth of aircraft carrier goes that in times of crisis, the first question a president asks is: Where are the aircraft carriers?
The US Navy's Nimitz-class aircraft carriers tower above most buildings at 130 feet above the waterline. More than 1,000 feet in length displacing 100,000 tons of water, they transcend the idea of ships and become floating cities, or mobile airfields.
Around 80 aircraft and 7,000 sailors, marines, and pilots live aboard the craft as its nuclear reactor steams it across the world's oceans at a remarkable clip. One of these carriers costs about $5 billion. The aircraft on board likely cost another billion or so.
The lives of the crew and the significance of the carrier to the US's understanding of its national power are priceless.
Jerry Hendrix, a former captain in the US Navy who worked with the chief of naval operation's executive panel on naval aviation and missile defense cautioned at a Heritage Foundation talk on Tuesday that the carriers may have become too mythological to fight.
"Carriers have gone beyond mere naval platforms to become near mystical symbols of American national power," said Hendrix. "They are the symbol of the nation, its greatness, in the way they are perceived as asset of national prestige."
If the US purchased all of one carrier in a single year, it would eat 80% of the total shipbuilding budget, Hendrix said.
But with the proliferation of carrier-killer missiles from China and Russia, meaning missiles purpose-built to sink carriers at sea from ranges far beyond the furthest missile from the furthest-flying jet off a carrier's deck, it's not immediately clear how these massive ships can bring their impressive power to bear.
Carriers sail with a strike group of dedicated warships that can take on submarines, missiles, aircraft, and other surface combatants.
Bryan Clarke, former special assistant to the chief of naval operations who also spoke at Heritage, said that in a best-case scenario, a carrier strike group could down 450 incoming missiles. China could likely muster 600 missiles in an attack about 1,000 miles off their coast.
So short of some revolution in strike group armaments or tactics, China looks to have a solid chance at sinking the mythical aircraft carrier.
Too big to fail?
"Presidents may well be hesitant to introduce carriers inside dense portions of the enemy's threat environment," said Hendrix. "The military may make that advice based upon the mission they've been given," he continued, "but the president might not feel comfortable risking it."
The commander in chief of the US military owes his job to public opinion. Losing an aircraft carrier at sea would shock a nation that hasn't seen such destruction in a single battle since the Vietnam war.
"For fear of loss of national prestige or even their political power," US presidents might not even want to use carriers, said Hendrix. "For the loss of an aircraft carrier will have a significant impact on the national conversation."
"We need to begin as a nation to have a conversation that prepares the American people for war," said Hendrix. "There is, unfortunately, the heavy potential of conflict coming, but the nation is not ready for heavy battle damage to its navy and specifically not to its aircraft carriers. We need to move these assets back in the realm of being weapons, and not being perceived as mystical unicorns."
But Bryan McGrath, founding managing director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a naval consultancy, told Business Insider that the US's enemies would think twice before targeting a carrier, and that a wartime US Navy and people can and have risen to the task of fighting on through sunk carriers in the past.
"The decision to go after an aircraft carrier, short of the deployment of nuclear weapons, is the decision that a foreign power would take with the most reticence," said McGrath. "The other guy knows that if that is their target, the wrath of god will come down on them."
For now, the expert community remains split around the utility of aircraft carriers going forward, but the US Navy continues to build them and set thousands to sea on them in a sure sign of confidence.