UPDATE 2-Mattis rejects criticism of sending U.S. troops to border
"The support that we provide to the secretary for homeland security is practical support based on the request from the commissioner of customs and border police, so we don't do stunts in this department," Mattis said after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart at the Pentagon.
Trump has hardened his stance on immigration ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections. He has drawn attention to a caravan of migrants that is trekking through Mexico toward the United States as he seeks to fire up support for his Republican party, which is facing some tough battles as Democrats seek to wrest control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
Republican lawmakers and other Trump supporters have applauded the deployment. But critics say Trump is politicizing the military, deploying them as a stunt to drive Republican voters to the polls without any real national security threat.
A U.S. official told Reuters that as of Wednesday the Pentagon had identified about 7,000 troops, which included about 2,000 on standby, that could be deployed to the border with Mexico if needed.
On Tuesday, the top U.S. general overseeing a deployment of more than 5,200 troops to the border with Mexico said troop levels would rise further, but declined to say how high or estimate what the operation will cost.
Many basic questions remained unanswered days after the Pentagon announced the open-ended deployment of over 5,200 active-duty troops to the border, including the scope of the mission as well as the Pentagon's assessment of any threat posed by arriving migrants. (Reporting by Idrees Ali Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)
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