Deploying 8,000 troops to the southern border to "protect" the nation from a caravan of Central American migrants might very well be a ridiculously expensive solution to a problem that doesn't actually exist. But at least the soldiers themselves are getting a valuable experience out of it, says Army Secretary Mark Esper.
Speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute today, Esper argued that sending troops to the border has not put an unnecessary strain on the military, according to the Washington Examiner. "They are getting training out of that. They are deploying. They are putting their equipment on trains and whatnot or convoying and deploying to a location, and they are offloading," Esper said.
That's certainly some expensive training. The Washington Post estimated last week that the deployment could cost $200 million, depending on how long they stay and whether more are sent. On Monday, CNBC reported the cost could actually reach $220 million.
So where is all that money going? Many troops are setting up barbed wire fences or training for what to expect when the migrants arrive. Army Col. Rob Manning, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, wouldn't elaborate on the exact type of training. He did tell Stars and Stripes that "the [training] vignettes cover a range of scenarios that could occur," noting that he doesn't "anticipate" troops firing on migrants.
That's probably a good thing, though it's worth wondering why Trump still insists on calling the migrant caravan an "invasion." In any case, the Pentagon doesn't seem to be all that worried. As CNBC reported:
A Pentagon risk assessment found that the caravan did not pose a threat to the United States, according to a person with direct knowledge of U.S. intelligence. This person also said that the caravan would take about a month and a half to get to the U.S. border.
It's hard to see the justification in spending hundreds of millions of dollars to send thousands of U.S. soldiers to deal with the caravan. Esper is probably right—the troops are gaining good training out if it. But that's not reason enough. Besides, the U.S.-Mexico border is not a place for American soldiers to practice making war.