Skim through the Pentagon's media site for Operation Faithful Patriot—the fittingly ridiculous name for the deployment of some 7,000 American troops to various spots along the Mexican border—and you'll see lots of razor wire.
There are photos of American troops laying razor wire (technically known as concertina wire) along the California-Mexico border. Of wire being affixed to the top of fences and to the sides of buildings. Everywhere you look on the Pentagon's site, you find wire, wire, and more wire. Photos of soldiers carrying rolls of unused wire, snapshots of forklifts bringing more of the stuff to the border, and even videos of wire being unrolled and deployed. It's thrilling stuff, truly.
The message is not subtle. President Donald Trump might not have convinced Congress to blow billions for a fully operational border wall, but good luck to any immigrant caravan that happens to stumble into the thorny might of the American military's sharpest deterrents.
The focus on concertina wire isn't just in the Pentagon's internal media. The Wall Street Journal dedicated an entire Election Day story to how troops in Granjeno, Texas, had "unfurled reams of razor wire on top of a wrought-iron fence alongside a bridge to Mexico." Troops stringing wire also appeared in The New York Post, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.
There is so much concertina wire deployed to the southern border that if it were all stretched out from end to end, it would reach all the way from Brownsville, Texas, on the Gulf Coast to….well, whatever is 22 miles west of Brownsville, Texas.
Yes. Despite the deluge of photos and videos of American troops are securing the southern border with reams of razor wire, Buzzfeed's Vera Bergengruen reports that "troops have deployed with 22 miles of the wire so far, with 150 more available."
The U.S.–Mexico border is roughly 1,950 miles long.
The wire doesn't seem to be getting strung with any sort of strategic purpose, either. That WSJ story about the troops in Texas hanging wire from a bridge says that the "wire was placed on top of fences at least 15 feet high along each side of the bridge that sat several dozen feet above an embankment" while the bridge itself remains open to vehicle traffic from Mexico. If there is a goal, it would seem to be making the border look more prickly and dystopian while not actually creating any sort of barrier.
It's no wonder, then, that the troops deployed to the border are confused about why they are there. On Wednesday, when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited some of the troops stationed near McAllen, Texas, he was met with lots of questions and provided few answers.
"Sir, I have a question. The wire obstacles that we've implanted along the border….Are we going to be taking those out when we leave?" one of the soldiers asked Mattis, according to Bergengruen. Another asked Mattis to explain the "short- and long-term plans of this operation."
"Short-term right now, you get the obstacles in so the border patrolmen can do what they gotta do," Mattis responded. "Longer term, it's somewhat to be determined."
Even at a time when most American military engagements seem to be conducted with a "TBD" rationale, this feels especially egregious. Mattis did his best on Wednesday to make the effort seem like a meaningful attempt to secure the border, while simultaneously admitting that he does not expect the deployed troops to actually come into contact with any immigrant caravans. Lately he's been talking about how the deployment is supposedly good training for unconventional circumstances.
It's becoming increasingly obvious that Operation Faithful Patriot—a name so silly that the Pentagon has decided to stop using it—is nothing more than a very expensive, politically motivated P.R. campaign. Of the 39 units deployed, five of them are public affairs units. There seems to be no clear mission, no long-term objective, and no indication that the troops will add meaningful enforcement to existing border patrols.
As for all that wire? It doesn't really seem to be working either.