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Deploying Troops to the Border Is Expensive and Unnecessary, but at Least They're 'Getting Training Out of' It

"Training" is not a good enough justification for spending $200 million to send 8,000 troops to the border.

Alexandra Minor/ZUMA Press/NewscomAlexandra Minor/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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.

Photo Credit: Alexandra Minor/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • John||

    Training is what troops do. If they did not do this, they likely would have spent most or maybe all of that money training in some other way.

    Is it too much to ask that reason hire someone who knows something about the military or would that entail too much testosterone for the staff to handle?

  • DiegoF||

    Joe isn't writing like he has accounting experience, let alone military.

  • Echo Chamber||

    Yep. If they're not off shooting at something, they're still on the payroll. What is the incremental cost of this deployment versus twiddling thumbs and marching in place?

  • Fairbanks||

    The expert who made the estimate used incremental cost, according to the Washington Post. But the figure was $40-50 million for 8,000 troops. And of course he said the number would be higher if there were more troops or they stayed longer. But Joe Setyon was extremely vague about the circumstances of the $200 million figure he cites, and he cited it after starting the article with the 8,000 troop figure. Purposely misleading? And whoever made the sub-headline was either purposefully misleading or incompetent.

  • Agammamon||

    40-50 million is a more reasonable figure for this op. Still a lot of money for what is basically logistics training.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Since this is basically political theater anyway (FAR more so than "logistics training"), looking for the max pay-off of "red meat" for Der TrumpfenFuhrer throwing some rhetoric towards his base, let's get cost-efficient about this, shall we?

    Anyone recall the Iran-Iraq wars of the 1980s? Lots of it was fought in low-laying salt-water marshes. Very tough terrain for Iraqi military vehicles... And it is expensive to bring in bunches of rocks or logs to raise up the mud to make roads. But there were BUTTLOADS of Iranian corpses just laying around for free! So the Iraqis just limed 'em up (for rot-proofing), and lined 'em up and laid 'em down to make roads! Lime 'em up, line 'em up, lay 'em down!

    So we can soon expect Der TrumpfenFuhrer to steal a page from the Iran-Iraq war! The Mexicans won't pay for His Walls?!? Make raids on Mexican peasant villages, round up conscript wall-building labor, and build the wall out of the limed-up corpses of illegal sub-humans!!! (Or at least the top-rim of the wall, for max psychological intimidation). For every American soldier killed in the effort, there will be reprisal shootings of 200 more illegal un-Americans!

  • Agammamon||

    Is it too much to ask that reason hire someone who knows something about the military

    That's pretty rich, coming from you.

    1. The assumption is that these guys won't have already spent money on training to do these things already. Then we're spending extra money.

    2. Its convoy work inside the US. It really, really, really, doesn't take a lot of training to know how to load a train. I've done the naval equivalent with no training just 'the guy we told to do it is screwing it up and you seem like a smart dude, here's the vehicle and container list, here's the list of where everything goes, go sort it out'.

    3. Its 200 million dollars to train 8,000 people. To do things they've done multiple times this year already. Set up a camp, dig a hole, sit in the hole. That's a lot of money.

    4. Wear and tear on equipment. You seem to be forgetting that.

  • Agammamon||

    Besides, the U.S.-Mexico border is not a place for American soldiers to practice making war.

    That, however, is hiliarious. What does he think we do with all these bases and training areas down here?

  • Agammamon||

    In fact, *why* does he think we put all these bases and training areas down here? Because this is a part of the country where there's still room enough to practice making war.

  • A Thinking Mind||

    Also, this is a much more reasonable deployment than sending troops to Syria, Iraq, or Turkey.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    I don't buy that cost estimate. Soldiers gonna paid whether they deploy somewhere or not. $200M in fuel for longer-than-normal distances doesn't make sense either. Airline tickets?

    5,000 or 10,000 soldiers -- $20K or $40K each. WTF?

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Come to North Virginia and Maryland to see where that money is really going. Military contractors got to get paid.

  • Juice||

    Lots of nice houses in McLean, Potomac, and Bethesda. Don't forget Cabin John.

  • DenverJ||

    It's a ruse; Trump is going to send a build up a bunch of troops at the border using the caravan as an excuse, then BLAM! he invades Mexico.

  • DiegoF||

    What sort of U.S. President would do such a thing?

  • DenverJ||

    I writes English goodly

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    You know who else staged an invasion to justify an invasion?

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    A Polish radio station?

  • Vernon Depner||

    The Beatles?

  • Dillinger||

    doing stuff > not?

  • Echo Chamber||

    "the U.S.-Mexico border is not a place for American soldiers to practice making war."

    Shall we send them somewhere far away to practice war? How far does the logistics chain need to be stretched for the training to be valid?

    Good thing we've never had a war with Mexico, and have never had a tussle with Canada
    52 40 or something

  • DiegoF||

    Wasn't Oregon actually a fairly pure example of diplomacy and good strategy winning the day after some bluster? (We needed to focus on whuppin' the Messicans!) Surely the time we actually fought a war against Canada would be a better example?

  • Echo Chamber||

    Sure, 2 front wars haven't worked out so well. But B.C. is mighty pretty. Shame it's wasted on Canadians (just kidding, Rufus)

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    "wouldn't elaborate on the exact type of training"

    Obviously it's Army Training, Sir

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Thanks for the laugh. I can't imagine anyone been to boot camp who wasn't cheering them on.

  • Ron||

    you pay the military wether they sit on their ass or if they are doing something may as well have them do something. Besides that point someone has to set up camps for the invasion of people

  • Kivlor||

    OMG It's going to cost $200,000,000 to turn back that peasant levy! We had better not stop them, I mean, that's a lot of money. The next time the Russians march into Georgia, the Georgians should ask the same question: How much is it going to cost to move our army? Meh, that's too much to maintain our sovereignty.

  • ||

    OMG It's going to cost $200,000,000 to turn back that peasant levy!

    LOL. Lay off the World of Warcraft - it's affecting your thinking.

  • Kivlor||

    Does World of Warcraft have peasant levies? Huh, maybe it's a less bad game than I presumed.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Besides, the U.S.-Mexico border is not a place for American soldiers to practice making war.

    I thought libertarians believed the border was the only legitimate place to make war.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Joe, do a story on how wasteful military spending is for sitting in Europe, Africa, and Australia.

    If anything, actually defending US borders is what the US Army is for.

    You people at Reason are pathetic propagandists.

  • DRM||

    Hello, class, welcome to Libertarianism 071: Remedial Principles of Libertarianism and their Application

    Today's lesson is, The US Army and its Legitimate Uses.

    These uses are:

    1) Repelling a cross-border attack on the United States.
    2) Eliminating the ability of a force that has attacked the United States to repeat the attack.
    3) Assisting the civil authorities in an emergency that overwhelms their normal capacity.

    Can someone give me an example of #1? Mr. Setyon? Ms. Dalmia? Anyone?

    "Pearl Harbor?" calls a voice from the back.

    Well, yes, Pearl Harbor was an attack on the United States. However, there's the difficulty that the Army wasn't in a position to do anything about it, since the Japanese didn't invade the islands with ground forces. If you consider the US presence in the Philippines legitimate, then the fight against the Japanese invasion of those islands would count, but that's clearly up for debate. So, do we have any clear examples of #1 relevant to the Army, class?

    "Um, Pancho Villa?" cries another voice.

    Yes, that's right, 1912, when a civil war in Mexico resulted in a Mexican general attacking the US at Columbus, New Mexico. So, one of the legitimate tasks the US Army can train for is being deployed to defend the border with Mexico from an attack. Now, moving on . . .

  • buybuydandavis||

    ' "Training" is not a good enough justification for spending $200 million to send 8,000 troops to the border. '

    But invasion is.

    I'm wondering if the Army Corps of Engineers will find it prudent to Build A Wall to combat the invasion.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Here's a thought experiment for open-borders libertarians:

    Suppose a foreign army unit were approaching our border. Let's say a brigade. They are equipped with the weapons and vehicles that contemporary infantry brigades normally would have. They are not engaged in any hostilities—just peacefully marching down the road towards our border. They are either Canadian or Mexican troops, or are in those countries at the invitation of those governments. There are people in the US who welcome their arrival. Now, when they reach the border, and begin crossing into our country, would it violate libertarian principles for our armed forces to try to stop them? They have a human right to go anywhere they wish, don't they? There's nothing wrong with someone peacefully carrying a weapon, is there? Those in the US who welcome their arrival have a right to interact with them as they wish, don't they? As long as they are not firing their weapons or otherwise harming anyone, could we justify using force to stop them from entering the US?

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