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Defense Secretary Mark Esper has ordered home several hundred active-duty troops from the 82nd Airborne Division who were brought to the national capital region to respond to protests if needed, a defense official told POLITICO.
This is the second time this week Esper has ordered the troops to head home. Earlier, Esper put multiple active-duty Army units on alert in the D.C. area as a "prudent planning measure" to support local law enforcement dealing with civil unrest.
He initially ordered them home on Wednesday after a night of more peaceful protests in the nation's capital, but reversed course later in the day and planned to keep them in the area for another 24 hours after further analysis, the official said.
The second reversal comes as White House aides made clear their irritation with Esper for declaring his opposition to deploying active-duty troops to quash recent unrest just two days after President Donald Trump threatened to do so. Officials say the Defense secretary is on thin ice with the president.
The units — a total of 1,600 troops — also include an infantry battalion assigned to the Army’s Immediate Response Force and the 16th Military Police Brigade headquarters based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the 91st Military Police Battalion from Fort Drum, N.Y.
The active-duty troops have been on heightened alert status but were not deployed to the capital. Esper on Wednesday told reporters he did not support invoking the Insurrection Act, which would have allowed Trump to deploy the active-duty troops in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere throughout the country to deal with violent protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis.
The initial reversal was already in the works as Esper met with Trump at the White House on Wednesday after his comments, the defense official said, noting that the decision was not a consequence of that meeting.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was notified of the change after the White House meeting, the official said.
As of Thursday morning, governors in 32 states and the District had activated more than 32,400 National Guard members to assist state and local law enforcement in respond to the protests.
In the capital alone, roughly 1,200 D.C. National Guardsmen have been activated, and another 3,300 members from 10 other states — including Florida, Indiana and Utah — will be supporting the response.