US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty US troops to respond to civil unrest in cities across the country.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Esper said active-duty troops in a law enforcement role should be used in the US “only in the most urgent and dire of situations”, adding, “We are not in one of those situations now.”
“I say this not only as Secretary of Defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard, the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire situations. We are not in one of those situations now,” Esper said.
“I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” he added.
He condemned the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman saying that it was an horrible crime and that the officers on the scene that day should be held accountable for his murder. “It is a tragedy that we have seen repeat itself too many times.”
“Racism is real in America, and we must all do our very best to recognize it, to confront it, and to eradicate it”.
“I’ve always been proud to be a member of an institution – the United States military – that embraces diversity and inclusion and prohibits hate and discrimination in all forms.” he said.
But Esper’s remarks reportedly angered Trump and his aides at the White House, according to Bloomberg News.
Bloomberg, citing Trump aides, said the White House perceived Esper’s remarks as out of line. Bloomberg also said the aides didn’t expect Trump to fire Esper.
“I’ve always believed and continue to believe that the National Guard is best suited for performing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations, in support of local law enforcement. I say this not only as secretary of defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard” he said.
“The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act”.
“At times, however, the United States military is asked, in support of governors and law enforcement, to help maintain law and order so that other Americans can exercise their rights, free from violence against themselves or their property” he added.
The comments come after reports that senior Pentagon officials are increasingly uneasy about the prominent role the US military is playing in the Trump administration.
The troops, who are reportedly “postured” on bases close to the Capital, have so far not taken part in any support to “civil authority operations,” the Pentagon said in a Tuesday night statement.
During a White House address on Monday night, the US President stopped short of invoking the Insurrection Act but he threatened to deploy active-duty US military personnel if states refused or failed to quell demonstrations.
The Secretary of Defense was meeting with Trump on Wednesday afternoon in a previously scheduled sitdown.
He also wanted to address a few other matters that have been raised about that evening.
“First, National Guard forces did not fire rubber bullets or tear gas into the crowd, as reported. Second, Guardsmen were instructed to wear helmets and personal protective equipment for their own protection, not to serve as some form of intimidation. Third, military leaders, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were wearing field uniforms because that is the appropriate uniform when working in a command center and meeting with troops in the streets. Fourth, it wasn’t until yesterday afternoon that we determined it was a National Guard helicopter that hovered low over a city block in D.C. Within an hour or so of learning of this, I directed the secretary of the Army to conduct an inquiry to determine what happened and why, and to report back to me.” he sad.
The whole number of active-duty troops recently moved from Fort Bragg, and Fort Drum to Washington DC area is approximately 1600 troops.