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Brewer: Feds denied National Guard request

Gov. Jan. Brewer tells a U.S. Senate panel she wants to send more National Guard troops to the border, as state Attorney General Terry Goddard waits his turn to testify.

A request for 250 additional National Guard troops to assist with border enforcement has been “effectively denied,” according to Gov. Jan Brewer.
In testimony before a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in Phoenix on April 20, Brewer said she was extremely disappointed by the refusal and emphasized the need to secure the country’s border with Mexico to help combat the rising tide of drug cartel-related violence in the region.
“I was very surprised. The reaction from the Obama administration appeared to be very negative, and I believe that was very irresponsible,” Brewer told the committee. “I just feel very disappointed that the federal government has not stepped up and done what their responsibilities are, and have left the control, if you will, left up to our local law enforcement.”
In a March 30 letter to Brewer, Department of Defense official Edward Frothingham said funding for National Guard anti-narcotics efforts in the Southwest border states, as well as other areas designated by the Office of National Drug Control Policy as high-intensity drug trafficking areas, have received adequate funding under a predetermined formula that includes annual increases for inflation.
For fiscal 2010, Frothingham wrote, the National Guard Bureau Counterdrug Division proposed a $9.2 million budget for its Arizona counterdrug program, which he said was an increase of about 2.8 percent from the $8.9 million budgeted for 2009.
“This guaranteed level of funding comes at the expense of the other 48 National Guard programs,” Frothingham wrote.
Frothingham also emphasized that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security are working on a national approach to border security. That plan, known as the Merida Initiative, was unveiled by Defense and Homeland Security officials in late March, and includes stationing more federal law enforcement officials along the U.S. side of the border as well as increased assistance to the Mexican government for interdiction efforts.
Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the letter did not flatly refuse Brewer’s request. But it did not signal approval of the 250 troops either, and it was being interpreted by the Governor’s Office as a denial.
“It alludes to the fact that they were coming out with this coordinated plan, this national approach, and so it didn’t seem like much of a response,” Senseman said. “This is all we’ve seen, and so it makes it apparent that they’ve denied it.”
Committee members Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl, who attended the hearing as a special member of the panel, made it clear that they viewed the letter as a denial. The two Arizona senators have voiced support for Brewer’s request, and at the Homeland Security hearing in Phoenix, McCain said the administration’s denial of Brewer’s request was “an unacceptable response.”
Cmdr. Bob Mehal, a spokesman at the U.S. Department of Defense, said the request has not been definitively refused. If the money can be found to amend the fiscal 2009 budget, and it meets with the approval of the Department of Homeland Security and Obama, more money could still be appropriated for this year or for 2010, Mehal said. Until that happens, he said, the request is essentially in a holding pattern.
“We didn’t definitively say no,” Mehal said. “So there’s a possibility that this still could happen, that this money could be found. And if Homeland Security thinks it’s a correct assessment, that that’s what we need and makes that recommendation, and the president approves it, then it could get funded.”
Arizona House Majority Leader Rep. John McComish said he supports the governor’s call for more National Guard troops at the border, and hopes the Department of Defense and the Obama administration will heed her request.
The committee hearing was a good opportunity for Brewer to reiterate that request with the support of Kyl and McCain, McComish said.
“Hopefully that will rattle some cages,” said McComish, a Republican Phoenix. “I hope… since (the Department of Defense is) saying it hasn’t been definitively denied, that the apparent denial will turn into a real approval.”
The governor submitted the request to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on March 24, asking for 250 additional personnel to join the 150 National Guard troops who already are taking part in the Joint Counter-Narcoterrorism Task Force, which assists law enforcement agencies at the border.
Task force members free up law enforcement officers for enforcement duties by taking over non-enforcement jobs such as vehicle maintenance, computer work and surveillance. Task force members do not actually patrol the border or apprehend suspects.
Arizona National Guard officials have said the additional troops, if approved by the Department of Defense, would likely play a similar role to that of the National Guard troops who took part in Operation Jump Start from 2006-2008. Then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, now director of the Department of Homeland Security, had requested an increased National Guard presence on the border to combat drug trafficking and illegal immigration.
Brewer lamented what she viewed as a reversal in Washington’s willingness to commit more troops to the border.
“The past governor saw the need, and now we’re not seeing the help that we need,” Brewer said. 

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