Stopping the Migrant Caravan at the US-Mexico Border

The Honduran migrant caravan continues marching north. President Trump’s threat of cutting off foreign aid and placing troops along the border have not stopped the approximately 14,000 member migrant caravan from moving through Mexico toward the US border. Even a Category Three hurricane did not prevent the caravan from growing and moving north.

The President has called up 2100 National Guard troops for possible deployment to the US-Mexican border. The reason for using National Guard troops is the Posse Comitatus rules which do and don’t apply to the Guard. The number may swell to 4000 with active duty 82nd Airborne troops. In a curious note, 2100 are currently unarmed. They will be given all the tools required to stop an angry mob bent on crossing the border when the time comes.

The “so what” of a group this large moving toward the US poses many potential planning factors which on the whole make this a little scary for a military planner.

First, remember this term because the military plans for it. This planning factor always remains in the back of our minds during operations like we are about to enter. The term is “CNN Effect.” Anything the military does will be on CNN within a twenty-four-hour news cycle. I can testify to you in many cases it was five minutes from personal experience. If I were the commander of the 82nd Airborne along the US-Mexico border for this operation, I would shorten that timeline down to three. Every military planner knows this migrant group is moving with the maximum cable news coverage it could possibly have. Newscasters may even be supporting their caravan. Ask any Israeli soldier what it’s like facing off against the Palestinians at their borders with newscasters around them. International news agencies even stage events to make their story and agenda. Beware, troops, the media is NOT your friend in this operation to halt the caravan and will do anything for a great CNN moment along the US border to make the military look foolish. Plan for the CNN Effect. Fortunately, President Trump and SecDef Mattis are results oriented and understand the fake news.

Second, the military will struggle with creating rules of engagement and a matrix for involvement with the migrant caravan. As I stated above, every eye in the world will be watching President Trump’s response. Closing off the border is the easy part. Keeping it closed is a lot tougher as migrants become bolder at the fence. There will be a decision matrix developed to deal with unfolding events, and as a military planner, we know there is no way to envision every event. Designing and establishing rules of engagement are going on right now as we speak because the Trump Administration knows the mainstream media is looking for and may even invent ways to make Trump and the military look like bullies to the poor Hondurans. 

Third, and more importantly, how will a Joint Interagency Task Force or JIATF of the military, Law Enforcement, Homeland Security, and medical staff screen and vet those they come in contact with? Mexican news agencies are already reporting Middle Eastern males in the caravan. Who are they, where are they coming from, and more importantly, who do those Middle Easterners belong to? Also, there are a number of communicable diseases like tuberculosis prevalent in Central American countries. Troops may be exposed to some nasty diseases while providing medical aid. There may be human rights violations and “trafficking” happening in the caravan also. Vetting a population of 14,000+ is extremely difficult from the air and on the ground. 

Fourth, there is a beautiful tool the Army and Marines have which will instantly change the behavior of any migrant trying to cross the border. It is called the Active Denial System or ADS. Think of it as a microwave for people. While stationed at the US Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center in Albuquerque New Mexico, we began testing the ADS in 2007. Ernie, one of our test folks, allowed himself to be shot by ADS while floating one mile offshore of Eglin Air Force Base Florida. He said the ray was “instant behavioral modification” and he jumped over the side of the boat into the Gulf of Mexico. Here is a link to see for yourselves what this system does. It is a handy non-lethal tool for crowd control which causes no damage to the people exposed to it. The military can use this “Pain Ray” to stop anyone.

President Trump has many flexible deterrent options available to him, which he has used with brilliance in other parts of the world like North Korea. To keep this event from escalating, the most powerful and useful tool is economic. Cutting off all aid to Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico if he feels they are not responding correctly is very possible. Closing the entire US – Mexican border can be done but is very problematic to enforce. This event will produce plenty of video on the need for a wall like the Israelis have along the West Bank. From a diplomatic standpoint, the UN will be no help. They feel this is a human rights issue, and the Americans are already the bully. From an informational perspective, President Trump and military commanders need to be sure the US does not hand CNN or Univision the news event they are hoping this creates. It is a time to be powerful and show power though. We cannot allow this caravan to pass or more will come in more significant numbers.  

As a former planner and instructor at the US premier Joint Combined Warfighter School, these are the factors I feel will affect a US response to the migrant invasion.