Border Protection is preparing for the caravan - with weapons and gear designed for combat

Washington Post

From head to toe, he is ready for war.

The M4 semiautomatic rifle in his hands is tipped with a suppressor favored by Special Operations to muffle gunshots during clandestine missions.

Just above that is a PEQ-15 sight, which projects an infrared beam visible with night-vision goggles so the shooter can fire at night or point out targets for comrades and helicopters above. A tactical flashlight and holographic sight round out the rifle. Magazines are at his hip for quick reloading during a firefight.

A mask obscures his face, and he wears a noise-canceling tactical headset that would look natural for scouting an Afghan valley for Taliban insurgents.

But photos taken Monday of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents training weeks before a potential arrival of a caravan of Central Americans reveal a southern border already militarized - even before the arrival of thousands of active-duty soldiers.

There are no indications that the mostly Honduran migrants, many of them women and children, pose a threat that would necessitate long- and short-range tactical engagements. But CBP agents have drilled with armored vehicles, riot gear, helicopters and more, photos from the border have shown.

The preparations come amid questions about how much force active-duty soldiers and agents along the border can and should use.

President Donald Trump had suggested that troops should treat rock-throwers as combatants and that rifle fire would be an appropriate response, but he later backtracked on his comments.

Agents wielding military gear may belong to CBP's Border Patrol Special Operations Group - the agency's premier tactical-response team.

CBP did not return a request for comment about which unit was shown training on the Texas-Mexico border.

Law enforcement agencies since 1990 have requested billions in military-grade equipment thanks to the 1033 program - a Pentagon initiative that diverts surplus military equipment to civilian authorities.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq created a high-water mark in available equipment, and subsequent drawdowns from each nation have meant law-enforcement operations have browsed everything from excess bayonets and uniforms to sniper rifles and vehicles designed to absorb IED strikes.

Critics have maintained that the weapons produce an overly aggressive posture suitable for combat but not interactions with civilians. The Obama administration restricted the program late in his second term after images of officers atop armored vehicles pointing rifles at protesters in Ferguson, Mo., drew severe criticism.

Trump rolled back those restrictions in August 2017.

That requests have included CBP, which received nearly $40 million in tactical gear from the Defense Department through 2014, the Marshall Project reported. It is unclear whether tactical gear has been recently acquired from the Pentagon for border operations or if other equipment has been purchased directly by the Department of Homeland Security.

Photos from Getty Images also showed CBP agents wearing Operational Camouflage Pattern uniforms originally designed for Army use. Green Berets and some Navy SEALs have worn the pattern, which now extends to local police departments.

The agency also operates unmanned drones to combat drug-smuggling activity and helicopters such as the UH-60 Black Hawk for transporting agents, though photos from Getty Images show agents in an helicopter shoulder to shoulder, as troops would sit for tactical insertions.

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