“We’re not going to leave until the border is secure,” Shanahan told about two dozen border patrol officials on Saturday during his visit to McAllen, Texas as hundreds of detained migrants remained in tents for processing.
He visited the border city to meet with local authorities and visit a migrant processing facility and Border Patrol station, two days after the White House announced Trump’s plan to nominate the former Boeing executive as defense secretary.
Shanahan was accompanied by another acting secretary, Kevin McAleenan, who leads the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after a shake-up prompted by Trump, whose hard-line immigration policies have not curtailed a growing tide of migrants mostly from impoverished, though US-backed Central American nations.
Shanahan further told a group of reporters traveling with him that military assistance would not continue “indefinitely,” but that it would be in place longer than months.
The development came as Pentagon has tapped a two-star Army general to work with DHS to look at what military support will be needed in the future. Shanahan added that he expected a plan from the general in the next few weeks.
“(It is about) getting us out of this à la carte tasking where, ‘Hey, we need 50 guys to do this, 50 guys to do that,’” said a senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said the idea was to look out over a time line of at least two years.
The official further pointed out that the Pentagon was reviewing a recent request from DHS to provide housing for detained migrants.
“What we’re hopeful to do is have, in fairly short order for the secretary of Homeland Security, a much more predictable, comprehensive plan for the next couple of years,” said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, earlier this week.
There are currently about 4,500 US troops on the border with Mexico, and they are authorized to be there through September.
This is while the Pentagon declared that Shanahan has approved the transfer of $1.5 billion to build more than 80 miles (130 km) of barriers on the border, part of a patchwork project after Trump failed to secure funding from Congress for a complete border wall.
Trump has been eager to have the US military play a larger role on the border and, despite some criticism from lawmakers, Pentagon officials insist they are looking to create a long-term plan for assistance.
The decision to transfer the $1.5 billion for border funding came in addition to a March transfer of $1 billion in military money to fund the wall, which Democratic lawmakers criticized sharply.
Lawmakers have suggested that they may respond by imposing new restrictions on the Pentagon’s authority to move funds around.