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  1. #1
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    May 2006

    Bredesen surprised by volume of drug trade on border

    Bredesen surprised by volume of drug trade on border

    Mar 1, 2007

    SASABE, Ariz. -- Tennessee National Guardsmen using heat-sensing and night-vision equipment spotted the six backpackers crossing the border into Arizona from Mexico.

    The guardsmen, who can see for several kilometers through the equipment, called in U.S. Border Patrol agents to intercept the group.

    "The place they found them was 'Marijuana Tank,' really close to the border," Assistant Chief Patrol Agent John France said Thursday. "As soon as our agents drew near these guys, they just dropped their dope and ran."

    "We took their dope but we didn't get the bodies," he said.

    The discussion about the drug interception was part of a Border Patrol briefing for Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen as he began a two-day tour of Guard operations along the Arizona-Mexico border.

    About 400 Tennessee soldiers are currently deployed in Arizona as a part of Operation Jump Start, involving 6,000 guardsmen working in support of Border Patrol efforts in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California.

    Arizona shares a 376-mile border with Mexico, much of it in remote and difficult terrain. France, whose responsibilities include coordinating Border Patrol and Guard operations, said efforts to restrict illegal immigration and drug enforcement go "hand-in-hand."

    "You don't know who these people are until you arrest them, run the checks and identify them," he said. "They could be an average Joe who wants a better life, they could be a criminal, or even a terrorist."

    Bredesen traveled by Blackhawk helicopter from Tucson to Sasabe, about 60 miles to the south, to visit with Tennessee guardsmen working as engineers and manning entry identification posts.

    At one dusty outpost, engineers worked under a camouflage canopy welding together rail segments to make vehicle barriers that will be placed along the border.

    "We have basically been the eyes and ears of the Border Patrol," Pfc. Christopher Phillips, of Dickson, Tenn., told the governor in the briefing. "The mission we have been given is to observe, report, and let the agents do their jobs more efficiently."

    "Everybody's happy with what we're doing here, everyone feels we're making a difference," Phillips said.

    Phillips said that Guard units in the area had spotted 5,000 illegal immigrants cross the border since November, and about 700 were captured within his 3,500-acre operating area. Over the previous 30 hours, 487 immigrants were spotted and 105 were arrested by Border Patrol, he said.

    Bredesen said he was surprised to hear about the amount of drugs smuggled across the border. The Border Patrol said it has seized 400,000 pounds since October along one 262-mile stretch of the Arizona border with Mexico.

    "The drug component is one I didn't think was this large," Bredesen said, also noting the expanse of land that needs to be covered.

    "When you step out and look how large this place is, and how small the command posts are, it just underlines the difficulty that they face in doing all this," he said at an observation post near the area called Marijuana Tank less than a mile from the Mexico border.

    The post is also near where four Tennessee guardsmen in January encountered a group of armed men, believed to be drug smugglers. The soldiers followed training and withdrew to their post to call Border Patrol to respond. No shots were fired.

    The incident prompted calls from some lawmakers in Arizona and Tennessee to expand the Guard's role to include apprehending illegal immigrants and policing against drug smuggling. Opponents have said changing the Guard's mission would militarize the border.

    Bredesen noted that some of the guardsmen involved had previously served in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They weren't afraid," he said.

    "It's unfortunate that it's been turned into a little bit of political football," Bredesen said. "They were doing what military people do: and that's to follow orders."
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  2. #2
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    May 2006

    Bredesen defends Guard at border
    Saturday, March 3, 2007
    By Brian Mosely

    Gov. Phil Bredesen said that Tennessee National Guard troops currently stationed at the country's southern border have the ability to defend themselves if necessary and are playing a vital national security role.
    Bredesen has been at the Arizona border to visit some 400 troops who are assisting the U.S. Border Patrol as part of "Operation Jump Start." Troops have been manning stations on the border and have also being constructing fences along the border.

    Speaking Friday via teleconference from Yuma to reporters from across the state, Bredesen said that the men and women of the Guard were "in good spirits." Tennessee has the largest contingent of Guard troops stationed at the border.

    About 200 troops are at the border on a rotating basis that lasts about three weeks while others have assignments of longer duration. They are filling a logistics and command role, engineers are building fences while most troops are involved in observing the border.

    Guard members will be stationed at the border until July of 2008, Bredesen said.

    Gen. Gus L. Hargett, adjutant general of the Guard, said that troops have been trained in Rules for the Use of Force and that they can defend themselves. "They are armed and have a clear set of rules. I feel pretty good about that."

    Bredesen added that he was "pretty satisfied" with how the troops are equipped and with the rules of self defense.

    The governor described the area troops were working in a "very rough country" and remote with mountainous terrain. "It has been an area of enormous traffic crossing ... it was traffic central for illegal immigration for a long time," Bredesen said.

    "This is ground zero," Bredesen added, noting that this mission is a practical use of the Guard. The program is totally funded by the federal government.

    Not only do a large number of illegal immigrants cross into America through this area, there are also the drug smugglers and human traffickers called "coyotes" that enter the country there.

    Hargett and Bredesen both stated that even with the troops deployed in Arizona, there are enough personnel to handle any disaster that may strike Tennessee such as the tornado that hit Enterprise, Ala., Thursday, killing several students at a high school. Also, troops could be retrieved from the border if needed.

    "We're doing our state proud down here ... there's a lot of respect for the Tennesseans who are here."

    The governor expressed surprise at seeing the amount of drug smuggling that takes place in the area. Several nights before, guardsmen intercepted around 400 pounds of marijuana.

    "I can't even imagine how much was coming across before we started this fairly intensive work," Bredesen said. "It's literally a daily occurrence here."

    Border security is a homeland security issue as well, Bredesen said. Since so many illegal immigrants cross the border every day, as well as tons of drugs, it's likely that other things could be smuggled into the country too.

    "I don't have any particular reason to believe that Mexico is good at keeping things out of Mexico," Bredesen. "It looks like it could be a conduit for things that people wanted to bring in the country," Bredesen said.

    "If we need some of these people to do some of these jobs, fine. Let's set up an orderly way to for that to happen, and I'd think that a lot of this [illegal crossings] would go away. It's dangerous here ... we can't even count the number of people that have died in the desert trying to get in this country whose remains they will never find."

    "It's just bad business all the way around," Bredesen said. "It's part of our sovereignty as a nation. We need to control our borders."
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