25,000 troops authorized in DC — thousands more than in Afghanistan, Iraq

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By Connecting Vets

The Secretary of the Army has authorized up to 25,000 National Guard troops in the Capitol region to support security surrounding the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20 -- a force far larger than the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

The National Guard announced the increase in authorized force levels from Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy Friday afternoon, less than a week out from the inauguration. The number of Guard troops authorized for Washington, D.C. has increased by leaps and bounds in recent days. Before McCarthy's announcement Friday, the count stood at about 21,000, up from 15,000 and an earlier 6,000.

“Right now, we have approximately 7,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen on the ground in support of the lead federal agency, and we are building to 21,000 for the upcoming inauguration,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau said during an inauguration security briefing with Vice President Mike Pence Thursday. “They are under the command and control of Maj. Gen. William Walker, the Commanding General of the D.C. National Guard, and are providing security, communications, logistics and coordination with all supported agencies."

Guard officials said Friday afternoon that the Pentagon had agreed to provide up to 25,000 service members to support inauguration security and the Army and Guard Bureau were "working on a sourcing solution now to support this request."

Those 7,000 Guard members on the ground in D.C. already outnumber the troop counts in Iraq and Afghanistan announced by the Pentagon on Friday -- 2,500 in each country, meeting President Donald Trump's drawdown goals this month.

Officials said the number of Guard troops who will be carrying firearms will likely be limited, and some Guard members near the Capitol are equipped with long guns while others will carry sidearms. Troops closest to crowds or near the fences recently erected around the Capitol likely won't be armed but those closer to the building may be. Officials said Guard troops operate under "strict rules of engagement on the use of force" but can use lethal force to defend themselves and others.

The Guard troops sent to the Capitol region are serving in security roles and supporting local law enforcement, officials said. They've been sent from multiple states surrounding Washington, D.C. Governors across the country have also activated Guard troops to defend their own capitols.

“As always, our first priority is to protect people and property – and the safety and wellbeing of our National Guard personnel and their families,” Hokanson said. “I visit with these men and women every night and they understand the importance of this mission. They are also proven, prepared and proud to do their part to ensure a peaceful and safe inauguration of our incoming commander-in-chief.”

While a Guard presence is not unusual for inaugurations throughout U.S. history, the assault on the Capitol Jan. 6 have triggered unprecedented security measures ahead of the event for Biden.

More than 33,400 National Guard troops are supporting domestic operations, including for COVID-19 pandemic response and "civil disturbance" missions, according to Guard officials. More than 66,900 Guard members are activated for domestic and foreign missions. The entire National Guard force numbers nearly 440,000 across 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia and force's historic activation peak was June 6, 2020 when about 120,000 Guard troops were active worldwide.

“The forefathers of today’s National Guard were present for the inauguration of George Washington, and have been part of every inauguration since,” Hokanson said. “While the last 12 months have been unprecedented, we continue to respond to every mission, both here and at home – and overseas – living true to our motto: ‘Always Ready, Always There!’”

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett. Sign up for the Connecting Vets weekly newsletter to get more stories like this delivered to your inbox.

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