Guard-outlaw standoff on Texas border rattles troops
— reported by the Houston Chronicle
A recent standoff between National Guardsmen and heavily armed outlaws along the Mexican border has rattled some troops and raised questions about the rules of engagement for soldiers who were sent to the border in what was supposed to be a backup role.
Six to eight gunmen — possibly heading for Mexico with drug money — approached a group of Tennessee National Guard troops at an overnight observation post Jan. 3 on the U.S. side of the Arizona-Mexico border. No one fired a shot, and the confrontation ended when American troops retreated to contact the Border Patrol. The gunmen then fled into Mexico.
But the incident made some National Guard commanders nervous enough to move up training dates for handling hostage situations. And some lawmakers have questioned why the rules prohibit soldiers from opening fire unless they are fired upon.
The standoff was the first known armed encounter between National Guard troops and civilians since President Bush ordered about 6,000 soldiers to the border in May to support the Border Patrol and local law enforcement. The guard was supposed to be the “eyes and ears” for other agencies and was not given authority to arrest or detain illegal immigrants.
The men who confronted the soldiers were armed with automatic weapons and wearing ballistic vests when they saw the soldiers, split into two groups and appeared to be trying to surround them, authorities said. Before the Guardsmen retreated, one gunman came within 35 feet of the soldiers, according to a National Guard report. The outlaws’ nationality was unclear, investigators said.