US Defence Chief opposes Trump’s call for military action against protests

With the mounting unrest in US over killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, by police officials last week in Minneapolis, US President Donald Trump threatened to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, which would allow him to deploy troops in any city, against the wishes of state and city authorities. Many including the retired military official Jim Mattis, opposed the militarisation of protests, and criticised US defence Chief Mark Esper for blindly abiding the President’s order.

In his defence, Esper, during a press briefing on Wednesday, told reporters that he did not agree with Trump’s plan of deploying troops to control the situation. He said, “I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.” The defence secretary added,“I say this not only as secretary of defence, but also as a former soldier, and a former member of the national guard, the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations… We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”

Esper also apologised for the use of the term ‘battlespace’ while addressing Trump and US governors about controlling the situation. On his call, Esper said, “The sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace, the quicker this dissipates, and we can get back to the right normal.”

During the Wednesday briefing the defence secretary defended himself by calling the term part of ‘military lexicon’ and added that ‘in retrospect I would use different wording, so as not to distract from the more important matters at hand’.

Following Esper’s statement, later on Wednesday General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, shared a message with top military officers which emphasised their commitment of the constitution and reminded them of the oath they took which allowed peaceful protest. In a handwritten comment on a typed letter, Gen Milley wrote: “We all committed our lives to the idea that is America. We will stay true to that oath and the American people.”

As per the media reports, about 700 troops from the 82nd airborne division, were stationed in bases around Washington on Monday night. The Associated Press reported that 200 would be taken back on Wednesday, but later that decision was reversed and the troops stayed in the outskirts of the capital.

What flared the already volatile situation was Trump’s interview with Newsmax on Wednesday evening, where, while referring to deployment of troops, he said, “I don’t think we’ll have to. We have very strong powers to do it. The National Guard is customary and we have a very powerful National Guard. But as far as going beyond that, sure, if it was necessary.”

As Mr Trump’s Newsmax interview aired,his former defence secretary, Jim Mattis, accused the US president of making a mockery of the constitution. The former general who broke his silence for the first time after exiting office in 2019, said, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.” Mattis said in a statement published by The Atlantic magazine, “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

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