A U.S. military that has been desperate to stay out of the nation’s bitter political wars found itself dragged back into controversy on multiple fronts, a day after the breaching of the U.S. Capitol by a crowd of angry Pro-Trump supporters.
Top former military officials — including two of President Trump’s previous defense secretaries — harshly criticized the handling of Wednesday’s events. Questions of what role the National Guard played in the porous original defense of the Capitol grounds continued to swirl Thursday. Even the lone shooting fatality of the day inside the Capitol turned out to be a former Air Force veteran and reportedly a QAnon group follower.
The military on Thursday began erecting a 7-foot-tall fence around the Capitol complex and continued a rapid deployment of more than 1,000 National Guard troops to keep the peace. It was a marked contrast to the day before when they were effectively a “no show” in the first hours of the confrontation that consumed the city.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said at a press briefing Thursday that the barrier fence and the National Guard troops will remain in place for at least 30 days.
About 6,200 National Guard troops — federally funded and under the command of Mr. McCarthy — will be in Washington by the end of the weekend to help keep the peace. The Guard forces have been assembled from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York, officials said.
Pentagon leaders condemned the violent occupation of the Capitol.
“Yesterday’s violence at the Capitol was reprehensible and contrary to the tenets of the United States Constitution,” Acting Secretary Christopher Miller said in a statement. “Our republic may have been disrupted yesterday, but the resolve of our legislators to conduct the people’s business did not waver.”
Mr. Miller noted that he and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with Vice President Mike Pence and leadership in the Senate and House about the unfolding situation at the Capitol. He made no mention of discussing the situation with Mr. Trump.
The full interactions among the White House, the U.S. Capitol Police, the FBI, the D.C. government and the Defense Department remained murky Thursday. Pentagon officials said the Guard forces had originally been deployed for traffic assistance in a back-up role.
Kenneth Rapuano, the assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, told reporters the Capitol Police and city officials had said on both Tuesday and Wednesday — before the Capitol breach — that the Guard was not needed at the building.
Thus when the clashes started, Mr. Rapuano said, the federal forces were not in a position to help deal with the mob roaming inside the building.
The early estimates of the crowds attending the post-election protests ranged from as low as 2,000 to 80,000. That confusion added to the questions about whether to deploy National Guard troops.
“It was all over the board. It was very hard to make that determination of just what we were dealing with,” Mr. McCarthy said. “We rely on law enforcement to give us the most adequate read of what we are dealing with as a potential threat. It was very challenging.”
The Pentagon’s hopes of staying out of the political crossfire were complicated by sharp statements from former Defense Secretaries James N. Mattis and Mark T. Esper denouncing the attack on the Capitol, with Mr. Mattis saying Mr. Trump’s rhetoric helped inflame the crowd.
“His use of the presidency to destroy trust in our election and poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice,” Mr. Mattis said in a statement to The Washington Times.
Mr. Esper and Mr. Mattis were among 10 former defense secretaries who signed a recent joint statement calling for those now at the Defense Department to “refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”
In a Twitter message to their troops, Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, and Marine Corps Sgt. Major Richard Thresher, his senior enlisted adviser, felt the need to reassure the ranks about the stability of the country’s basic institutions.
“Our Constitution remains our bedrock and our system of government is strong, resilient and will prevail,” they wrote.
Gen. Milley has openly fretted about the Pentagon being drawn into the nation’s bitter partisan wars in recent months. His immediate predecessor, now-retired Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, was among those Thursday offering a veiled but unmistakable criticism of the president and his supporters.
“I believe our leaders who have continued to undermine a peaceful transition in accordance with our Constitution have set the conditions for today’s violence,” Gen. Dunford told CNN.
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