WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- President Obama plans to lower the number of U.S. National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border, shifting to air surveillance, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The change in mission -- responding to a steep drop in apprehensions along the border -- is expected to reduce the 1,200 National Guard troops on border-related duty in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, the Chronicle reported Sunday.
The Obama administration plans to overhaul how it deploys military personnel along the border, moving away from ground support to stop people from crossing illegally into the United States to a mission of aerial detection and additional border intelligence analysis, officials said.
"The National Guard has acted as a critical bridge while the administration brought new assets online dedicated to effective border management and security," Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said.
Administration officials declined to say how many guardsmen would remain on border patrol.
Ground troops will be replaced by Army National Guard and Air National Guard personnel conducting air surveillance.
The focus on aerial surveillance "represents a historic and unprecedented enhancement in our ability to detect and deter illegal activity at the border," an administration official told the Chronicle. "If people concentrate on the number of troops on the ground, they're sort of missing the point. This is next-generation border security."
The change drew praise from military and congressional officials from both sides of the aisle. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's investigations subcommittee, said the pending move was "a step in the right direction toward technology and intelligence-based efforts along the border."