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Internal reports illustrate National Guard activities near Arizona-Mexico border

Internal government reports have shed light on the activities of National Guard troops deployed to Arizona border communities by Gov. Katie Hobbs in December.

Hobbs sent the National Guard to areas around the Mexico border on Dec. 15 as part of Operation Secure after President Joe Biden shut down the Lukeville Port of Entry earlier that month, and she chose to keep that deployment active after the Biden administration reopened the port in January.

The governor has repeatedly pointed to that deployment in response to criticism from Republicans, who say she isn’t doing enough to secure the state’s border with Mexico.

“In light of federal inaction, that's why I sent the National Guard,” Hobbs said earlier this month. “It's why I continue to provide resources that we have available — nearly $100 million to mostly local law enforcement and border communities, and I'll continue to do what we can at the state level.”

But, in the months since Hobbs deployed the guard, there have been few specific details released about the National Guard’s mission, other than broad statements from Hobbs indicating troops are supporting local and state law enforcement with “drug interdiction and other security activities.”

According to an incident objective report, the mission was to “continue to disrupt illicit activity along the southern border in order to reduce the frequency of narcotics and human smuggling caused by unprecedented mass migration.”

Reports prepared by the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs in December and early January, obtained under the state’s Public Records Law, shed some light on the specifics of those activities.

They make no mention of drug interdictions in the early days of the deployment but do show the National Guard assisted in at least one traffic stop disrupting potential human smuggling. 

According to those reports, a total of 21 personnel were initially assigned in December to Operation Secure, which also includes the Department of Public Safety and the Arizona Counter-Terrorism Information Center, a joint effort of DPS, the FBI and the Arizona Department of Homeland Security. That deployment increased to 25 personnel in January.

A spokesperson for the Arizona National Guard, said there are now about 100 National Guard members operating under Operation Secure in five counties.

The reports from December and early January show the operation largely focused on providing analytical support to DPS via the Arizona Counter-Terrorism Information Center and operational support from the National Guard for DPS and Border Patrol coverage along State Route 85, which runs to the border with Mexico at Lukeville.

The reports show a patrol encountered 150 undocumented migrants in the desert near Lukeville on one occasion in December and another participated in the forcible stop of a vehicle suspected of smuggling migrants during a separate incident.  

The National Guard also helped set up a roadblock along SR-85 in December after reports of gunfire on the Mexican side of the border at the Lukeville Port of Entry.

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.