President Donald Trump on Friday attempted to clarify what he said the day before, when he claimed rocks thrown by migrants crossing into the United States would be considered the same as gunfire.
“They won’t have to fire,” Trump said, referring to the military’s response to the hypothetical rock throwing. “What I don’t want is I don’t want people throwing rocks. It’s turned out, in fact, it was just announced by (the Department of) Homeland Security, you have in just certain areas over 300 people that they know are trouble. What they did to Mexican military is disgrace.”
“They were throwing rocks in their face. They do that with us, they’re going to be arrested. There’s going to be a problem. I didn’t say shoot,” he said. “They do that with us they’re going to be arrested for a very long time.”
“If our soldiers or Border Patrol or ICE are going to be hit in the face with rocks, we’re going to arrest those people. That doesn’t mean shoot them. But we’re going to arrest those people quickly and for a long time,” Trump added.
But on Thursday, the President suggested that the US troops he dispatched to the US-Mexico border could fire on someone in the migrant caravan if the person threw rocks at them.
Asked if he envisions US troops firing on anyone in the groups of migrants, Trump told reporters from the White House’s Roosevelt Room: “I hope not. I hope not – but it’s the military.”
“I hope there won’t be that,” Trump said, but added that anybody throwing rocks at the military service members will be considered to be using a firearm, “because there’s not much difference when you get hit in the face with a rock.”
A US defense official told CNN that the troops deployed to the border will be operating under the standard rules on the use of force and will only use such force in self-defense.
Official Defense Department regulations say “deadly force is justified only when there is a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to a person.”
Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Department “will not discuss hypothetical situations or specific measures within our rules on the use of force, but our forces are trained professionals who always have the inherent right of self-defense.”
Defense officials have repeatedly emphasized the troops at the border are there to support civil authorities and that they are not expected to come into any contact with migrants.
The top general overseeing US Northern Command said on Tuesday that “(Customs and Border Protection) personnel are … absolutely the primary and principal members that will be handling, specifically, the migrants.”
“There could be incidental interaction between our military members and migrants or other personnel that might be in that area. And so we are making that our soldiers, our Marines are going to be fully trained in how to do that interaction,” Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said.
“They’re going to understand the rules for that interaction, and they’ll be consistent with (Customs and Border Protection,” he said.
CNN’s Sarah Westwood, Kevin Liptak, Jeff Zeleny,Geneva Sands, Ryan Browne and Eli Watkins contributed to this report.