The Pentagon plans to destabilize the D.C. National Guard, which has been criticized for its response to the protests on Jan. 6
Washington (AFP) – The Pentagon is developing plans to restructure the National Guard in Washington, D.C., in a move to address problems highlighted by Chaotic response to the January 6 riots and safety violations during the 2020 protests over the killing of George Floyd, The Associated Press has learned.
The changes under discussion would relocate the District of Columbia’s aviation units, which were sharply criticized during the protests when A.J A helicopter flew dangerously low over a crowd of people. In return, the district would get more military police, which is often a city’s top need, as it grapples with crowd control and large public events.
Several current and former officials familiar with the talks spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. They said no final decisions have been made.
One of the main points of contention is who will control the DC Guard – a politically divisive question that gets to the heart of what has been an ongoing volatile issue. Across the country, governors control their own National Guard units and can make decisions about their deployment to local disasters and other needs. But D.C. is not a country, so the president is in charge but gives that power to the Secretary of Defense, who generally delegates it to the Secretary of the Army.
According to the officials, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is considering two options: maintaining the current system or handing control over to the US Northern Command, which is responsible for homeland defense.
Senior officials argued in favor of Northern Command, which would get out of the hands of political appointees in Washington who might be at odds with the D.C. government, and give it to the nonpartisan military leaders who actually oversee the defense of the homeland. Others, however, believe that decision-making should remain in the Pentagon, reflecting the civilian control the Conservatives have over their forces.
Officials said the overall goal is not to downsize the district guard, but to reform it and ensure it has the units, equipment and training to carry out the tasks it routinely faces. The proposal to transfer the Air Force is largely a decision of the Army. It will transfer the DC Air Guard wing and its aircraft to the Maryland Guard, and the Army Aviation Unit, with its helicopters, to the Virginia Guard.
An army official added that a review of the Capital Guard examined its ability to provide rapid response, mission leadership and coordination with other forces when needed over the past four years. The review, which led to the recommendations, involved district guards and army commanders.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office did not respond to a request for comment Friday on the proposed changes.
But Bowser and other local officials have long argued that the mayor’s office should have sole authority to deploy the local guard, arguing that a D.C. mayor takes on the responsibilities of a governor without the additional powers or tools.
When faced with a potential security event, the D.C. mayor has to go to the Pentagon—usually the Secretary of the Army—to ask for the National Guard’s help. This was true during the city’s violent protests over the killing to George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in 2020, and later when an angry mob stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, trying to nullify Joe Biden’s election as president.
As the riots broke out on January 6, city leaders were making frantic calls to army chiefs, telling them to send Guard troops to the Capitol as they were being overrun by police and security. City leaders complained fervently about the delay in response as the Pentagon considered Bowser’s request for the National Guard. The city police ended up augmenting the Capitol Police.
In response, army commanders said the region was asking for help but did not provide the necessary details and information to determine which forces were needed and how to use them.
Army officials were concerned about taking the Guards stationed around the city on traffic duty and sending them into a riot, because they were unprepared and did not have the proper materiel. They criticized the city for Repeated insistence that he will not need security assistance When asked by federal authorities in the days leading up to Jan. 6.
The confusion has prompted congressional hearings and accusations that political considerations influenced the Trump administration’s response to the unrest in the Democratic-majority city. Defense officials dismissed the accusations, blaming the city.
However, there are broader concerns within the Pentagon that Washington is rushing to order National Guard troops to increase law enforcement shortcomings in the city that the police must deal with. In recent days, a city council member has suggested that the DC Guard might be needed to help fight rising local crime.
Restructuring is an attempt to smooth the process and avoid communication problems if another crisis erupts.
An Army investigation in April 2021 sharply criticized the DC Guard, saying the forces lacked clear direction and did not fully understand how to appropriately use helicopters during the June 2020 civil unrest.
The investigation was launched over widespread objections, including from Congress, after one of the DC Guard’s helicopters flew low enough over protesters near Capitol One Arena to make a deafening noise and spray protesters with rotor washing. There were also concerns that the Guard used a medical helicopter – bearing medical markings – to stage such a “show of force” against crowds gathered to protest Floyd’s death.
The report found that the use of medical helicopters was appropriate because it was an emergency, but the episode raised concerns among defense leaders about the need to improve planning, training and oversight of the Guard DC’s use of aviation and called for a more rigorous approval process.
Associated Press writer Ashraf Khalil contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on apnews.com