The Pentagon is no longer calling the US military mission on the southern border “Operation Faithful Patriot,” officials said Wednesday, opting to re-brand President Donald Trump’s deployment of more than 8,000 troops as “border support” the day after the 2018 midterm elections.
Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Jamie Davis told CNN, “we are not calling it ‘Operation Faithful Patriot,’ we are calling it ‘border support.'”
Davis said he could not provide a reason why the change had been made.
Separately, a US defense official said the Pentagon decided the mission should not have been designated a named operation because it was supporting US border authorities.
However, that official also said it couldn’t be denied that the phrase ‘Operation Faithful Patriot’ had potential political overtones.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the name change and that the decision was made by Defense Secretary James Mattis’s office, which issued the order on Election Day, according to officials.
Last week when Mattis was questioned on the decision to send troops to the border, he said, “We don’t do stunts.”
“My first reaction was this was a public affairs unforced error. The public attention on the name of the operation had long subsided and deciding two weeks later they were not going to name it was unnecessary and brought undue attention to the fact that they named it in the first place,” said CNN military analyst John Kirby.
Typically, there are protocols in place that outline a deliberation process that decides whether an operation will be named. Ultimately, the final decision is made by the secretary of defense who also gets a vote on what the name will be.
But in this case, it is not clear whether the naming convention was followed or if key officials, including Mattis, were appropriately consulted.
Kirby did note however that the military has named support operations at the border in the past meaning there was nothing inherently wrong with the designation in the first place.
In 2006, President George W. Bush announced the initiation of “Operation Jump Start,” a plan to use armed National Guard troops to assist the Border Patrol.
“When you have a named operation it comes with funding protocols and the process is deliberate,” Kirby said, adding that in this case, the decision remove the name is not going to change the way troops are resourced or paid.
But the decision to drop the name “Operation Faithful Patriot” just hours after polls closed has only fueled questions about the Pentagon’s efforts to publicize the controversial deployment during an election in which the President made immigration a top issue and cast the caravan of migrants as a threat.
At least one defense official acknowledged Wednesday that the name of the operation carried potential political undertones but the role politics played in Mattis’ decision to drop the moniker all together remains unclear.
What is clear however is that there was mixed-messaging about the role of troops deployed to the border from the Pentagon and Trump ahead of the election.
As Trump ramped up his anti-immigration rhetoric leading up to Tuesday’s midterms by insisting he was sending US troops to stop the migrants reaching the US, top military officials emphasized the point that American soldiers would not be coming into direct contact with the migrants.
On Monday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said US troops will not “be involved in the actual mission of denying people entry to the United States” but are offering logistical support to Customs and Border Patrol, which currently consists primarily of “putting up concertina wire and reinforcing the points of entry.”
Additionally, the Pentagon has made an effort to be transparent about what troops are actually doing at the border, posting hundreds of photos and videos in the last week of unarmed American troops moving supplies and stringing concertina wire — images that reinforced Dunford’s comments.
Roughly 30 public affairs personnel from five military units have been deployed to three states along the border, according to defense officials. A US defense official told CNN Tuesday that number is “absolutely” in line with what would be generally expected.
Kirby agreed with that assessment saying “it is very normal an very typical for the military to want to document for the public and want to be transparent.”
“They want to make sure the American public has a contextual perspective of what the troops are and are not doing,” said Kirby, a former spokesperson for the Pentagon and State Department.
But the stark contrast between the Pentagon’s messaging and Trump’s fear-mongering rhetoric ahead of Tuesday’s election has been difficult to ignore.
CNN previously reported that Trump sought to capitalize on the optics of the situation at the border ahead of the midterms with rhetoric implying US troops were deployed to help ward off a foreign invasion.
“You saw that barbed wire going up. That barbed wire — yes sir, we have barbed wire going up. Because you know what? We’re not letting these people invade our country,” Trump said in Georgia on Sunday, referencing images of US troops laying concertina wire.
Prior to Tuesday’s election, CNN military analyst retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said the Pentagon’s public relations effort reflected a conscious effort by military leaders to clearly illustrate the role US soldiers are playing at the border.
“Both Dunford and Mattis hoped to flood the zone with images of what soldiers are actually doing at the border to show that US troops are not there to physically prevent migrants from crossing the border,” he said, adding there is little evidence to back up Trump’s assertion the caravan poses a grave national security threat.
But those efforts have had little impact on Trump’s rhetoric, even after Tuesday’s elections.
At a post-election news conference on Wednesday, Trump lashed out at questions about his comments on immigrants and reiterated that he still considers the situation at the border to be an “invasion.”
He also said he doesn’t regret pushing out the caravan ad that stirred controversy last week, which several television networks, including Fox News, refused to air or pulled from air.