Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday ordered home the remainder of the 1,600 active-duty troops brought to the national capital region to respond to protests, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters at the Pentagon.
The news comes after Esper on Thursday sent home a portion of those troops, several hundred soldiers from the Army’s 82nd airborne division.
The decision was made to draw down forces after days of peaceful protests and because the District of Columbia now has a sufficient number of National Guardsmen to aid local law enforcement in keeping violence in check, McCarthy said. Another 3,900 National Guard members from other states are now arriving in D.C., in addition to the 1,200 D.C. National Guardsmen already supporting local forces.
McCarthy also said he ordered D.C. Guardsmen to not carry weapons on Monday when it became clear there were enough federal law enforcement defending the city.
McCarthy detailed the chain of events that took place this week, noting that the decision on Monday to put active-duty troops on alert in the D.C. area was made after an “incredibly challenging night” for local law enforcement. Protesters defaced the Lincoln Memorial and hit five soldiers in the head with a brick, he said.
“Inside of Lafayette Square we definitely lost control, to the point where they were right up on the north fence,” he said. “It was a very challenging evening, and we knew we had to put more security in there so we could help enable peaceful demonstrations.”
McCarthy, who as Army secretary commands the D.C. National Guard, has been in constant communication with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser through her chief of police, exchanging messages “five to six times a day,” he said.
By Wednesday, additional Guardsmen from other states had arrived to support D.C. Guardsmen and local law enforcement. At that point, the Pentagon decided that there was enough additional support to send the active-duty troops home, McCarthy explained.
“The determination was ‘let’s get them back’ because it created a tremendous amount of tension by having the 82nd outside the city,” he said.
But then officials got intelligence from the metropolitan police that there would be another large demonstration on Saturday, with an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people showing up, McCarthy said, explaining Esper’s Wednesday decision on Wednesday to reverse himself and tell the troops to stay put.
“We said ‘oh hold our horses,’ and took a hard look at that,” he said.
Now, the active-duty troops are heading out and will be gone by Saturday, McCarthy said.
The D.C. National Guard announced Wednesday it is conducting an investigation into the June 1 incident in which a helicopter flew low over protesters, blowing dust and knocking down tree branches. McCarthy said the crew of the helicopter in question has been grounded, and he expects to get a report on the interim results of the investigation on Friday.