EL PASO, Texas — The first National Guard troops headed to the Mexican border are expected to be in place in Texas and New Mexico by mid-August, and more than 1,000 troops are on track to be along the border in those two states plus California and Arizona by the end of September, military officials said Thursday.
The troops deployed to the border will spend about a year helping federal agents look for illegal border crossers and smugglers and help in criminal investigations. But soldiers will not make arrests.
"We're just there in a support role," California National Guard 1st Lt. Patrick Bagley said.
President Barack Obama announced the deployment in May amid outcry for better border security and worries that Mexico's volatile drug war would spill across the border into the United States.
More than 24,000 people have been killed across Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against cartels in December 2006. Most recently, a car bomb was detonated in Ciudad Juarez, the drug war's epicenter just across the Rio Grande from El Paso. Three people were killed in the blast.
Federal officials announced earlier this month that deployments of about 1,200 National Guard troops would begin Aug. 1, with soldiers initially training and fully in place in September. Officials in New Mexico, Texas and California say they are on track to meet the federal government's timeline.
First Lt. Valentine Castillo said Arizona National Guard officials hope to have 524 troops on the border by the end of September.
In Texas, Col. William Meehan said training is expected to begin next month and soldiers will start being deployed by the middle of the month. The full contingent of 250 to 280 troops will be in place by the end of September.
National Guard officials in New Mexico, where 72 soldiers will be deployed to the border, are on a similar timeline.
"One August was a target to staff at least a few folks and start training," Lt. Col. Jamison Herrera said. "We are doing that now. It's going to be a gradual buildup."
Bagley said the California National Guard will meet Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Oct. 1 deadline, though some troops are already in training.
This is the second time in recent years that troops have been deployed to help secure the border. In 2006, President George W. Bush sent 6,000 National Guard troops to the border.