PHOENIX -- National Guard troops will be staying along the border, at least for a little while longer.
Matt Chandler, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said Thursday that the soldiers, first deployed last year, will remain in place through at least the end of the year. The previous plan was to have them all gone by the end of the month.
Chandler said, though, this should not be viewed as a permanent situation but instead as a stop-gap until new Border Patrol officers can be in place.
"The Department of Homeland Security is actively training new personnel and implemented new technology to enhance our border security architecture,' Chandler said. He said the soldiers are "a critical bridge while the administration brings new assets online.'
For Arizona, that currently means slightly less than 500 soldiers who are part of what is known as Operation Copper Cactus. That is down from the 560 the state was authorized initially, with normal rotations and training reducing the total deployment.
Many of the Arizona soldiers are part of entry identification teams, set up at locations along the border to monitor for unusual activity. Some also help watch monitors connected to television cameras on towers in the area.
But Arizona Guard officials stress that the soldiers are only in a support role, reporting what they see to Border Patrol and other agencies.
Nationally, there were 1,200 soldiers sent to the Southwest border last year. The current figure, according to the National Guard Bureau in Virginia, is closer to 1,140.
Gov. Jan Brewer, a frequent critic of the Obama administration's border policies, said she was "absolutely gratified that they have listened to our lead here in the state of Arizona.' Brewer has supported legislation to give the state a greater role in border security, ranging from last year's SB 1070 to give police more power to detain and arrest illegal immigrants to this year's law allowing the state to start soliciting contributions to build its own border fence.
But Brewer said she is not impressed that the administration is extending the deployment for only another three months.
"The fact of the matter is, it's probably not enough time,' she said. "We want our border secured.'
The governor also said more than just people are needed, saying she wants "additional airborne and other resources, as well as the completion of a substantial and well-maintained border fence.'
This is actually the second extension of the program to put 1,200 soldiers along the border.
The original one-year deployment was scheduled to end by July 1. But that was stretched out to the end of September when the Department of Defense managed to find the cash to keep the program going.
Chandler said the cash for the next three months is coming from the same source. Estimates are it costs about $35 million for that period of time.
Thursday's announcement could take some political heat off the president who has increasingly been on the defensive about security despite the administration's repeated claims that the border is "more secure than ever.'
Chandler repeated that theme Thursday, saying there is "already unprecedented border security and management' and an "unprecedented array of resources deployed at the Southwest border.'
But none of this is likely to satisfy the state's two Republican senators.
Neither was available late Thursday, at least in part because of the president's speech to Congress on the economy
But John McCain and Jon Kyl started calling on the president for a year to put 3,000 soldiers along the Southwest border. By this past April, their demand had doubled, to 6,000, with half of those in Arizona alone.