World

US Defence Sec resists troops for protests

By AAP Newswire

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper says he opposes using military troops in containing current street protests - in contrast to President Donald Trump, who warned states he was willing to send soldiers to "dominate" their streets.

Less than 48 hours after the president threatened to use the Insurrection Act to contain protests if governors didn't quell unrest, Esper said the 1807 law should be invoked "only in the most urgent and dire of situations." He added, "We are not in one of those situations now."

Yet Esper abruptly overturned an earlier Pentagon decision to send a couple of hundred active-duty soldiers home from the Washington, D.C., region, amid growing tensions with the White House.

At Trump's encouragement, Esper had ordered about 1,300 Army personnel to military bases just outside the nation's capital. Defence officials said some of the troops were beginning to return to their home base on Wednesday, but after Esper visited the White House following a press conference, plans changed.

White House officials had indicated even before Esper's comments that Trump was backing away from invoking the act, though officials said Trump was upset that Esper's statement conveyed "weakness."

Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president was still willing to deploy federal troops despite Esper's comments.

"If needed, he will use it," she told reporters. "But at this time he's relying on surging the streets with National Guard. It's worked with great effect."

At the same time, the president was taking credit for the deployment of federal and other law enforcement officers to the nation's capital, saying it offered a model to states on how to stop violence accompanying some protests nationwide.

Trump argued that the massive show of force was responsible for protests in Washington and other cities becoming calmer in recent days.

McEnany didn't dismiss reports of tension between Trump and Esper. Asked repeatedly if Trump still had confidence in his Pentagon chief, she said, "As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper, and should the president lose faith we will all learn about that in the future."

The defence secretary himself has come under fire from critics, for having walked from the White House on Monday evening with Trump and others for a presidential photo opportunity in front of St. John's Episcopal Church.

Esper said that while he was aware they were heading to St. John's, he did not know what would happen there, and did not know that police had forcibly moved peaceful protesters in to clear the way for Trump and his entourage.