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U.S. Army Unit Was Issued Bayonets to Prep for D.C. Protest Duty

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 6/11/2020 Tony Capaccio

(Bloomberg) -- A historic Army unit located just outside Washington was issued bayonets in scabbards as well as live ammunition in case active-duty troops were deployed in the U.S. capital last week, according to a letter from Pentagon leaders.

“At no point were any weapons loaded or made ready, but in preparation for potential operations in an increased readiness posture, the Old Guard Commander directed the issue of bayonets in scabbards and limited amounts of ammunition to be maintained in pouches,” according to a June 10 letter by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As many as 800 members of the Old Guard were on alert.

The letter to the House Armed Services Committee’s leaders, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg News, is the latest twist in the controversy over the U.S. military’s potential role in controlling anti-racism protests that turned violent over the first weekend in June.

Donald Trump’s threat to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to send active-duty troops into states roiled by protests -- and his administration’s decision to clear a plaza in front of the White House of peaceful protesters so the president could stand in front of a church holding a Bible -- continue to reverberate.

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Milley apologized on Thursday for taking part in a march across the plaza with Trump after protesters were forcibly removed, saying “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” That followed a slew of comments by top former officers criticizing the president’s actions.

The Army’s “Old Guard,” officially the 3rd Infantry Regiment, is based at Fort Myer, just out of Washington. It’s the Army’s oldest active-duty unit and is best known to visitors of Arlington National Cemetery for providing 24-hour guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The letter was sent in response to a request from Democratic Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the armed services panel. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters Sunday that the Old Guard “was on a short string,” or on alert to be deployed, as part of the Pentagon’s deployment plans.

(Updates to add army secretary’s comments in final paragraph.)

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