Since early 2020, the National Guard has been subject to frequent domestic deployments between the coronavirus pandemic, nationwide protests, and the military occupation of Washington DC in the wake of the January 6th incident at the Capitol building. Despite how busy the reserve force is in the homeland, the National Guard is still being deployed to fight wars in the Middle East.
The Associated Press spoke with members of the Louisiana National Guard who were sent to Syria after being on domestic deployments. The US keeps a small occupation force of about 900 troops in northeast Syria.
On paper, the US military is helping the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fight ISIS, but in reality, the mission is part of the economic strangulation of Syria. On top of crippling economic sanctions that specifically target reconstruction efforts and the energy sector, the region of Syria where US troops are deployed is where most of the country’s oil fields are, keeping the vital resource out of the hands of Damascus.
The National Guard troops in Syria have been at greater risk of attack since President Biden bombed militia targets in Iraq and Syria. On June 28th, shortly after Biden’s airstrikes, the Louisianna National Guard troops in Syria came under rocket fire. “While under fire, the Soldiers of the Louisiana Tiger Brigade displayed decisive decision making while maintaining their professionalism,” Col. Scott Desormeaux, the commander of Louisianna’s 256th Infantry Brigade, said of the June attack.
Desormeaux told AP that before the deployment to Syria, his soldiers were deployed at the outbreak of the pandemic to set up a 2,000-bed hospital at the Memorial Convention Center in New Orleans. After that, Louisianna was hit with six hurricanes and tropical storms. After hurricane season, the unit was deployed to Syria. “It’s probably the most challenging two-year period you can find,” he said.
The frequency of National Guard deployments shows no sign of slowing down. Earlier this year, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the reserve force will be used “more, not less” in the coming years. As of June, there were 20,000 National Guard troops deployed across the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
The Pentagon’s overreliance on the National Guard for overseas wars has sparked a push to rein in the federal government’s power over the reserve troops. The Defend the Guard Act would prevent a state’s National Guard from being deployed to combat zones unless Congress had declared war. The legislation could give the power to states to block the use of their National Guard and has been introduced to multiple state legislatures.