By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 10, 2021) -- Nearly 2,300 National Guard personnel will continue providing support to the U.S. Capitol Police until May 23, said Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby in a statement from the Defense Department released Tuesday evening.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III approved the extension. More than 5,000 National Guardsmen are currently assigned to Washington to help provide security to the Capitol.
During a press briefing earlier on Tuesday, Kirby told reporters the Guard presence in the nation's capital was about more than just a reaction to the events of Jan. 6.
"The Guard presence on [Capitol Hill], while certainly there to address a requirement that is based on law enforcement's concerns, is also there to help bolster and support the Capitol Police and their capabilities, which may not be at the level where [they] need to be, given the fact that we're in sort of a new environment in this country," he said. "It's not just about a threat assessment, it's about assisting and supporting capabilities that the Capitol Police may now lack and may need to look at improving on their own."
Kirby told reporters he thinks that the enabling support the Guard brings to make up for possible gaps in Capitol Police capabilities might be one of the reasons behind their request to extend Guard support on Capitol Hill.
"Part of this is obviously valid requirements to have them there, but also to help backfill some of these capabilities as they look at themselves as an institution and what they need to do for their long term future," Kirby said.
Department Stands By F-35
While some on Capitol Hill have questioned the continued involvement in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, Kirby says the department considers it a valuable weapons system.
"The F-35 remains a premier air system of choice for three of the armed forces, seven international partners, six foreign military sales customers, it routinely demonstrates high-end capabilities at the hands of our joint and international warfighters, and it's performing in combat operations from land and sea," Kirby said. "The department will continue the low-rate initial production at the planned rate that we're currently seeing as directed by congressional authorization and appropriation."
Kirby also said the department looks forward to working with Congress to address the needs of the department and the advancement of the F-35 program.