President Trump on Sunday ordered National Guard troops to start withdrawing from Washington, where the protests over the killing of George Floyd have been peaceful in recent days.
In a telephone briefing with reporters, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said guardsmen from 11 states, who came to assist the D.C. National Guard, will be returning home over the next two or three days.
Altogether, the National Guard force from D.C. and the states totaled more than 5,000 this past week, though only about one-third were on the streets at any given time, he said.
The D.C. National Guard will, if needed, continue to support Washington police and federal law enforcement in the city, he added.
In addition, McCarthy expressed relief that active duty troops, who were brought to bases in Virginia and Maryland, just outside Washington, were not needed.
“We came right up to the edge of bringing active duty troops here, and we didn’t,” he said. Those troops were sent back to their home bases over the past few days.
Trump said last week he might call on active duty forces to put down unrest in cities across the country. But he appears to have pulled back from that position as the violence has subsided.
On May 31, the worst day of unrest and looting in Washington, five guardsmen were injured, including one who suffered a severe concussion when he was hit by a brick in the head, McCarthy said.
The possibility of using active duty forces was “heavily discussed” at this point because it was not clear if National Guard troops could be called in quickly enough.
“We didn’t know if we could put enough support into this city quickly by marshaling National Guardsmen from surrounding areas,” he said.
But he said the military was very reluctant to use active duty forces.
“They were on the outskirts (of Washington) because we didn’t want to do it,” McCarthy said. “The Department of Defense didn’t want to do it because we knew that once you went to that escalation, it’s very, very difficult” to de-escalate.
McCarthy also confirmed that he authorized the use of a medevac helicopter to “observe and report” on the demonstrations. However, he said tactical decisions were left to the National Guard.
Protesters have complained a medevac helicopter hovered over them Monday at a low altitude, creating a strong rotor wash that snapped tree branches and led demonstrators to flee for their safety. McCarthy said that incident is under investigation.
In recent days, the protests have been peaceful. McCarthy estimated that more than 45,000 people took part in demonstrations Saturday that lasted from noon to midnight. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said no arrests were made.