"We're going to put tents up all over the place", told Fox News Channel's Laura Ingraham.
O'Shaughnessy said the mission of what's being called Operation Faithful Patriot is to harden the border in preparation for the caravan of asylum-seeking migrant families making its way north through Mexico. "If you want to wait, they don't usually get asylum".
In private, Homeland Security officials acknowledge they were alarmed by scenes of migrants breaking through a gate at Guatemala's border with Mexico last week.
Meanwhile, the Mexican government has been doing its best to get as numerous Central American migrants to stay in Mexico and apply for asylum there.
The troop deployment, one week before the U.S. midterm elections, appears to be the largest U.S. active-duty mobilization along the U.S. -Mexico boundary in decades and amounts to a significant militarization of American border security.
According to US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, US authorities were tracking a group of about 3,500 people travelling north through the Chiapas-Oaxaca area in southern Mexico.
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Air Force General Terrence O'Shaughnessy, head of the USA military's Northern Command, told reporters the 5,200 troops would focus on trying to "harden" border crossings and surrounding areas, with work done by combat engineering battalions with experience building temporary fencing.
Trump said the United States would build "tent cities" to house migrants seeking asylum, rather than releasing them while they await court decisions. The National Guard is often used by states to help with border security.
On Monday, he tweeted without providing evidence, "Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border". But there already is a bottleneck of would-be asylum seekers waiting at some USA border crossings to make their claims, some waiting as long as five weeks. The military troops are meant to assist the border patrol, not engage directly with migrants, several officials said.
He is expected to hold 11 rallies in the days ahead of the November 6 midterms, which Washington pundits are characterizing as a referendum on his presidency. It remained unclear Monday why the administration was choosing to send active-duty troops given that they will be limited to performing the same support functions the Guard already is doing.
USA Today reported that the Department of Defense will deploy 5,000 military personnel to the border, where they are "not expected to conduct law enforcement activities, but instead provide backup support to Border Patrol agents manning the border and be prepared to react if groups of migrants try to storm the border". U.S. Transportation Command posted a video on its Facebook page Monday of a C-17 transport plane that it said was delivering Army equipment to the Southwest border in support of the operation. He said the caravans was "different" than those seen by the United States in the past, adding that they were better organized.