Trump: U.S. Senate Armed Services chairman will not change military bases’ names

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday said the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, fellow Republican James Inhofe, will not change the names of military bases after Congress passed legislation to rename posts that honor leaders of the Confederate armies who fought against U.S. forces.

“I spoke to highly respected (Chairman) Senator @JimInhofe, who has informed me that he WILL NOT be changing the names of our great Military Bases and Forts, places from which we won two World Wars (and more!),” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The Senate and House of Representatives this week each passed their version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, a massive annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon, including purchases from defense contractors.

One provision of the $740 billion legislation passed by both chambers was a requirement that the names of Confederate generals be removed from U.S. military facilities like the Army’s Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Hood in Texas.

Tributes to those military leaders – and other slave owners – have been in focus during weeks of protests sparked by the police killings of Black Americans.

Trump, who has deployed federal forces against protesters he calls “anarchists,” promised to veto the NDAA – which has become law for 59 straight years – if the base-name provision remained in the final version.

Now that the Democratic-led House and Republican-controlled Senate have passed versions of the bill, it goes to conference, where lawmakers will come up with a compromise version.

It was not clear that Inhofe could change the provision, as any final bill must be supported by the Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the conference committee. However, congressional aides said there was no ban on such a change if negotiators agreed.

An Armed Services Committee spokeswoman pointed to Inhofe’s previous pledges to try to dilute the proposal to rename bases and other military assets named for Confederates.

A spokesman for Senator Jack Reed, the top Armed Services Committee Democrat, noted Reed’s view that the bipartisan provision has strong support and his commitment to keeping it in the final NDAA.

Inhofe is running for re-election in Oklahoma, which was not a state during the Civil War. Although some Native American tribes in what would become the state in 1907 sent soldiers to fight for the Confederacy, others rejected the alliance with the secessionists.

Before Trump rejected renaming the bases, senior Pentagon officials had said they were open to discussing the issue.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and Idrees Ali, Editing by Franklin Paul and Chris Reese)

U.S. Senate committee backs renaming bases named after Confederates

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee voted to require the Department of Defense to rename military bases named after Confederate generals, setting up a clash with President Donald Trump, who opposes that change.

The committee approved the measure, proposed by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, as an amendment to the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, a $740 billion bill setting policy for the Pentagon, announced on Thursday.

The committee adopted the amendment by voice vote. However, the panel’s Republican chairman, Senator Jim Inhofe, expressed concern, telling reporters on a conference call he wanted state input on any decision to change a base name.

The legislation also requires the Pentagon to change within three years the name of streets, aircraft and ships named for Confederate officers or honoring the Confederacy.

Americans have become more conscious about race following the death of African American George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. As demonstrations have swept the country, cities have removed Confederate statues and institutions have barred displays of the Confederate flag.

Trump on Wednesday drew a line in favor of keeping the names of 10 bases – including massive Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia – named for military leaders who battled U.S. forces 160 years ago in the civil war over slavery. He threatened to veto legislation changing them.

Prospects for the amendment making it through the Senate, where Trump’s Republicans have a majority, were not clear. A committee aide said “some sticking points” remained.

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the Democratic-controlled House, backed the shift. “The American people know these names have to go,” she told a news conference.

The NDAA will not reach Trump until late this year, as it must first pass the Senate and House.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)

Hundreds of Americans flown home from cruise ship, 14 with coronavirus

By David Stanway and Stephen Lam

SHANGHAI/TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (Reuters) – More than 300 American cruise liner passengers, including 14 who tested positive for coronavirus, were flown home to military bases in the United States, after two weeks under quarantine off Japan.

The cruise ship Diamond Princess, with more than 400 cases by far the largest cluster outside China, has become the biggest test so far of other countries’ ability to contain an outbreak that has killed 1,770 people in China and five elsewhere.

Ground crew in anti-contamination suits met a chartered jet that touched down at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas, and passengers could be seen climbing down the stairs wearing face masks in the pre-dawn mist. Another flight landed at Travis Air Force Base in California hours earlier. Those arriving were taken into a two-week quarantine.

Although U.S. officials said passengers with coronavirus symptoms would not be taken, 14 passengers found at the last minute to have tested positive were permitted to board the planes. The U.S. State Department said the infected passengers were kept in isolation on the flights.

Across mainland China, officials said the total number of coronavirus cases rose by 2,048 to 70,548. That was slightly more new cases than were reported on Sunday, but hundreds fewer than reported on Saturday.

Chinese authorities say the stabilization in the number of new cases is a sign that measures they have taken to halt the spread of the disease are having an effect.

However, epidemiologists say it is probably still too early to say how well the outbreak is being contained within China and its central Hubei province, where the virus first appeared. Official figures of new cases have leveled off in the past, only to jump suddenly after changes in methodology.

China has responded to the COVID-19 virus by locking down Hubei’s provincial capital Wuhan, a megacity of 11 million people, and imposing restrictions in a number of other cities.

But the ruling Communist Party is also under pressure to prevent the economy from crashing and get people back to work.

China’s central bank cut the interest rate on its medium-term lending, a move that is expected to pave the way for a reduction in the benchmark loan prime rate on Thursday. Beijing has also announced plans for cuts in taxes and fees.

Even so, economists expect China’s economic growth to slow. Ratings agency Moody’s on Monday lowered its 2020 GDP growth forecast to 5.2%, making it likely China would miss a goal to double GDP over the decade to 2020.

CRUISE SHIPS

Around half of all known cases of the virus outside China have been found aboard the Diamond Princess, where around 400 people have tested positive since the cruise liner was ordered to stay under quarantine off Japan on Feb. 3.

Several other countries have announced plans to follow the United States in bringing passengers home. Around half of the 3,700 passengers and crew are Japanese.

Matthew Smith, an American passenger who remained on the ship after refusing to board the voluntary repatriation flights, tweeted that staying behind was the “best decision ever”.

“US Gov’t said they would not put anyone on the planes who was symptomatic, and they ended up knowingly and intentionally putting on 14 people who actually have the virus,” he wrote.

Authorities around the world were also trying to track down passengers from another cruise liner, the Westerdam, which was turned away from ports across Southeast Asia for two weeks before docking in Cambodia on Thursday.

One American passenger who disembarked in Cambodia tested positive for the virus in Malaysia on Saturday.

Carnival Corp., which operates both cruise liners, said it was cooperating with authorities in trying to trace other passengers from the Westerdam. None of the other 1,454 passengers and 802 crew had reported any symptoms, it said.

“Guests who have already returned home will be contacted by their local health department and be provided further information,” a statement from the company’s Holland America Line unit said. Hundreds of passengers are still in Cambodia, either on the ship or in hotels.

“We will all be tested for the coronavirus today and tomorrow by the Cambodian Ministry of Health,” said passenger Holley Rauen, a public health nurse and midwife from Fort Myers, Florida. “We have no idea when we get to get home.”

CHINA BACK TO WORK?

After an extended Lunar New Year holiday, China needs to get back to work or suffer severe economic consequences. There is a proposal to delay the opening of the annual session of parliament, due on Feb. 24.

Some cities remain in lockdown, streets are deserted, employees are nervous, and travel bans and quarantine orders are in place around the country. Many factories have yet to re-open, disrupting supply chains in China and beyond.

In Japan, where data showed on Monday that the economy had already shrunk last quarter at the fastest pace in almost six years, the impact of the virus is expected to show up in the current quarter, stoking fears of recession.

Trade-dependent Singapore downgraded its 2020 economic growth forecast and has said recession is possible. It is set to unveil measures to cushion the blow on Tuesday.

Organizers of the Tokyo Marathon have decided to limit the March 1 race to top-level athletes, banning 38,000 general participants, a person with knowledge of the issue told Reuters.

Japan’s Imperial Household Agency said it would cancel Emperor Naruhito’s public birthday address on Feb. 23, his first since his coronation last year. The event regularly attracts tens of thousands of people to the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo.

(Reporting by David Stanway in Shanghai; Claire Baldwin in Sihanoukville; John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Additional reporting by Farah Master in Hong Kong, Sophie Yu in Beijing, Hilary Russ in New York and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Nick Macfie)

Trump says no U.S. troops hurt in Iran strikes, Tehran ‘standing down’

By Ahmed Aboulenein, Phil Stewart and Parisa Hafezi

BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday Iranian missile strikes on bases in Iraq had not harmed any U.S. troops stationed there and damage was minimal, an outcome he said showed Tehran wanted to prevent an escalation into conflict.

Iranian forces fired missiles at military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq early on Wednesday, saying it was in retaliation for the killing in a U.S. drone strike of powerful Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.

“All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases,” Trump said. “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”

“The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it,” the U.S. president said in an address, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and military officers.

He urged world powers to quit a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that Washington withdrew from in 2018 and work for a new deal, an issue that has been at the heart of rising tension between Washington and Tehran. Iran has rejected new talks.

There was no immediate reaction from Iranian officials to Trump’s comments. The semi-official Fars news agency described the U.S. president’s remarks as a “big retreat from threats.”

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier on Wednesday addressed a gathering of Iranians chanting “Death to America”, said Iran’s attacks were a “slap on the face” of the United States and said U.S. troops should leave the region.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had said the strikes “concluded” Tehran’s response to the killing of Soleimani, who had been responsible for building up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East. He was buried in his hometown Kerman on Monday after days of national mourning.

“We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he wrote on Twitter.

ELECTION YEAR

Trump’s reaction in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s attacks had been to say on Twitter that “All is well!” and that Washington was assessing damage.

That early tweet and the comment by Iran’s foreign minister had acted to soothe some initial concerns about a wider war and calmed jittery financial markets. Oil prices slipped back after an early spike. [O/R]

U.S. and European government sources said they believed Iran had deliberately sought to avoid U.S. military casualties in its missile strikes to prevent an escalation.

But an Iranian army spokesman had denied “foreign media reports” suggesting there had been some kind of coordination between Iran and the United States before the attack to allow bases to be evacuated, Fars news agency said.

The U.S. president, who was impeached last month and faces an election this year, had at the weekend threatened to target 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s killing.

Iranian state television said Iran had fired 15 ballistic missiles from its territory at U.S. targets in its neighbor Iraq early on Wednesday. The Pentagon said al-Asad air base and another facility in Erbil in Iraq were struck.

Iranian television had said 80 “American terrorists” had been killed, without saying how it obtained this information.

Germany, Denmark, Norway and Poland said none of their troops in Iraq were hurt. Britain, which also has personnel in Iraq, condemned the Iranian action. Iraq said its forces did not suffer casualties.

Iranian television reported an official in the supreme leader’s office as saying the missile attacks were the “weakest” of several retaliation scenarios. It quoted another source saying Iran had lined up 100 other potential targets.

State media showed footage of what it said were Iran’s missiles being fired into the night sky. In the background, voices shouted “God is greatest”.

AVOIDING CONFLICT

But analysts said Iran wanted to avoid any conventional military conflict with superior U.S. forces.

U.S. officials said Soleimani was killed because forces under his command planned attacks on U.S. targets, although they did not provide evidence.

Before Soleimani was buried, his body was taken on a tour of cities in Iraq and Iran, drawing huge crowds. A stampede at his funeral on Tuesday killed at least 56 people.

After the Iranian missile attack, state television showed footage of the burial, with hundreds of people chanting “God is greatest” when the strikes were announced over loudspeakers.

“His revenge was taken and now he can rest in peace,” Iranian television said.

Friction between Iran and the United States rose after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, approved by his predecessor Barack Obama, and reimposed sanctions on Tehran slashing its vital oil exports.

“We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place,” he said.

Khamenei, in his speech on Wednesday, ruled out any resumption of talks with Washington on the 2015 nuclear pact.

Trump’s U.S. political rivals have challenged his decision to order Soleimani’s killing and questioned its timing in a U.S. election year.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad, Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Phil Stewart, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Eric Beech in Washington, Writing by Edmund Blair and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Janet Lawrence, William Maclean)

Iranian missiles target U.S. troops in Iraq, Trump to make statement

By Ahmed Aboulenein, Phil Stewart and Parisa Hafezi

BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian forces fired missiles at military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday in retaliation for the U.S. killing of an Iranian general, raising the stakes in its conflict with Washington amid concern of a wider war in the Middle East.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addressing a gathering of Iranians chanting “Death to America”, said the attacks were a “slap on the face” of the United States and said U.S. troops should leave the region.

Tehran’s foreign minister said Iran took “proportionate measures” in self-defense and did not seek to escalate the confrontation.

The next move appeared to lie with Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who ordered the drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Friday, gave an initial response on Twitter: “All is well!”.

Trump said casualties and damage from the missile attacks were being assessed. The White House said the president would make a statement at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT).

Trump, who was impeached last month and faces an election this year, at the weekend threatened to target 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s killing.

TARGETS

Iranian state television said Iran had fired 15 ballistic missiles from its territory at U.S. targets in its neighbor Iraq early on Wednesday. The Pentagon said al-Asad air base and another facility in Erbil were targeted.

The United States did not announce any casualties.

Iranian state television said 80 “American terrorists” had been killed and U.S. helicopters and military equipment damaged. It did not say how it obtained that information.

Germany, Denmark, Norway and Poland said none of their troops in Iraq were hurt. Britain, which also has personnel in Iraq, condemned the Iranian action and said Tehran “should not repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks”.

Iraq said its forces did not suffer casualties. The U.N. mission in Iraq called for restraint, saying: “Iraq should not pay the price for external rivalries.” Graphic: Iran fires missiles at U.S bases in Iraq – https://tmsnrt.rs/35DS8dy

More than 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq along with the other foreign forces in a coalition that has trained and backed Iraqis against the threat of Islamic State militants.

“As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said.

In Tehran, Khamenei said in a televised speech: “Military action like this is not sufficient. What is important is ending the corrupting presence of America in the region,” renewing Tehran’s long-standing demand for Washington to withdraw its forces.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the strikes “concluded” Tehran’s response to the killing of Soleimani, who had been responsible for building up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East. He was buried in his hometown Kerman on Monday after days of national mourning.

“We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he wrote on Twitter.

Iranian television reported an official in the supreme leader’s office as saying the missile attacks were the “weakest” of several retaliation scenarios. It quoted another source saying Iran had lined up 100 other potential targets.

State media also showed footage of what it said were the missiles being fired into the night sky. In the background, voices shouted “God is greatest”. It also showed purported images of the blasts where they struck. It was not possible to verify the images’ authenticity.

WAY OUT?

Airlines canceled Iran and Iraq flights and re-routed others away from both countries’ airspace after the attacks.

Oil prices, which jumped in frenzied early trading after the missile attack, slipped later on as alarm faded..

Analysts said market tension could ease as long as oil production facilities remain unaffected. They also saw Trump and Zarif’s comments as signaling calm, at least for now.

Iran is likely to want to avoid any conventional military conflict with superior U.S. forces, other analysts say. In the past, it has focused on asymmetric strikes, such as sabotage or other military action via proxies, they say.

U.S. officials said Soleimani was killed because forces under his command planned attacks on U.S. targets. They have not provided evidence.

Before Soleimani was buried, his body was taken on a tour of cities in Iraq and Iran, drawing huge crowds. A stampede at his funeral on Tuesday killed at least 56 people.

After the Iranian missile attack, state television showed footage of the burial, with hundreds of people chanting “God is greatest” when the strikes were announced over loudspeakers.

“His revenge was taken and now he can rest in peace,” Iranian television said.

Friction between Iran and the United States rose after Trump withdrew in 2018 from a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, approved by his predecessor Barack Obama, and reimposed sanctions on Tehran slashing its vital oil exports.

Khamenei, in his speech on Wednesday, ruled out any resumption of talks with Washington on the 2015 nuclear pact.

Trump’s U.S. political rivals have challenged his decision to order Soleimani’s killing and questioned its timing in a U.S. election year.

“We must ensure the safety of our service members, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence. America & world cannot afford war,” U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad, Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Phil Stewart, Steve Holland and Eric Beech in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Edmund Blair and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

U.S. senators call for banning, prosecuting ‘slumlords’ of military housing

By M.B. Pell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. senators on Tuesday demanded the Defense Department crack down on private landlords who provide substandard housing at military bases with criminal prosecutions or contract cancellations, citing Reuters reports of slum-like living conditions and falsified accounting.

The top civilian and military leaders of the Army, Navy and Air Force appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in the latest hearing addressing substandard military housing.

On Tuesday, senators were presented with a new report from the Government Accountability Office, a Congressional watchdog conducting a review of the housing program that was launched following the Reuters reports. Among the GAO’s core findings: Housing reports sent to Congress are often misleading, painting a falsely positive picture of housing conditions. The program also suffers from inaccurate landlord maintenance reports and lax military oversight, the GAO reported.

To read the GAO report, click: https://bit.ly/35UzZbC

Some senators asked whether the military’s two-decade-old program of having private landlords provide housing on U.S. military bases has failed.

“Are any of them not acting like slumlords at this point? Are any of them doing a good job?” asked Senator Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican and former U.S. Air Force combat pilot. “This pisses me off.”

For more than a year, Reuters has exposed lead, asbestos, mold and vermin contaminating homes where private landlords house thousands of military families on behalf of the Pentagon. More recently, the news agency disclosed how one major landlord doctored maintenance records at some of its bases to help it collect bonus incentive fees.

To read the coverage, click: https://reut.rs/2r1Bkim

Top Defense Department officials have long touted high occupancy rates and satisfaction scores on military family surveys as evidence the effort is generally successful, despite occasional hiccups. But Elizabeth A. Field, the GAO’s director of defense capabilities and management, told senators: “There’s clearly a problem here.”

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy defended the privatization effort, saying it allowed the military to tap private borrowing that would otherwise be unavailable.

“That doesn’t mean it’s worked out great,” added Acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly. Some privatized housing is “fantastic,” he said, but other housing is not.

The secretaries cited reform steps already taken, including far-reaching inspections of military housing and a planned tenant bill of rights to empower military families.

Senators pressed the secretaries to do more to hold accountable military leaders and landlords.

Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett why she couldn’t “pull the plug” on Balfour Beatty Communities, one of the military’s largest landlords.

This year, Reuters quoted five former Balfour Beatty employees who said they filed false maintenance records at Air Force bases to help the company collect millions in bonus payments. Balfour Beatty, a unit of British infrastructure giant Balfour Beatty PLC <BALF.L>, has said that it is committed to improving its maintenance, and that it has tapped outside counsel and auditors to investigate.

Air Force Secretary Barrett said the Air Force has lost confidence in the company, but stopped short of committing to removing it from the program.

A company spokesman said Balfour Beatty plans this month to finish a “performance improvement plan” requested by the Air Force.

Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal, from Connecticut, and Mazie Hirono, from Hawaii, urged the military to refer instances of fraud for criminal prosecution.

“We probably need to make an example out of a couple of them,” said Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican.

(Reporting by M.B. Pell in New York. Additional reporting by Joshua Schneyer. Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Israel must prevent entry of refugees from Syria to Israel: minister

An undated image from material released on June 29, 2018 by the Israeli military relates to an Israeli humanitarian aid supply over the border to Syria. IDF/Handout via Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel must prevent the entry of refugees fleeing fighting in Syria, a senior Israeli cabinet minister said on Friday.

The remarks by Yuval Steinitz, energy minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, came on the same day that the Israeli military said it had transferred humanitarian aid to southern Syria.

“I think we must prevent the entry of refugees from Syria to Israel, in the past we have prevented such cases,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Tel Aviv Radio 102FM.

More than 120,000 people in southwestern Syria have been forced to flee since the Syrian government launched an offensive to recover an area bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from rebels, a monitoring group said.

The Israeli military said an increased number of Syrian civilians had been spotted in refugee camps on the Syrian side of the Golan over the past few days, and that it had overnight sent aid supplies at four locations “to Syrians fleeing hostilities”.

Footage released by the Israeli military on Friday showed a forklift truck unloading palettes with supplies that it said included 300 tents, 28 tonnes of food, medical equipment and medication, footwear and clothing.

Israel has refused to accept refugees fleeing the more than seven-year conflict in Syria, a country with which it remains officially in a state of war. Israel also accuses Iran of stationing military bases and personnel in Syria to use the war- torn country as a launchpad for attacks into Israel.

However, Israel has taken in several thousand Syrians for medical treatment since 2011. Wounded Syrians have been treated at field hospitals set up along the frontier with Syria in the Golan, and in Israeli hospitals.

“We will continue to do what is necessary (for the refugees). I don’t want to go into details (but) our greater worry is … that Iran is trying to turn Syria into a forward military post to confront Israel,” Steinitz added.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Two U.S. military bases in Texas to house immigrants: Mattis

Honduran families seeking asylum wait on the Mexican side of the Brownsville-Matamoros International Bridge after being denied entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers near Brownsville, Texas, U.S., June 24, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By Phil Stewart

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (Reuters) – The U.S. military is preparing to house immigrants at two bases in Texas, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday, the latest sign of the military being drawn into a supporting role for President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

Fort Bliss, an Army base in El Paso, Texas, and Goodfellow Air Base in San Angelo, Texas, would be used, Mattis said, but he added that he could not confirm any specifics.

“We’ll provide whatever support the Department of Homeland Security needs in order to house the people they have under their custody,” Mattis told reporters in Alaska before leaving on an Asia trip.

In the face of outrage at home and overseas over his crackdown on illegal immigration, Trump was forced last week to abandon his policy of separating children from parents who are apprehended for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. military, and Mattis in particular, have stressed that it is simply providing logistical support to the Department of Homeland Security, which deals with immigration issues.

“We’re not going to get into the political aspect. Providing housing, shelter for those who need it is a legitimate governmental function,” Mattis said.

One U.S. official, speaking earlier on the condition of anonymity, said it was expected that one of the bases would house immigrant families and another immigrant children.

On Sunday, Mattis said the U.S. military was preparing to build temporary camps at two military bases to house immigrants but did not name the facilities.

Last week, the U.S. military said it had been asked by the government to get ready to house up to 20,000 immigrant children.

Trump has previously turned to the military to help with his border crackdown. Earlier this year, U.S. National Guard forces were dispatched to border states to help tighten security.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska; additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)