United States Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday that he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty forces to quell civil unrest, and added that he regretted using the word "battlespace" to describe areas gripped by protest.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Esper said active-duty troops in a law enforcement role should be used in the US "only in the most urgent and dire of situations", adding, "We are not in one of those situations now."
Trump also came under fire in the pages of The Atlantic magazine from retired Admiral Mike Mullen, who served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the administration of former President Barack Obama and is widely respected within military circles. Mullen wrote that he has been hesitant to speak out on issues related to Trump's leadership until now, but "we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent".
"Whatever Trump's goal in conducting his visit," Mullen wrote of the president's Lafayette Square photo opportunity on Monday, "he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicising the men and women of our armed forces."
On Monday, 715 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in the Washington, DC area in case the situation worsened in the capital. They are stationed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Two more 82nd Airborne battalions, totaling 1,300 soldiers, are on standby at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, according to documents reviewed by the Associated Press news agency, in an operation that has been named "Operation Themis".
Defense Department officials said on Wednesday that some of those troops are already headed back to their home bases.
Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to deploy troops to the capital, saying the massive show of force is a model for states to follow as they attempt to quell the nationwide unrest.In his Pentagon remarks, Esper strongly criticised the actions of the Minneapolis police, in whose custody George Floyd died after an officer held his knee to Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Esper called the act "murder" and "a horrible crime".