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SAN ANTONIO – Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday pushed back against criticism of his border security mission and related suicides, saying the loss of all life is “extraordinarily hurtful” but that his critics “are just doing the wrong things. Politics “.
The critical group includes his candidates for re-election in both parties, who have highlighted reports that there have been four suicides, salary delays and other issues among National Guard troops Abbott sent to the border as part of “Operation Lone Star”. “
During a campaign stop here, Abbott said the pay issue affected a small portion of the troops and had been resolved. However, when it comes to suicides, Abbott gave a heated response in which he lamented the deaths but said critics should also focus on military suicides that occurred under President Joe Biden.
“If they say something about what’s happening to the National Guard in Texas, why don’t they say something about President Biden and the fact that he has lost hundreds of military personnel at the same time?” American… to suicide? Abbott said. “Why are they silent about this? The answer – they’re just playing politics. The life of a soldier is worth more than the words of a politician in politics.
The Army Times reported in December that four soldiers linked to Operation Lone Star had died by suspected suicide within two months. The publication reported last week that a fifth soldier accidentally shot dead while off duty and a sixth attempted suicide and survived.
Abbott has said the suicides are being investigated and believes it will appear that not all “actually happened during Operation Lone Star.” One of the soldiers was denied parole and committed suicide days later, the Army Times reported. Another was on exemption from temporary deprivation of liberty upon his death, according to the publication.
The Army Times’ initial story on Operation Lone Star raised a number of questions about the mission related to its purpose, morale, and troop compensation. The Texas Military Department acknowledged it was an “obstacle” to adding so many troops to the state’s payroll system during an increase last fall that shifted troops from the mission to about 1,200 in June to 10,000 in November.
Abbott said Tuesday he only knew 84 out of 10,000 soldiers who “had a problem with wages.” He said the problems were largely related to the soldiers getting their paycheck at the end of the month instead of the beginning of the month, “and they just had to go through the administrative process to do it. “.
“All paycheck issues have been resolved,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s figures for paycheck issues are different from those the Texas Military Department provided last month. At the time, the department told a Houston TV station that there were “about 150 military personnel with pay issues.”
Before lambasting his critics, Abbott said suicides had to be seen in the “larger context” of the military. He said there had been 476 suicides in the military in the first nine months of 2021, noting that they came under “the Biden administration.” It was not immediately clear where he got this number. Quarterly reports released by the US Department of Defense show it counted 380 suicides in those nine months.
Annual reports indicate that there were 580 suicides in the military in 2020, 498 in 2019 and 541 in 2018.
Abbott said he is “offensive to any of those people raising the issues [with Operation Lone Star] politicize the issue of a soldier who dies.
Critics include Abbott’s likely Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, who said National Guard troops should not be used as “political pawns”.
“Abbott ignores the deaths of five guards as he continues to disparage the service of all Guard members by asking them to perform as a backdrop for his political photo ops,” O’Rourke said in a statement Tuesday in response to Abbott’s comments. “He didn’t pay them on time, he cut their benefits, he has a lot of people living without such basic necessities as a toilet, and he left them without any leadership from the governor. It’s a mess of the making of Abbott.
Abbott has also faced heat from key GOP challengers, including former Texas GOP President Allen West, who held a press conference on Operation Lone Star issues last week.
“The only person who is in politics is Governor Abbott with the lives of our [Texas National Guard] troops, ”West said in a statement after Abbott’s remarks Tuesday. “Instead of photo ops and politicized press conferences, Abbott should visit the troops as his failed Operation Lone Star night.”
West is a former army lieutenant colonel who retired from the military after being investigated in 2003 for using inappropriate methods to force information from an Iraqi detainee.
Another Abbott main challenger, Don Huffines, said on Sunday that what is happening with the National Guard is “embarrassing and infuriating.”