Gunmen who prompted four National Guard members to pull back from their post near the Mexican border probably weren't trying to test the troops' reaction, but likely came across the soldiers by chance, the head of the Arizona National Guard said Monday.
The gunmen may have been carrying drug money south across the border, Maj. Gen. David Rataczak told the state Legislature's homeland security committee.
The soldiers acted properly when they relocated to a nearby site and called in the Border Patrol to respond, he said.
"They did exactly what they were told to do," said Rataczak, adding that their actions prevented an international incident.
State Rep. Warde Nichols, a Republican and the homeland security committee's chairman, had suggested that the gunmen were "testing our resolve."
And advocates for tougher immigration enforcement have questioned the point of having troops on the border if they can't confront such dangers.
Supporters of the decision to call in the Border Patrol said the troops were never intended to perform law enforcement duties, but were there instead to do support duties that tie up immigration agents, who then have more time to catch illegal immigrants.
The four National Guard soldiers from Tennessee were on the lookout at a post Jan. 3 when they spotted four to eight gunmen approaching. The Border Patrol arrived about 15 minutes later and tracked the armed men to the border but wasn't able to find them. No shots were fired.
One of the men, carrying an automatic rifle, came within 15 meters of one soldier, who had a bullet in the chamber of his firearm. Both men stared at each other for several seconds and kept their rifles pointed downward, Rataczak said.
The four soldiers were among the 6,400 National Guard members sent to border states to handle the support duties, including monitoring border points, assisting with cargo inspection and operating surveillance cameras.