Austin OKs request for nearly 2,300 National Guard to stay at US Capitol through late May

Nearly 2,300 National Guard will stay to support security efforts around the Capitol through May 23. In this image, National Guard soldiers patrol the US Capitol grounds in Washington, DC, on March 6. By Oren Liebermann, CNN

(CNN) -- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the request of the US Capitol Police to keep nearly 2,300 National Guard troops to support security efforts around the Capitol through May 23, the Defense Department said in a statement Tuesday evening.

There are approximately 5,100 Guard members currently operating around the Capitol, so this level is nearly a 50% reduction in that force.

"During this extended period, DoD officials will work with the U.S. Capitol Police to incrementally reduce the National Guard footprint as conditions allow," the statement said. "We thank the National Guard for its support throughout this mission, as well as for its significant efforts across the nation in combating the COVID-19 pandemic."

The continued Guard presence was not in response to any particular threat, a senior defense official said, but an awareness of a persistent elevated threat level around the Capitol, especially if President Joe Biden were to address a joint session of Congress.

CNN previously reported that the US Capitol Police had requested a two-month extension of National Guard troop support at the Capitol that was under review last week at the Department of Defense, according to two defense officials.

Nearly 5,000 National Guard members were previously scheduled to remain in Washington through March 12 after their initial deployment was extended, in part, over concerns about potential violence stemming from continued online chatter after Biden's inauguration on January 20. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pushed defense officials and Capitol Police to detail the threats that justify keeping thousands of Guard members in the nation's capital and to explain the mission they are carrying out.

Austin's approval also comes after the task force established to review security at the Capitol released its final report Monday, which calls for sweeping changes to improve the Capitol Police's emergency response and multiple security enhancements around the Capitol complex.

The report recommends a dedicated quick reaction force that could be used not just at the Capitol but also across Washington, taking either from existing law enforcement entities or by creating it under the command of the DC National Guard.

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