U.S. defense chief opposes troop deployment for protests

In a rare break with President Trump, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act, which would deploy active duty forces to suppress civil unrest - a move President Donald Trump threatened to take to stem protests that have roiled the nation.

“The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act."

Trump's threats to deploy active duty troops -- even in states that oppose its use -- has stirred alarm within the U.S. military and in Congress, where a top Republican warned it could easily make troops "political pawns."

Speaking to reporters from the Pentagon, Esper also said he regretted using the term "battlespace" this week to describe areas gripped by protests.

He was asked by one reporter whether he regretted participating in Trump’s politically charged photo opportunity on Monday, when law enforcement forcibly cleared a park outside the White House of peaceful protesters so that the president could take a picture in front of a church holding a Bible.

“I did know we were going to the church - I was not aware a photo op was happening. Of course the president drags a large press pool along with him…. Look, I do everything I can to try to stay apolitical, to try to stay out of situations that may appear political. Sometimes I’m successful at doing that and sometimes I’m not as successful. But my aim is to keep the department out of politics to stay apolitical.”

Esper’s comments immediately fueled speculation he could be the latest Trump administration official to be removed from his post, something White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about Wednesday.

"As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper and should the president lose faith we will all learn about that in the future."

McEnany then made it clear who’s call it was to deploy U.S. troops.

“The Insurrection Act is a tool available – the president has the sole authority, and if needed he will use it.”