WASHINGTON: The Pentagon is considering extending the stay of National Guard troops brought in to beef up security at the US Capitol after the assault by supporters of Donald Trump, officials said on Friday.

“We are in receipt of a formal request from the Capitol Police for continued National Guard assistance at the Capitol complex,” Defence Department spokesman John Kirby said.

He told reporters that the time frame in question was the “next couple of months.” Kirby did not say what threat this period might correspond to, but Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman last month reported threats from extremist groups to try to keep President Joe Biden from delivering his State of the Union speech.

The date of this address by the US president to both houses of Congress has not been announced.

The Capitol has been under tight security since January 6, when thousands of supporters of Trump gathered outside the US Congress after a speech by the Republican billionaire, then still president, who urged them to stop lawmakers meeting inside from certifying Biden’s election win.

Several hundred of them stormed the building, causing chaos and bloodshed. Five people, including a Capitol policeman, died.

More than 270 people are being prosecuted for their participation in this attack.

Since then, barriers have been erected to protect the area surrounding the Capitol and some 5,000 National Guard soldiers remain mobilised in support of the police, but their mission is due to end on March 12.

Asked about the seriousness of the threat against the Capitol, while rumors of potential trouble for Thursday did not materialise, the spokesman for the Capitol stressed that “things have changed since January 6,” Kirby said.

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin “believes that our lawmakers absolutely deserve a safe and secure environment in which to work. And so we have to look at the capabilities there, on the Capitol complex, and ask ourselves if there are capabilities we can add that the Capitol Police don’t have right now,” Kirby said.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2021

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