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Hundreds of active-duty troops to leave Washington after generals blasted Trump’s threat to unleash military in protests

HUNDREDS of troops currently on standby near Washington DC and ready to respond to protesters are being sent back to their home base in North Carolina, an official has said.

The troops from 82nd Airborne Division were deployed to the National Capital area to respond to "civil unrest" in DC if needed, reported Reuters, but are expected to start heading back.

According to a US official, who spoke under condition of anonymity, the decision was made earlier on Thursday.

The troops, who numbered several hundred and were stationed in an unknown location near DC, will return to Fort Bragg soon.

President Trump was blasted for threatening to deploy the military against George Floyd protesters.

Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged troops to "defend the Constitution" in a Thursday memo.

The letter - Message to the Joint Force - Milley stated his opposition against the National Guard being used to handle civil unrest across the country.

It came as more than 17,000 National Guard troops were deployed across 23 states to patrol the cities that have erupted in protests and looting.

In a handwritten note at the bottom of the letter, Milley wrote: "We all committed our lives to the idea that is America.

"We will stay true to that and the American people."

He said the Guard is not under federal control and the US Military will continue to protect Americans' "freedom of speech and right to peaceful assembly."

Milley's statement comes after he was criticized for wearing a combat uniform, alongside Mark Esper, as they accompanied Trump on his controversial photo op in front of St John’s Church in Washington D.C. on Monday.

It also comes after General John Allen and ex Defense Secretary Jim Mattis condemned the presidents decision to bring in the US military for help amid violent George Floyd protests.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he does not support invoking a law that would give Trump the ability to deploy US military to stop the George Floyd protests.

"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," Esper said on Wednesday.

"We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act."

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, he added: "I say this not only as secretary of defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard."

Use of the Insurrection Act has been discussed as Trump has talked about using the military to quell violent protests in cities.

However Esper's description of America as a "battle space" to be cleared drew the ire of retired senior military leaders.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a post to Twitter: “America is not a battleground. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy.”

Gen. Tony Thomas, the former head of the Special Operations Command, added: “The ‘battle space’ of America??? Not what America needs to hear … ever, unless we are invaded by an adversary or experience a constitutional failure … ie a Civil War.”

The 1807 “Insurrection Act” was last used in 1992’s Los Angeles race riots.

Trump has slammed his ex-defense secretary Jim Mattis who "rarely brought home the bacon" after his former aide gave a scathing statement about his former boss.

On Wednesday, Mattis denounced the president as a "threat to the constitution" amid the George Floyd protests.

Hours later, the president took to Twitter to slam his former defense chief.

"Probably the only thing Barack Obama and I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about. His nickname was 'Chaos', which I didn’t like, & changed it to 'Mad Dog'..." he tweeted.

"....His primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations. I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom 'brought home the bacon'. I didn’t like his 'leadership' style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!"

In a statement published by The Atlantic, Mattis said that his former boss was "setting up a false conflict" between the military and civilian society.

The secretary resigned his position in December 2018 in protest at Trump's Syria policy.

He had previously declined to speak out against the president, saying he owed the nation public silence while his former boss remained in office.

However, the protests across the United States prompted the former soldier to speak out.

"I have watched this week's unfolding events, angry and appalled," he wrote.

Criticizing Trump's Monday trip to St. John's Church, Mattis said: "Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

The ex-secretary went on to call Trump "the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people."

On Thursday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska agreed with Mattis' criticism on the president as "true and honest and necessary and overdue."

"When I saw Gen. Mattis' comments yesterday I felt like perhaps we are getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up.

Clashes outside White House as demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd in Washington

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