By LUIS MARTINEZ, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — The security preparations for next week’s presidential inauguration increased yet again Wednesday with now up to 20,000 National Guardsmen authorized to provide security at the U.S. Capitol and around Washington, D.C., for next week’s ceremony, according to a Defense Department official.
The ramp-up in the number of Guardsmen in the nation’s capital means there could be four times as many American military service members in the city than there are in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
There are now 2,500 troops in each of those countries.
The Guardsmen, many now displaying weapons, are working in shifts to provide round-the-clock security both inside the Capitol and around the perimeter of the Capitol grounds.
In a startling image, National Guardsmen, in between shifts, were seen sleeping with their M-4 rifles on the floors of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday morning as the House was about to begin a historic impeachment debate. The sight of the sleeping, armed U.S. troops was jarring for Capitol Hill employees and reporters, but a defense official told ABC News that the sight is not uncommon for deployed troops taking breaks in between long security shifts.
Previously, up to 15,000 Guardsmen had been authorized to assist with inauguration security with 10,000 to be in place by this weekend.
The official said the increase in the number of Guardsmen is due to additional requests from the Secret Service, the FBI, and U.S. Capitol Police.
The increased number of Guardsmen are coming from states across the country and are expected to be in place by this weekend, said the official.
The National Guardsmen providing security around the U.S. Capitol area have now been authorized to be armed after Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy approved a request from civilian law enforcement agencies on Tuesday night.
Additional Guardsmen who will be assisting local police in Washington D.C. on city streets providing traffic control assistance will be unarmed.
There are currently 6,600 National Guardsmen in the Washington D.C. area.
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