WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday that he regretted using the term "battle space" when referring to civil unrest in American cities spurred by the death of George Floyd.
"Earlier this week I was quoted as saying that the best way to get street violence under control was by dominating the battle space," Esper began. "It is part of our military lexicon that I grew up with and it's what we use to describe that area of operations."
"In retrospect, I would use different wording so as not to distract from the more important matters at hand or allow some to suggest that we are militarizing the issue," he added.
During a call with President Donald Trump and governors on Monday, a recording of which was obtained by NBC News, Esper urged states "to dominate the battle space" when dealing with nationwide protests.
Esper's comments on the call came hours before Trump gave a White House address, in which he threatened to deploy active-duty U.S. military if states failed to quell demonstrations. Also on the call was the nation's highest-ranking military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley. Trump described Milley as a "warrior" and said that he was putting the four-star general "in charge" of protest response efforts.
The Pentagon later walked back the new role by saying that Milley remained a military advisor to Esper and Trump.