Thousands of National Guard troops who have been stationed at the US Capitol following the Jan. 6 riots are returning home, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday.

Austin said the guards “provided critical capability to the Capitol Police and local authorities” following the riots that marked the first occupation of the Capitol building since the British did so in 1814.

“These airmen and soldiers protected not only the grounds, but the lawmakers working on those grounds, ensuring the people’s business could continue unabated. They lived out in very tangible ways the oath they took to support and defend the Constitution,” he said in a statement.

“As these troops depart for home and a much-deserved reunion with loved ones, I hope they do so knowing how much the nation appreciates their service and sacrifice — and that of their families and employers,” he added.

An initial wave of 26,000 National Guards was deployed to Washington, D.C. in the wake of the riot by former US President Donald Trump’s supporters who sought to derail President Joe Biden’s path to the White House.

The forces were drawn down to about 2,300 by Austin when he extended a March deadline for their exit due to a request from US Capitol Police.

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