Thousands of National Guard troops and federal officers in riot gear and masks ringed the White House and monuments in the US capital this week, evoking comparisons to an occupying force.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser says she wants most of them out of her district of 700,000 residents. But her powers are limited.
Like cities countrywide, the US capital has been rocked by a week of protests against police brutality and racism following the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck.
Shops and offices in DC and nearby areas were hit by night-time vandalism and looting after peaceful demonstrations last weekend, prompting Bowser to impose a 7 pm curfew on Monday and Tuesday.
The Democratic mayor told reporters she was fine with DC National Guard helping to keep order but she was examining all legal options to reverse the Trump administration's deployment of forces from elsewhere.
"We want troops from out-of-state, out of Washington, DC," Bowser said during a new conference on Thursday.
Several hundred active-duty troops from the 82nd Airborne Division who were sent to the DC area are expected to start returning to their home base in North Carolina, a US official said on Thursday.
About 3300 national guardsmen are in DC or on the way from Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, according to the National Guard.
The prospect of active-duty soldiers on the streets of the capital has alarmed former military officers.
"Every active-duty troop that participates in this thing should resign, should leave the military," said Harry Wiggins, a retired army major, who on Thursday was carrying a staff with an American flag flying upside down, an international sign of distress, several blocks from the White House.
Bowser also questioned the command of hundreds of armed officers from nearly a dozen federal agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, the Bureau of Prisons and the Transportation Security Administration, who have been posted outside government buildings and on DC streets this week.
Some of the officers wore uniforms with no discernable insignias, raising questions about their identity and mission.
"We are concerned about the increased militarisation and lack of clarity that may increase chaos," the top Democrat in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wrote on Thursday in a letter to Trump.
The security situation is complicated in Washington because the federal district does not have full autonomy, unlike most states where governors carry sole responsibility for security.
Australian Associated Press