Published on
The Washington Post

Pentagon to Detail Troops to Bolster Domestic Security

Spencer S. Hsu and Ann Scott Tyson

The U.S. military
expects to have 20,000 uniformed troops inside the United States by
2011 trained to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear
terrorist attack or other domestic catastrophe, according to Pentagon

The long-planned shift in the Defense Department's
role in homeland security was recently backed with funding and troop
commitments after years of prodding by Congress and outside experts,
defense analysts said.

There are critics of the change, in the
military and among civil liberties groups and libertarians who express
concern that the new homeland emphasis threatens to strain the military
and possibly undermine the Posse Comitatus Act, a 130-year-old federal
law restricting the military's role in domestic law enforcement.

the Bush administration and some in Congress have pushed for a
heightened homeland military role since the middle of this decade,
saying the greatest domestic threat is terrorists exploiting the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Before the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dedicating 20,000 troops to
domestic response -- a nearly sevenfold increase in five years --
"would have been extraordinary to the point of unbelievable," Paul
McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said in
remarks last month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
But the realization that civilian authorities may be overwhelmed in a
catastrophe prompted "a fundamental change in military culture," he

The Pentagon's
plan calls for three rapid-reaction forces to be ready for emergency
response by September 2011. The first 4,700-person unit, built around
an active-duty combat brigade based at Fort Stewart, Ga., was available as of Oct. 1, said Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of the U.S. Northern Command.

If funding continues, two additional teams will join nearly 80 smaller National Guard
and reserve units made up of about 6,000 troops in supporting local and
state officials nationwide. All would be trained to respond to a
domestic chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield
explosive attack, or CBRNE event, as the military calls it.

Military preparations for a domestic weapon-of-mass-destruction attack have been underway since at least 1996, when the Marine Corps
activated a 350-member chemical and biological incident response force
and later based it in Indian Head, Md., a Washington suburb. Such
efforts accelerated after the Sept. 11 attacks, and at the time Iraq
was invaded in 2003, a Pentagon joint task force drew on 3,000 civil
support personnel across the United States.

In 2005, a new
Pentagon homeland defense strategy emphasized "preparing for multiple,
simultaneous mass casualty incidents." National security threats were
not limited to adversaries who seek to grind down U.S. combat forces
abroad, McHale said, but also include those who "want to inflict such
brutality on our society that we give up the fight," such as by
detonating a nuclear bomb in a U.S. city.

In late 2007, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England
signed a directive approving more than $556 million over five years to
set up the three response teams, known as CBRNE Consequence Management
Response Forces. Planners assume an incident could lead to thousands of
casualties, more than 1 million evacuees and contamination of as many
as 3,000 square miles, about the scope of damage Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005.

Last month, McHale said, authorities agreed to begin a $1.8 million pilot project funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency
through which civilian authorities in five states could tap military
planners to develop disaster response plans. Hawaii, Massachusetts,
South Carolina, Washington and West Virginia will each focus on a
particular threat -- pandemic flu, a terrorist attack, hurricane,
earthquake and catastrophic chemical release, respectively -- speeding
up federal and state emergency planning begun in 2003.

Last Monday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered defense officials to review whether the military, Guard and reserves can respond adequately to domestic disasters.

gave commanders 25 days to propose changes and cost estimates. He cited
the work of a congressionally chartered commission, which concluded in
January that the Guard and reserve forces are not ready and that they
lack equipment and training.

Bert B. Tussing, director of homeland defense and security issues at the U.S. Army War College's
Center for Strategic Leadership, said the new Pentagon approach "breaks
the mold" by assigning an active-duty combat brigade to the Northern
Command for the first time. Until now, the military required the
command to rely on troops requested from other sources.

"This is
a genuine recognition that this [job] isn't something that you want to
have a pickup team responsible for," said Tussing, who has assessed the
military's homeland security strategies.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the libertarian Cato Institute are troubled by what they consider an expansion of executive authority.

emergency deployment may be "just the first example of a series of
expansions in presidential and military authority," or even an increase
in domestic surveillance, said Anna Christensen of the ACLU's National
Security Project. And Cato Vice President Gene Healy warned of "a
creeping militarization" of homeland security.

"There's a notion
that whenever there's an important problem, that the thing to do is to
call in the boys in green," Healy said, "and that's at odds with our
long-standing tradition of being wary of the use of standing armies to
keep the peace."

McHale stressed that the response units will be
subject to the act, that only 8 percent of their personnel will be
responsible for security and that their duties will be to protect the
force, not other law enforcement. For decades, the military has
assigned larger units to respond to civil disturbances, such as during
the Los Angeles riot in 1992.

U.S. forces are already under heavy strain, however. The first reaction force is built around the Army's 3rd Infantry Division's
1st Brigade Combat Team, which returned in April after 15 months in
Iraq. The team includes operations, aviation and medical task forces
that are to be ready to deploy at home or overseas within 48 hours,
with units specializing in chemical decontamination, bomb disposal,
emergency care and logistics.

The one-year domestic mission,
however, does not replace the brigade's next scheduled combat
deployment in 2010. The brigade may get additional time in the United
States to rest and regroup, compared with other combat units, but it
may also face more training and operational requirements depending on
its homeland security assignments.

Renuart said the Pentagon is
accounting for the strain of fighting two wars, and the need for troops
to spend time with their families. "We want to make sure the parameters
are right for Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. The 1st Brigade's
soldiers "will have some very aggressive training, but will also be
home for much of that."

Although some Pentagon leaders initially
expected to build the next two response units around combat teams, they
are likely to be drawn mainly from reserves and the National Guard,
such as the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade from South Carolina,
which returned in May after more than a year in Afghanistan.

that Pentagon strategy gives new priority to homeland security and
calls for heavier reliance on the Guard and reserves, McHale said,
Washington has to figure out how to pay for it.

"It's one thing
to decide upon a course of action, and it's something else to make it
happen," he said. "It's time to put our money where our mouth is."

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Won't Exist.

Share This Article

More in: