Pentagon to Detail Troops to Bolster Domestic Security
By Spencer S. Hsu and Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 1, 2008; A01

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 officials.

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.

But 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 said.

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.

Gates 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.

Domestic 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 agg
ressive 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.

Now 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."

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