By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 12, 2008 - Pentagon officials have established a new rapid-response joint task force and plan to create two more in coming years to bolster assistance to civil authorities following potential chemical, biological or nuclear attacks or natural disasters, a senior U.S. official said here yesterday. The new units will team with other federal agencies in support of local responders following chemical, biological or nuclear terror attacks on the homeland or during natural disasters, Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas' security affairs, told American Forces Press Service and Pentagon Channel reporters.
The establishment of the new units "builds upon a decade of improving [Defense Department] capabilities to deal with a domestic terrorist attack involving a weapon of mass destruction," McHale said.
The first new 4,700-member task force was assigned to a component of U.S. Northern Command on Oct. 1, McHale said. The new unit, he said, is built around a core of active-duty soldiers from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Stewart, Ga. This task force, he said, falls under the control of Northcom's Joint Force Land Component Command, U.S. Army North, in San Antonio.
Plans are to stand up the other two new joint task forces in 2010 and 2011, respectively, McHale said. These units, he said, mostly will comprise reserve component personnel from all the military services.
Each task force will be capable of performing tasks such as medical response, decontamination, technical rescue, patient evacuation, and communications and logistics support, to include air and land transportation assets for transport of supplies, people and equipment, according to U.S. Army North documents.
The task forces would be ordered into action by the president, McHale said, following requests for disaster-relief assistance from state governors.
The new units, he emphasized, do not conduct law enforcement missions. In the event of civil disturbances and some other types of national emergencies, he said, other designated U.S. military units could be ordered by the president to help civil authorities establish order as part of the Garden Plot domestic security plan.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States prompted U.S. officials to consider whether existing National Guard-staffed civil support teams could provide enough resources to support civil authorities during multiple catastrophic events, McHale said.
McHale said 9/11 also "was the genesis for the creation of U.S. Northern Command." Northcom, he said, is responsible for homeland defense of the continental U.S. and Alaska, while U.S. Pacific Command is responsible for Hawaii. Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr. commands Northcom as well as North American Aerospace Defense Command, which are co-located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colo.
National Guard-staffed civil support teams were developed through a Pentagon initiative dating to the mid-1990s. Today, there are 53 civil support teams distributed across the United States, McHale said. These 22-member units, he said, are trained to test for chemical, biological or nuclear contamination in the event of a weapons-of-mass-destruction-attack on the United States.
Additionally, Marine Corps-operated emergency-response units that specialize in relief operations are available during chemical, biological and nuclear attacks, he said.