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DoD Examines Joint Task Force Concept for Civil Support

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 1999 – The Defense Department is looking at changing the way it provides support to local and state agencies during terrorist incidents and natural disasters, Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre said recently.

"We do need to change some of the way in which we're structured for a large-scale incident where it involves civil support," Hamre said during a Pentagon news conference.

DoD would continue to support the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agencies in cases of domestic terrorist attacks or natural disasters. Currently the director of military support is the DoD liaison with these agencies.

"That is an organization traditionally suited to responding to natural disasters and things of that nature," Hamre said. "It doesn't have the kind of robust planning capability that we know we're going to need to get ready for larger-scale incidents."

DoD has proposed setting up Joint Task Force - Civil Support. It would be a permanent office in the Pentagon providing DoD support in case of terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction or large-scale natural disasters. It would also produce contingency plans for various scenarios involving the use of weapons of mass destruction.

"We have a unique capability to offer the lead agencies if an incident happens," said Charles Cragin, acting assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. The department has personnel trained to detect chemical, biological and nuclear hazards and fully trained to operate in such hazardous environments, he said.

"What DoD is doing is to bring more rigor to command and control structures, using military resources to support civil authorities," Cragin said. Currently, this type of support to civil authorities is an additional duty for some military officers.

DoD will only provide support after authorities declare an incident a federal disaster. A large event would quickly overwhelm the current director of military support, Cragin said. Planners looked at the Hurricane Andrew task force and the military support for the Atlanta Olympics as examples to follow, he said.

The joint task force would anticipate problems, know where necessary military assets are and be able to get the assets where needed quickly, he said. The task force would be commanded by a flag officer and have full-time personnel who would train and exercise with civil authorities, he added.

Joint Staff officials believe the task force would go a long way toward organizing DoD to best respond to major incidents. "We need to make sure that our organic and inherent capability is properly postured so that we can operate in a supporting role to the civil institutions that would have the lead in this kind of challenge," said Vice Adm. Vern Clark, director of the Joint Staff.

Clark said the proposal has gone to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, and he expects a decision soon.

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