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Task Force Counters Terrorist WMD Threat

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2000 – Terrorists have been a fact of life for hundreds of years.

Frightful acts of violence, or the threat of those acts, are the way disaffected groups try to impose their will on the majority.

"The United States is not immune to terrorist acts," said Army Brig. Gen. Bruce M. Lawlor, commander of Joint Task Force-Civil Support in Norfolk, Va. The task force, he said, is a "new organization designed to meet a new threat."

The bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City in February 1993 and the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995 are just two examples of terrorist acts in the United States. Farther back in U.S. history were the Haymarket Square bombing in Chicago in May 1886 and the bombing of U.S. Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer's home in June 1919.

The terrorists in those attacks used conventional explosives. If a terrorist group uses a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon, the consequences will quickly overwhelm local and state abilities.

Terrorists have already added even more frightful weapons to their arsenals -- weapons of mass destruction. In Japan, for instance, the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult released Sarin nerve agent into the Tokyo subway system in March 1995, killing 12 people and injuring more than 5,000 others.

Lawlor, who served in the Vermont National Guard, said his task force would provide command and control over DoD forces in the event of the use, or threatened use, of weapons of mass destruction in the United States, its territories and possessions. DoD formed the organization to coordinate the department's response to terrorist use of these weapons and to serve as a focal point for planning, training and doctrine.

"The U.S. military brings two things to this that other agencies do not," Lawlor said. "First, we have many people who are trained to work in a contaminated environment. Second, we can mobilize, organize and deploy large numbers of people very quickly." The latter point is especially important -- "time means lives," he said.

The Joint Task Force, part of U.S. Joint Forces Command, will always work only in support of a civilian federal lead agency, he noted. The FBI would be the lead agent for investigations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would handle "consequence management."

In the event of an attack, the Joint Task Force mission is threefold -- save lives, prevent suffering and help restore critical life support systems. The task force would DoD's command and control center for military support to civilian authorities.

The mission's not really new, Lawlor said. "For years, DoD has provided support to civilian agencies," he said. "In Oklahoma City, 800 National Guardsmen and about 400 active duty personnel helped. The point is, we are there as a support function. We don't do law enforcement or arrest people."

There is also a precedent for DoD civil support during natural disasters. A total of 23,000 active duty and reserve service members helped after Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992. DoD personnel often pitch in to fight forest fires, floods and other crises. DoD will continue providing resources for natural disasters through the Director of Military Support in the Pentagon.

The Joint Task Force grew out of DoD's experiences during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Previous DoD support to civil authorities was ad hoc, but the scope of the Olympics and the length of time and amount of support requested meant an ad hoc approach would not work. Joint Task Force- Atlanta handled all the DoD support.

"It worked well," Lawlor said. "And when DoD looked at the threat of weapons of mass destruction, planners realized the importance of a standing task force dedicated to civil support in case of a terrorist attack using these weapons."

The Joint Task Force works out of a building next to Joint Forces Command headquarters. There is a core group of 38 people dedicated to planning DoD response. The task force will call on the command's available expertise if needed. It has a $4 million fiscal 2000 budget, will be fully operational in April, and is already examining its roles.

"We're looking at the resources we will need for consequence management," Lawlor said. "We are looking to develop doctrine to cope with this type of emergency. We are also identifying training plans and exercises to test our response."

The task force also works with local, state and federal agencies to identify requirements and will coordinate all DoD weapons of mass destruction consequence management plans.

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