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As War Changes, So Must Homeland Defense, McHale Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2004 – The nature of war has changed, and the United States must change to meet the new threats, the Defense Department's top homeland defense civilian said here today.

Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, spoke at the 35th Fletcher Conference. This year's theme is "Planning for and Responding to Threats to the U.S. Homeland."

He said the nature of war has fundamentally changed in the last three decades. McHale, a Marine Reserve colonel, said his generation of officers trained for a conflict with the Soviet Union.

"A conflict involved a hostile nation state or coalition of hostile nation states the Warsaw Pact," he said. "Throughout our history we believed it took the resources of a nation state to threaten the United States."

But that has changed. "Transnational terrorist groups unaffiliated with nations, but taking advantage of safe havens can now acquire miniaturized weapons, including weapons of mass destruction that would bring to them the destructive capacity that in the past could only be associated with the resources of a country," McHale said.

These groups could acquire and would use weapons of mass destruction.

McHale shared the draft of the proposed Homeland Defense and Civil Defense Strategy. Pentagon officials stressed that the strategy is only a draft, and changes may still occur until Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signs the policy.

McHale said the common theme in the strategy is that a passive, reactive defense one implemented only after the threat becomes clear is too slow to be effective. "A passive defense, a reactive defense is a formula for failure," he said.

Al Qaeda and similar groups are brutal and malevolent, but "they are quite professional," McHale noted. Terrorists look for seams in defenses and attack them, he said.

"We must seize the initiative," he pointed out. Defenses must change daily, and defenses must be in depth and layered.

He said the principal objective of the draft strategy is to anticipate the attack. The United States must identify the approaching threat at the earliest possible time.

The American military applying pressure in Afghanistan forced Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders into the mountains. This had a direct impact on al Qaeda operations, he said.

Defeating the threats as far away from U.S. shores is another focus of the strategy. He said the idea is to push out the borders of interdiction.

"From our perspective, homeland defense begins overseas," McHale said." When Marines and soldiers went into Kandahar during military actions against the Taliban in Afghanistan, their achievement in Kandahar contributed directly to the security in California and Kansas."

Another portion of the strategy is to ensure that no enemy attack will degrade U.S. ability to project power.

The strategy also looks to ensure DoD ability to help civil authorities in case where defenses fail and there is an attack with weapons of mass destruction. He said al Qaeda does not launch single attacks. The military must be prepared to help in the event al Qaeda launching multiple attacks using these weapons.

Finally, the strategy calls for DoD to share its knowledge and expertise with state, local and international partners. He said the services have been prepared to work in contaminated environments since the chemical attacks of World War I. "DoD has the legal and moral obligation to migrate those capabilities to the civilian community," he said.

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