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New Unified Command Plan Spells Out Responsibilities, Missions

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2008 – President George W. Bush has signed an updated unified command plan that codifies U.S. Africa Command, shifts responsibility for parts of the Caribbean Sea to U.S. Northern Command and assigns cyberspace and pandemic influenza missions to other combatant commanders.

The revised plan, which Bush signed Dec. 17, is the key strategic document that spells out the missions, responsibilities and geographical boundaries of each functional and geographic combatant command within the U.S. military, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman explained.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Joint Staff led the review process, with input from every combatant commander and service chief and much of the Defense Department leadership.

Mullen submitted the plan through Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to the president for final approval, officials said. Congress received notice of the revisions yesterday.

Major changes to the plan include:

-- Codifying Africom, which became fully operational-capable Oct. 1, as a geographic combatant command by assigning specific missions, responsibilities and geographic boundaries;

-- Shifting the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands from U.S. Southern Command’s to U.S. Northern Command’s area of responsibility;

-- Assigning every combatant commander responsibility for planning and conducting military support for stability, security, transition, reconstruction operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief;

-- Assigning central planning authorities for several global missions, including pandemic influenza response, cyberspace operations, global operations against terrorist networks, combating weapons of mass destruction and global missile defense; and

-- Codify U.S. Pacific Command’s responsibility for homeland defense operations in Hawaii, Guam and other U.S. territories within its area of responsibility.

The plan codifies a new “pandemic influenza” mission and tasks Northcom to plan departmentwide efforts in support of the U.S. government response to an outbreak. U.S. Strategic Command is assigned responsibility for the department’s cyberspace mission, Whitman said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Special Operations Command is assigned responsibility for global operations against terrorist networks, and Stratcom becomes responsible for combating weapons of mass destruction and global missile defense.

“This is a new concept,” Whitman said of the synchronized global planning construct. “What it means is the assignment of responsibilities to a single coordinator to coordinate missions that exceed the responsibility of any one commander.”

The new document is the first unified command plan to assign all combatant commanders responsibility for missions ranging from stability operations to humanitarian and disaster relief. The goal, Whitman explained, is to give added emphasis on these areas to head off problems “before they reach crisis proportions.”

“If all the combatant commanders are out there conducting stability operations, this can have the effect of strengthening governance and really preventing the creation of these ungoverned spaces … that are troublesome and are used as safe havens for terrorist activities,” he said.

The realignment of Northcom’s boundary is designed to improve the department’s effectiveness in its homeland defense and support to civil authorities missions, officials said. The revision follows Gates’ decision in August 2007 to task Northcom to provide civil support if requested by the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico in the event of a natural disaster.

Meanwhile, assignment of the cyberspace mission to Stratcom recognizes cyberspace as a warfighting domain critical to joint military operations, officials said. The revised unified command plan will give new emphasis to this capability, they said, ensuring it is protected, defended and leveraged for the United States.

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Related Sites:
Map of New Areas of Responsibility
Defense Department News Release


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