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American Forces Press Service

Eberhart: 9-11 Created Need for New Unified Command

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2003 - Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, commander of U.S. Northern Command, noted that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America brought about the most significant reorganization within DoD since the department was created in 1947.

Established Oct. 1, 2002, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., "NORTHCOM has the mission to protect the American people where they live and work," Eberhart explained in a June 9 interview.

NORTHCOM's area of operations includes the United States, Canada, Mexico, parts of the Caribbean and the contiguous waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans up to 500 miles off the North American coastline.

U.S. European Command, Pacific Command, and Southern Command were stood up under the National Security Act of 1947, Eberhart noted, as unified commands with geographic areas of responsibility outside the United States. That legislation also placed the individual armed services under the Defense Department.

The creation of unified commands with overseas' missions made sense at that time, he pointed out, since it was believed the United States was "protected by two wide oceans and two friendly neighbors" and therefore didn't require a unified command responsible for U.S. security "from the tip of Mexico to the tip of Alaska."

However, the asymmetrical tactics employed by the terrorists during 9-11 provided a wake-up call, which pointed out "that we needed one commander and one command," Eberhart remarked, to protect the United States "against all hazards."

NORTHCOM'S mission is primarily focused on homeland defense, "which is essentially protecting against foreign aggression" that's launched from outside the U.S., Eberhart explained.

However, NORTHCOM also has a mission to provide military assistance to civil authorities, "when determined by the president and the secretary (of defense), which is different than what the other commands have," he pointed out.

Homeland security threats could originate from outside the United States, as well, Eberhart noted, but "in most cases, it emanates, it begins, right here in the United States, through terrorism."

As demonstrated by 9-11, terrorists can strike from the skies. North American Aerospace Command, created in 1958, "looks at air and space threats as agreed to by the governments of Canada and the United States," Eberhart, who also heads the command, explained.

Consequently, NORTHCOM and NORAD "work very closely together," the four-star general pointed out.

NORTHCOM must be prepared to provide military support to civil authorities "when it's deemed to be warranted" by the president and secretary of defense, Eberhart noted.

For example, he continued, NORTHCOM could be directed by higher command authority to secure key infrastructure such as nuclear power plants and bridges, or to assist in disaster-relief operations

State governors and other federal agencies, Eberhart pointed out, would normally request such support according to established laws, noting, "we wouldn't just ride into town and take over."

Eberhart emphasized that assistance to civil authorities is not a new mission for the military, that it was important prior to 9-11. He recalled, for example, that the U.S. military had provided support to ensure that "the mail arrived in time" during a 1990s postal strike.

NORTHCOM now represents "one-stop shopping for military support" for homeland defense missions, the Air Force general remarked, noting that in the past many military organizations could have been called upon to provide people and equipment to deal with domestic contingencies.

In effect, NORTHCOM "provides much more streamlined, effective, efficient command -and control," Eberhart said.

"We use our resources much better than we have in the past," he concluded.


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