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Homeland Security

American Forces Press Service

DoD Homeland Defense Official Convinced Terrorists Would Use WMD

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2004 -- If al Qaeda and other terrorists were given even "half an opening," they would use weapons of mass destructions within the United States, said DoD's official responsible for homeland defense.

"That's a chilling but hard reality," Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense told members of the Reserve Officers Association here today. He said he's personally convinced that "we must be prepared not only to defeat such attacks, but, God forbid, to respond to them."

McHale spoke at the mid-winter conference of the association, which represents about 78,000 Reserve and regular officers, both active and retired.

He told the officers that in the foreseeable future many of them will be called upon as part of the nation's WMD response capability and warned them that "transnational terrorism" has changed the battlefield they will be fighting on.

"We have passed from the Cold War to al Qaeda," he noted. "We have had to face the harsh reality that our enemy now considers [the continental United States] to be a primary battlefront and we have no doubt that if given the opportunity, they will attack us with weapons of mass destruction."

But McHale also gave details of how the Guard and Reserves would fit into U.S. plans to counter such threats at home.

The U.S. Northern Command has been a major element in U.S. homeland defense since it was established in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Part of NORTHCOM's mission is to conduct operations to prevent and defeat threats and aggression against the United States and its territories. The command has few permanently assigned units, and will likely be assigned Guard and Reserve forces, when needed, McHale explained.

Counterterrorism is normally a civilian law enforcement function of forces such as the local police and FBI. McHale said that as part of NORTHCOM, Guard and Reserve soldiers could help those civilian officials provide a "fused capability" and a second layer of defense against terrorism.

"We rely on our police officers, we rely on our FBI in the first instance to protect us from domestic activities related to foreign terrorists," McHale said. But he added that if the concept of operations to be employed by terrorists exceeds the reasonable capability of law enforcement, those police officers are going to need back up with superior firepower. "We find that (firepower) within the National Guard," he explained.

McHale said the layered defense would include "civilian police officers protecting us at the first level, the National Guard providing an immediate backup ability, and in a warfighting role if necessary under extraordinary circumstances, (active duty) soldiers and Marines prepared to deploy within our own country to physically protect the sites that might be subject to an al Qaeda attack."

Another role for reserves would be in the nation's maritime defense, he explained. McHale noted that if terrorists were to bring a weapon of mass destruction into the United States, it would likely be through a U.S. port. "And I believe it is likely that material would be brought into our country through the maritime domain that has been assigned to NORTHCOM."

He said NORTHCOM's area of responsibility extends 500 nautical miles out to sea. Although he applauded the Coast Guard's efforts in defending U.S. coastlines, he added that "if we have the battle space in the maritime domain, in my judgment, we should use it."

He said that confronting terrorism on the high seas presents an "unprecedented opportunity" for the United States Navy and its reserve members. "There is an emerging role for the Navy to defeat that threat on the high seas at the greatest possible distance from U.S. shores," he explained. McHale add that the opportunity exists to get Naval Reservists "back out on blue water" engaged in warfighting activity aimed at the terrorist threat. He said they would also be in the air engaging in surveillance and improving maritime domain awareness.

Meanwhile, McHale called on reserve officers to continue do their part to defeat terrorism. Despite recent successes in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said their work isn't finished.

"Because the brutal Taliban regime no longer rules Afghanistan, because the remnants of al Qaeda's leadership can no longer find safe haven anywhere on earth, because Saddam Hussein no longer leads a repressive dictatorship in Iraq, the world is undeniably a safer and better place," he said. "That outcome was not foreordained. Courageous young Americans, including reserve officers, bled and died to make it happen. While much has been accomplished, the job is not over."

McHale said the terrorist attacks of the past decade have made it clear that al Qaeda is seeking to impose a brutal totalitarian conformity on the free people of the world. "As reserve officers of this generation," he told the audience, "you must refuse to let that happen."


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