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American Forces Press Service

DoD Official Outlines Homeland Defense Progress

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

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2005 Citing the final report of the 9/11 Commission, DoD’s top homeland defense official cautioned a House subcommittee March 15 that “America can be attacked in many ways and has many vulnerabilities. No defenses are perfect.”

But Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul McHale also told the lawmakers that the Defense Department has made the defense of the country the main requirement of the global war on terrorism, and outlined how it plans to protect the American people.

“There is no ‘home game.’ There is no ‘away game.’ We are engaged in a global conflict. And in that global conflict, the defense of the U.S. homeland is the pre-eminent duty,” McHale told the House Terrorism, Unconventional Threat and Capabilities Subcommittee.

“Therefore, homeland defense must be seen as an integral part of a global, active, layered defense – a defense in depth – that has as its single goal to secure the United States and its citizens from attack,” he said.

McHale noted the main elements of DoD’s strategy in the terror war include protecting the homeland, disrupting and attacking terrorist networks and countering ideological support for terrorism, “the ideological fight we see as the key to victory.”

In detailing his department’s layered defense for the country, the assistant secretary outlined specific strategic defenses DoD now has in place. He said the department is working with other agencies, in particular the Department of Homeland Security, to help make the country safer.

The department’s plan includes strategies for air, land and sea, he said.

McHale pointed out that the North American Aerospace Defense Command has been patrolling and monitoring the skies over the United States and Canada daily. He also noted that since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 39,500 fighter, aerial refueling, and airborne early-warning sorties have been flown in defense of the United States. Also, more than 1,900 fighter air patrols have responded to unknown aircraft and other suspicious flight operations.

Maritime defenses have included Navy and Coast Guard ship patrols of U.S. sea approaches and international waters and territorial seas, McHale said.

“Additionally, in multiple theaters in the global war on terror, the Navy is conducting maritime interception operations to deter, delay and disrupt the movement of terrorists and terrorist-related materials at sea before they can reach our shores,” he said. “Over the course of the last year, the Navy monitored, queried and boarded more than 2,200 merchant vessels.”

On land, he said, the Defense Department is working with civil agencies such as the Department of Justice, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies at federal, state and local levels “to identify, track, and capture terrorists who may have penetrated our nation’s borders.” However, he noted, “in these activities, DoD’s role is to provide support to civil authorities, when appropriate and as permitted by law.”

DoD’s plan to assist civilian law enforcement agencies goes even further, McHale said, as the department stands ready to provide “direct defense” to assist civil authorities in the event of an emergency.

Those defenses include quick- and rapid-reaction forces made up of Army and Marine units ready to respond to a wide range of potential threats to the country. Also, he said, several joint task forces have been created to provide consequence management and civil support to state and local authorities in the case of a crisis or threat, such as weapons of mass destruction attack.

Joint Task Force Civil Support, with headquarters at Fort Monroe, Va.; Joint Task Force Consequence Management East, with headquarters at Fort Gillem, Ga.; and Joint Task Force Consequence Management West, with headquarters at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, were among many such task forces he mentioned.

McHale emphasized the close working relationship DoD has with the Homeland Security Department. In 2003, he said, DoD and DHS signed a memorandum of agreement that authorized detailing some 64 DoD personnel to DHS to fill critical specialties, principally in the areas of communications and intelligence.

DoD continues to maintain a “24/7 presence” in DHS’ Homeland Security Operations Center, McHale said, providing planning teams when needed for the DHS Interagency Incident Management Group – a group of senior federal department and agency officials focused on incident response.

There is also a DoD advisory and liaison office -- the Homeland Defense Coordination Office -- within DHS headquarters, he noted.

McHale said DoD also has an important role in DHS plans to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. In this capacity, he said, “DoD must work closely with private-sector owners of critical defense infrastructure to deter, mitigate or neutralize terrorist attacks in order to sustain military operations.”

Protecting that infrastructure, “is essential to ensuring the mission readiness of our military forces to protect the United States and to project power globally,” he emphasized.

Another way DoD is improving homeland defense is by working with the intelligence community in helping to “maintain maximum awareness of threats to the United States,” McHale said.

He also expressed confidence that the global war on terrorism would be won. “The citizens of this nation, its institutions and our brave men and women in uniform have repeatedly demonstrated the patriotism, toughness, innovation, determination and resiliency to defeat our enemies while retaining our freedoms,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that those capabilities will be tested against this newest enemy threat – nor is there any doubt of our inevitable triumph.”

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