Military drafts war plans for terrorist attacks
Preparing scenarios for action on US soil a shift for Pentagon
COLORADO SPRINGS -- The US military has devised its first-ever war plans for guarding against and responding to terrorist attacks in the United States, envisioning 15 potential crisis scenarios and anticipating several simultaneous strikes around the country, according to officers who drafted the plans.
The classified plans, developed here at Northern Command headquarters, outline a variety of possible roles for quick-reaction forces estimated at as many as 3,000 ground troops per attack, a number that could easily grow depending on the extent of the damage and the abilities of civilian response teams.
The possible scenarios range from ''low end," relatively modest crowd-control missions to ''high-end," full-scale disaster management after catastrophic attacks such as the release of a deadly biological agent or the explosion of a radiological device, several officers said.
Some of the worst-case scenarios involve three attacks at the same time, in keeping with a Pentagon directive earlier this year to plan for multiple simultaneous attacks.
The war plans represent a historic shift for the Pentagon, which has been reluctant to become involved in domestic operations and is legally constrained from engaging in law enforcement. Defense officials continue to emphasize that they intend for the troops to play a supporting role in homeland emergencies, bolstering police, firefighters, and other civilian response groups.
But the new plans provide for what several senior officers acknowledged is the likelihood that the military will have to take charge in some situations, especially when dealing with mass-casualty attacks that could quickly overwhelm civilian resources.
''In my estimation, [in the event of] a biological, a chemical or nuclear attack in any of the 50 states, the Department of Defense is best positioned -- of the various eight federal agencies that would be involved -- to take the lead," said Admiral Timothy J. Keating, the head of Northcom, which coordinates military involvement in homeland security operations.
The plans present the Pentagon with a clearer idea of the kinds and numbers of troops and the training that might be required to build a more credible homeland defense force. They come at a time when senior Pentagon officials are engaged in an internal, yearlong review of force levels and weapons systems, attempting to balance the heightened requirements of homeland defense against the heavy demands of overseas deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
Keating expressed confidence that existing military assets are sufficient to meet homeland security needs. Major General Richard J. Rowe, Northcom's chief operations officer, agreed, but he added that ''stress points" in some military capabilities probably would result if troops were called on to deal with multiple homeland attacks.
Several people on the staff here and at the Pentagon said in interviews that the debate and analysis within the US government regarding the extent of the homeland threat and the resources necessary to guard against it remain far from resolved.
Pentagon authorities have rejected the idea of creating large standing units dedicated to homeland missions. Instead, they favor a ''dual use" approach, drawing on a common pool of troops trained both for homeland and overseas assignments.
Particular reliance is being placed on the National Guard, which is expanding a network of 22-member civil support teams to all states and forming about a dozen 120-member regional response units. Congress last year also gave the Guard expanded authority under Title 32 of the US Code to perform such homeland missions as securing power plants and other critical facilities.
The Northcom commander can also quickly call on active-duty forces. On top of previous powers to send fighter jets into the air, Keating earlier this year gained the authority to dispatch Navy and Coast Guard ships to deal with suspected threats off US coasts. He has immediate access to four active-duty Army battalions based around the country, officers here said.
Nonetheless, when it comes to ground forces possibly taking a lead role in homeland operations, senior Northcom officers remain reluctant to discuss specifics. Keating said such situations, if they arise, probably would be temporary.
Military exercises code-named Vital Archer, which involve troops in lead roles, are shrouded in secrecy. Other homeland exercises featuring troops in supporting roles are widely publicized.
Civil liberties groups have warned that the military's expanded involvement in homeland defense could bump up against the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which restricts the use of troops in domestic law enforcement. But Pentagon authorities have told Congress they see no need to change the law.
According to military lawyers here, the dispatch of ground troops would most likely be justified on the basis of the president's authority under Article 2 of the Constitution to serve as commander in chief and protect the nation. The Posse Comitatus Act exempts actions authorized by the Constitution.