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American Forces Press Service

Task Force Counters Terrorist WMD Threat

 

  By Jim Garamone
  
 American Forces Press Service
 

 WASHINGTON -- Terrorists have been a fact of life for 
 hundreds of years. 
 
 Frightful acts of violence, or the threat of those acts, 
 are the way disaffected groups try to impose their will on 
 the majority.
 
 "The United States is not immune to terrorist acts," said 
 Army Brig. Gen. Bruce M. Lawlor, commander of Joint Task 
 Force-Civil Support in Norfolk, Va. The task force, he 
 said, is a "new organization designed to meet a new 
 threat."
 
 The bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City in 
 February 1993 and the Murrah Federal Office Building in 
 Oklahoma City in April 1995 are just two examples of 
 terrorist acts in the United States. Farther back in U.S. 
 history were the Haymarket Square bombing in Chicago in May 
 1886 and the bombing of U.S. Attorney General Alexander 
 Mitchell Palmer's home in June 1919.
 
 The terrorists in those attacks used conventional 
 explosives. If a terrorist group uses a biological, 
 chemical or nuclear weapon, the consequences will quickly 
 overwhelm local and state abilities. 
 
 Terrorists have already added even more frightful weapons 
 to their arsenals -- weapons of mass destruction. In Japan, 
 for instance, the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult released 
 Sarin nerve agent into the Tokyo subway system in March 
 1995, killing 12 people and injuring more than 5,000 
 others.
 
 Lawlor, who served in the Vermont National Guard, said his 
 task force would provide command and control over DoD 
 forces in the event of the use, or threatened use, of 
 weapons of mass destruction in the United States, its 
 territories and possessions. DoD formed the organization to 
 coordinate the department's response to terrorist use of 
 these weapons and to serve as a focal point for planning, 
 training and doctrine. 
 
 "The U.S. military brings two things to this that other 
 agencies do not," Lawlor said. "First, we have many people 
 who are trained to work in a contaminated environment. 
 Second, we can mobilize, organize and deploy large numbers 
 of people very quickly." The latter point is especially 
 important -- "time means lives," he said. 
 
 The Joint Task Force, part of U.S. Joint Forces Command, 
 will always work only in support of a civilian federal lead 
 agency, he noted. The FBI would be the lead agent for 
 investigations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency 
 would handle "consequence management."
 
 In the event of an attack, the Joint Task Force mission is 
 threefold -- save lives, prevent suffering and help restore 
 critical life support systems. The task force would DoD's 
 command and control center for military support to civilian 
 authorities. 
 
 The mission's not really new, Lawlor said. "For years, DoD 
 has provided support to civilian agencies," he said. "In 
 Oklahoma City, 800 National Guardsmen and about 400 active 
 duty personnel helped. The point is, we are there as a 
 support function. We don't do law enforcement or arrest 
 people."
 
 There is also a precedent for DoD civil support during 
 natural disasters. A total of 23,000 active duty and 
 reserve service members helped after Hurricane Andrew 
 struck South Florida in 1992. DoD personnel often pitch in 
 to fight forest fires, floods and other crises. DoD will 
 continue providing resources for natural disasters through 
 the Director of Military Support in the Pentagon. 
 
 The Joint Task Force grew out of DoD's experiences during 
 the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Previous DoD support to 
 civil authorities was ad hoc, but the scope of the Olympics 
 and the length of time and amount of support requested 
 meant an ad hoc approach would not work. Joint Task Force-
 Atlanta handled all the DoD support.
 
 "It worked well," Lawlor said. "And when DoD looked at the 
 threat of weapons of mass destruction, planners realized 
 the importance of a standing task force dedicated to civil 
 support in case of a terrorist attack using these weapons."
 
 The Joint Task Force works out of a building next to Joint 
 Forces Command headquarters. There is a core group of 38 
 people dedicated to planning DoD response. The task force 
 will call on the command's available expertise if needed. 
 It has a $4 million fiscal 2000 budget, will be fully 
 operational in April, and is already examining its roles. 
 
 "We're looking at the resources we will need for 
 consequence management," Lawlor said. "We are looking to 
 develop doctrine to cope with this type of emergency. We 
 are also identifying training plans and exercises to test 
 our response."
 
 The task force also works with local, state and federal 
 agencies to identify requirements and will coordinate all 
 DoD weapons of mass destruction consequence management 
 plans.