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Some Security Duties May End

WASHINGTON (AP) - Pentagon officials are trying to shed some of the extra homeland security burden troops took on after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Army Secretary Thomas White wants the Army National Guard relieved of its security duties at the nation's airports in the coming months, a spokesman said Thursday.

He wrote to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta asking for civilian federal employees to take over the jobs in the next two or three months, said Army spokesman Col. Joe Allen.

Already this month, the Air Force said it was rethinking how to handle extra security it has provided with air patrols over American cities.

After terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside, President Bush asked state governors to post National Guard troops at the nation's airports as a step to use federal control of airline security to coax Americans back into the skies.

The effort put some 6,000 Guard troops at more than 400 airports around the country. Bush envisioned them there for up to six months, which would mean through March.

"That's what we needed - an immediate fix," Army spokesman Allen said. "And the military can do that.

"But ... as soon as a permanent solution can be implemented, the secretary has indicated he would like to get the Guard out," Allen said. He said that's what White told Mineta in his letter.

In it, White said he hoped the transportation secretary could get the planned civilian security operations in place at airports in the next 60 to 90 days, Allen said.

He said White asked the Mineta to get his security plan in operation "as soon as possible ... so we can begin pulling the Guard troops."

The Guard is needed to help out with next month's Winter Olympics in Utah, other homeland security jobs and for their normal duties, Allen said.

An Air Force contribution to Operation Noble Eagle, the name for homeland defense, are jet fighter patrols that have flown round-the-clock over Washington and New York and at random times over other major metropolitan areas and crucial installations since Sept. 11.

Some 250 airplanes and thousands of people staff the operation, in which jets also are on alert at 30 bases to scramble if called. The planes include some 100 fighter jets as well as tankers for refueling in flight and AWACS - Airborne Warning and Control System - planes for radar.

Officials knew from the outset that the continuous use of manpower and equipment couldn't be kept up without end, officials said.

Now that four months have passed and aviation security has been improved somewhat, some wonder if it might be time to start talks about a scaled-back alternative to the patrols, the official said.

From Sept. 11 to Dec. 10, the operation flew 13,000 sorties. The cost was $324 million, officials say.

The combat air patrols are the first of their kind over the United States since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

The fighter pilots have been mostly from Air National Guard units.

On the Net: Army National Guard:

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Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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