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Northcom's Muddy Mission

Spencer Ackerman has a dynamite article in this week's New Republic about the Defense Department's Katrina response.honore.jpgBottom line: "The system that we have worked as it was designed. It was never designed to get masses of aid into place in 24 hours. And that's the problem."

Four years after September 11, the Pentagon's homeland security apparatus still possesses more Qs than As. National Guardsmen, under the command of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, didn't reach New Orleans until Friday. Northcom [U.S. Northern Command] established a joint task force to facilitate help, but many of the ships it ordered to the Gulf Coast just reached the area this week. It's true that the Defense Department doesn't bear the lion's share of the blame for the disastrously shiftless response to the hurricane: Its domestic operations, justifiably constrained to limit the use of the military in the United States, support state governors and the Department of Homeland Security, which spectacularly failed its first major post-September 11 test last week. But its uncertain response to Katrina underscores [Heritage Foundation homeland security guru Jim] Carafano's long-standing concern that homeland security still isn't the priority in the Pentagon that it needs to be...[After 9/11, the Pentagon created its Northern Command, to protect the continental United States.] But, in practice, the Pentagon didn't seem to prioritize potential domestic missions. Northcom, for example, was given responsibility for directing military operations in the event of a domestic disaster but was not given command over any troops and hardware for its immediate use...It took another two years for [Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense Paul] McHale to issue a Defense Department strategy for homeland security...[When Katrina hit, Northcom had a] lack of immediately deployable military assets. By Thursday... [Northcom's] JTF Katrina's initial contribution of about eight naval ships and 50 helicopters had yet to arrive, nor had the hospital ship Comfort left its Baltimore port...What's more, in at least some cases, a lack of coordination between northcom and the Guard hampered the relief effort. Colonel Roy Nomey of the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Infantry Brigade eagerly awaited the arrival of JTF Katrina's additional vehicles for his food-distribution mission, since his 300 men (the remaining 3,700 troops in his brigade are in Iraq) didn't have sufficient equipment to get them to New Orleanians in need. "My people are ready. We're poised around New Orleans to set up food distribution centers, but we don't have enough vehicles that sit high enough to get through the flooded streets," Nomey told The Dallas Morning News.
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