If al Qaeda and other terrorists were given
even “half an opening,” they would use weapons of mass destructions within
the United States, said DoD’s official responsible for homeland defense.
“That’s a chilling but hard reality,” Paul McHale, assistant secretary of
defense for homeland defense told members of the Reserve Officers
Association here today. He said he’s personally convinced that “we must be
prepared not only to defeat such attacks, but, God forbid, to respond to
McHale spoke at the mid-winter conference of the association, which
represents about 78,000 Reserve and regular officers, both active and
He told the officers that in the foreseeable future many of them will be
called upon as part of the nation’s WMD response capability and warned them
that “transnational terrorism” has changed the battlefield they will be
“We have passed from the Cold War to al Qaeda,” he noted. “We have had to
face the harsh reality that our enemy now considers [the continental United
States] to be a primary battlefront and we have no doubt that if given the
opportunity, they will attack us with weapons of mass destruction.”
But McHale also gave details of how the Guard and Reserves would fit into
U.S. plans to counter such threats at home.
The U.S. Northern Command has been a major element in U.S. homeland defense
since it was established in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Part of NORTHCOM’s mission is to conduct operations to prevent and defeat
threats and aggression against the United States and its territories. The
command has few permanently assigned units, and will likely be assigned
Guard and Reserve forces, when needed, McHale explained.
Counterterrorism is normally a civilian law enforcement function of forces
such as the local police and FBI. McHale said that as part of NORTHCOM,
Guard and Reserve soldiers could help those civilian officials provide a
“fused capability” and a second layer of defense against terrorism.
“We rely on our police officers, we rely on our FBI in the first instance to
protect us from domestic activities related to foreign terrorists,” McHale
said. But he added that if the concept of operations to be employed by
terrorists exceeds the reasonable capability of law enforcement, those
police officers are going to need back up with superior firepower. “We find
that (firepower) within the National Guard,” he explained.
McHale said the layered defense would include “civilian police officers
protecting us at the first level, the National Guard providing an immediate
backup ability, and in a warfighting role if necessary under extraordinary
circumstances, (active duty) soldiers and Marines prepared to deploy within
our own country to physically protect the sites that might be subject to an
al Qaeda attack.”
Another role for reserves would be in the nation’s maritime defense, he
explained. McHale noted that if terrorists were to bring a weapon of mass
destruction into the United States, it would likely be through a U.S. port.
“And I believe it is likely that material would be brought into our country
through the maritime domain that has been assigned to NORTHCOM.”
He said NORTHCOM’s area of responsibility extends 500 nautical miles out to
sea. Although he applauded the Coast Guard’s efforts in defending U.S.
coastlines, he added that “if we have the battle space in the maritime
domain, in my judgment, we should use it.”
He said that confronting terrorism on the high seas presents an
“unprecedented opportunity” for the United States Navy and its reserve
members. “There is an emerging role for the Navy to defeat that threat on
the high seas at the greatest possible distance from U.S. shores,” he
explained. McHale add that the opportunity exists to get Naval Reservists
“back out on blue water” engaged in warfighting activity aimed at the
terrorist threat. He said they would also be in the air engaging in
surveillance and improving maritime domain awareness.
Meanwhile, McHale called on reserve officers to continue do their part to
defeat terrorism. Despite recent successes in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said
their work isn’t finished.
“Because the brutal Taliban regime no longer rules Afghanistan, because the
remnants of al Qaeda’s leadership can no longer find safe haven anywhere on
earth, because Saddam Hussein no longer leads a repressive dictatorship in
Iraq, the world is undeniably a safer and better place,” he said. “That
outcome was not foreordained. Courageous young Americans, including reserve
officers, bled and died to make it happen. While much has been accomplished,
the job is not over.”
McHale said the terrorist attacks of the past decade have made it clear that
al Qaeda is seeking to impose a brutal totalitarian conformity on the free
people of the world. “As reserve officers of this generation,” he told the
audience, “you must refuse to let that happen.”