- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

The U.S. military’s largest domestic deployment in history has topped the 70,000-troop level in the Gulf Coast region, and its personnel have flown more than 1,300 missions, evacuated more than 80,000 residents and rescued about 15,000 people from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

More than 20,000 active-duty personnel have joined 50,000-plus National Guardsmen in Louisiana and Mississippi. Another 4,000 troops were expected to move into the area by tonight.

By law, active-duty forces cannot perform law enforcement functions. Instead, they are focusing on rescues and resupply. According to an internal Defense Department memo, combat soldiers will not be required to recover the dead. They will mark and record the locations, leaving recovery to mortuary-affairs teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). And, no military personnel will participate in forced evacuations.

A second internal memo says the New Orleans mayor and police chief will set up shop on the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima and USS Shreveport at the city’s port.

The Little Rock, Ark., Air Force Base is serving as a hub for supply shipments coming in from more than 100 nations and 11 international groups, the memo states.

While the Pentagon continues to pour troops into Gulf states, it also is fighting a public relations battle to rebut press criticism that it was slow to respond to Katrina.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said earlier this week that the Pentagon drew up varied contingency plans as Katrina massed in the Gulf of Mexico. Once asked to respond by the Department of Homeland Security, the troops and equipment moved immediately, they said.

Mr. Rumsfeld told talk radio’s “Sean Hannity Show”: “As they began to make requests of us, obviously, we filled them as rapidly as humanly possible. And indeed I would go so far as to say we were leaning so far forward that we were actually moving things and prepositioning things well before we were ever asked for them.”

Lt. Gen. Joseph Inge, deputy chief of U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for defending the United States, said the military’s overall task force headquarters arrived in the Gulf of Mexico region on Aug. 30, the day after Katrina struck.

“We know that we moved vessels,” he said. “Very quickly, helicopters were in the air over the disaster area. … We were prepared to respond according to the laws of our land, and that’s what we did. … If you look at the time it took us to get there, I think we had a pretty doggone fast response.”

The unprecedented relief operations revealed the disjointed command structure under which the government responds to disasters.

All active-duty forces, and most National Guard troops, are under the control of Northern Command, which reports to the Pentagon. But the Louisiana National Guard has remained under the command of its adjutant general and the governor.

Federal relief personnel at FEMA answer to a different boss — the Department of Homeland Security, which reports to the White House.

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