Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Pentagon’s latest four-year strategy report calls for setting up a special military task force to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being transferred to terrorist groups, The Washington Times has learned.

The task force will employ special operations forces, other troops and intelligence personnel to prevent states such as North Korea and Iran from supplying nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to terror groups.

The call for the new unit, which would have several hundred troops along with aircraft and other arms, comes as tensions heighten over North Korea’s nuclear program and Iran’s refusal to abide by international controls on its uranium-enrichment program.

The proposal is contained in the report of the legally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review. The report will be sent to Congress on Feb. 6, but portions of an unclassified summary were made available to The Times.

Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita declined to comment on the report, which has not been made public.

“We have over the past few years focused on ways of having a standing and rapidly deployable task force,” Mr. Di Rita said. “It’s something that can respond quickly to a tough problem.”

A section of the report on combating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) said future U.S. military forces will have the capability to interdict and “render safe” weapons of mass destruction before terrorists can use them.

To counter the threat, the Defense Department will “develop new defensive capabilities in anticipation of the continued evolution of WMD threats,” the report said.

Evolving WMD threats include electromagnetic pulse weapons, portable nuclear devices, genetically engineered pathogens and new chemical arms, the report said. The report states that the four-star general in charge of the Omaha, Neb.-based U.S. Strategic Command has the lead role in countering WMD threats.

“The United States will have increased efforts to locate, track and tag shipments of WMD,” the report said. One key recommendation of the report is that “there shall be a joint task force for the elimination of WMD,” the report said.

A core element of the new joint task force will be the Army’s 20th Support Command, which will become a rapid deployment unit “to command and control WMD elimination missions by 2007,” the report stated.

The report also recommends that general-purpose military forces take over the job of foreign military training that special operations forces have done “so that special operations forces can increase their capacity to perform more demanding and specialized tasks.”

“They will possess an expanded ability to locate, tag and track dangerous individuals and other high value targets, globally,” the report said.

Special operations forces “will also have greater capacity to detect, locate, and render safe WMD.”

The unit will have its own intelligence component and be led by a two-star general or admiral, who defense officials said they hope will be a special operations veteran.

In addition to the WMD military unit, other key recommendations of the report include increasing special operations forces by 15 percent, creating a Marine Corps special operations command, setting up an Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle squadron, boosting the number of Navy SEAL commando teams and increasing Army psychological operations by 33 percent.

For homeland security, the report calls for spending $1.5 billion over the next five years for medical countermeasures against genetically engineered biological warfare agents.

Geographically, the report also contains a section on “countries at strategic crossroads” that examines the threats posed by China and Russia.

The recommendation for the WMD task force grew out a 2003 memorandum to senior Pentagon leaders by defense consultant Michael Pillsbury.

The plan called for setting up two standing units of special operations forces, one in Asia and one in Europe, to stop WMD transfers as deals are detected. Defense officials said Mr. Pillsbury has promoted the plan since in speeches to Army officials at Fort Bragg, N.C.

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