WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Friday insisted it is ready to respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear attack inside the United States, rejecting an independent panel’s criticism of its preparations.
But the Pentagon conceded it is not yet satisfied with its plans to respond to some of the 15 catastrophic attack scenarios that federal agencies have been ordered to prepare for, such as a nuclear attack or a series of chemical attacks throughout the country.
Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said plans to respond to those scenarios would be improved this year.
“We are prepared to respond,” McHale said. “We are not prepared to respond with the speed, the efficiency and the effectiveness that we intend to achieve.”
McHale said detailed plans for a response to a major hurricane or pandemic influenza were well developed and on par with the blueprint drafted for war operations.
When it came to responding to a nuclear attack, a series of dirty bomb attacks, an aerosolized anthrax attack or a series of chemical weapons attacks throughout the country, the current plans were inadequate, McHale said.
“That is a candid recognition, a blunt recognition that we are not where we need to be,” he said.
McHale dismissed the harsh criticism directed at the Defense Department on Thursday by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserve and its chairman, retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro.
Punaro called planning for a domestic attack “totally unacceptable.” The commission was especially worried about an “appalling” lack of trained troops for that role.
McHale said the Pentagon agreed with some commission proposals — including its recommendation that National Guard troops have the lead role in the its operations during domestic emergency response situations. But he called core elements of the report fundamentally flawed.
The National Guard is a part-time force with a dual mandate to fight overseas and serve in domestic defense and emergency response roles.
The Pentagon rejected the commission’s proposal to have the Guard focus more squarely on its domestic role, leaving overseas fighting to the active-duty military.
The Pentagon has relied heavily on the Guard in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Using reservists allowed the United States to fight those wars without a draft, the commission said.
Confining reservists to domestic defense would require the active-duty Army to grow by more than a third immediately and threaten the viability of the all-volunteer military, said Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, head of the Guard.
Reporting by Kristin Roberts, Editing by Alan Elsner