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New command will protect U.S.

By PAMELA HESS, Pentagon correspondent

WASHINGTON, April 17 (UPI) -- The Pentagon in October will debut a new command organization, U.S. Northern Command, to oversee the defense of the United States and to streamline support to civilian agencies during natural disasters, top Defense officials announced Wednesday.

"The creation of NORTHCOM means that we now have a command assigned to defend the American people where they live and work, and it will be functioning in a supporting role to civil authorities as occasions arise," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

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Defense of the United States had been the responsibility of several different military organizations. The new 2002 Unified Command Plan unveiled at a Pentagon news conference pulls those pieces under a single four-star general, a move the department hopes will ease confusion and crisscrossing chains of command during emergencies.

"Probably if you looked back at how the department responded to needs up in New York after the World Trade Center, you might find that while not confusion, there was not good unity of effort in that case. There was a lot of a well-meaning folks trying to do ... the right thing," Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said. "(W)e'll have a focus on that that will allow us to provide what's needed at the right time to the right federal agency or perhaps a state agency, as the case may be."

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U.S. Northern Command will gather under it all aspects of military homeland defense, including NORAD -- responsible for North America's air defense -- and units specially trained to respond to chemical, nuclear and biological weapons events.

NORTHCOM will join the four other geographic commands -- European Command, Central Command, Southern Command and Pacific Command -- with the power to mobilize troops in support of a military objective, but has one important limitation: U.S. law forbids the American military from operating on U.S. soil, except in support of a civilian agency or under a special emergency.

For that reason, NORTHCOM will be a "supporting" command, offering manpower, technology and expertise as needed to organizations such as the FBI, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Customs Service.

If the United States comes under physical attack, NORTHCOM would direct the ships, aircraft and ground forces in its defense. It would likely be based at Peterson AFB, Colo., current home to North American Aerospace Command.

Joint Forces Command, formerly known as Atlantic Command and based in Norfolk, Va., will give up its homeland defense responsibilities and instead focus on experimentation with new military tactics and equipment, part of an ongoing effort to transform the armed forces into fighting units better able to meet a wide variety of unconventional threats.

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European Command, based in Germany and also the military commander of NATO's military forces, will increase its geographic area of responsibility to include Russia and the Atlantic from 500 miles off the coast of the United States to the European and African continents.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was too significant an adversary to be included in a single geographic area and military matters were addressed directly from the Pentagon. With its collapse and an improved relationship between Russia and the United States, Russia will now fall under EUCOM's area of responsibility.

Southern Command, overseeing South America and parts of the Caribbean from its headquarters in Miami will remain relatively unchanged. U.S. Pacific Command, based in Honolulu will assume responsibility for operations around Antarctica, a previously unassigned area.

There are also four "functional" commands, which oversee important military capabilities that support the "warfighting" or geographic commands.

U.S. Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the nuclear arsenal, may be merged into a single command, Myers said. The missions of U.S. Special Operations Command and Transportation Command will remain unchanged.

Leadership of NORAD will transfer from the commander of U.S. Space Command, currently Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart, to NORTHCOM.

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Eberhart is expected to be given command of NORTHCOM, defense officials said.

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