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Northcom Chief Vows to Address Worries About New Homeland Unit

A senior military official pledged Wednesday to address congressional concerns about a new homeland emergency response task force that is designed to respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear attack.

Air Force Gen. Victor E Renuart Jr., commander of U.S. Northern Command (Northcom), also told reporters that the new force, which will eventually total 20,000 personnel, will not require new funding right now and is not meant to authorize the federal government to enforce martial law.

Last week, Rep. John P. Murtha , D-Pa., the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, complained that Congress had not been properly briefed on the new initiative, complicating its job as steward of the defense budget.

Renuart said that he planned to meet with Murtha in the coming weeks to discuss the program. “There have been some misunderstandings on the part of some in Congress on what this force is designed to do,” he said.

He said the unit, which is called the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive Consequence Management Response Force (CCMRF), will not require significant new funding from Congress.

The new task force has come under fire from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union that are concerned the move furthers the militarization of the homeland security mission. Critics also say the move could violate the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which aims to prohibit the federal government from using the armed forces in a domestic law enforcement capacity without congressional approval.

Renuart said the Pentagon does maintain a capability to impose order following a domestic crisis if law enforcement and national guard security efforts fail. But he added that he did not anticipate that scenario and it is not the mission of the new force.

“It is not a force designed to go in and enforce laws. The national guard is empowered to do that through the states,” said Renuart, “This force is designed to go and render assistance and aid, as opposed to create security.”

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