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Friday, September 02, 2005

Army 911

Hurricane Katrina's devastation and the subsequent break down of the rule of law in New Orleans and surrounding areas has weighed heavily on my mind the last few days.

There has been rightful consternation among many that the federal government has acted so slowly in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Gulf States. In fact, much of the 101st Air Assault Division, 911 for the Army, foreign and domestic, sits on post back in Ft Campbell. One could argue it should have been called in and this is exactly the kind of domestic operation it is suited for. The division's air assets could have been used quite effectively for security, and search and rescue operations. Part of the air-mobile component of the division, the CH-47 troop transport helicopter, can carry a platoon of soldiers, some 40 in all. Each helo could have been flown to pick up points, or landing zones, islands of despair within the drowning city, pre-designated by civil or military aerial reconnaissance, or even private and news media helicopters.

Troops could then exit the helos establishing a standard 360-degree security perimeter, which they are already well trained to do, and assist civilians onto the helo. While the civilians are flown to pre-designated safe spots, the soldiers still on the ground at the landing zone could continue to ready additional passengers, search for survivors, and even quell lawlessness with lethal force (I realize there are some issues with the last use). The CH-47 would then return to do it all over again or pick up the platoon or squads and move on to another pre-identified landing zone to pick up more displaced persons.

The whole operation wouldn't have taken more than a couple of days and the city could have been more or less evacuated by now if organized and implemented promptly in the wake of the hurricane. (Of course, this scenario envisions an additional level of deployment of troops and resources to operate and assist the effort at the safe spots.)

But the 101st, while at base in Kentucky, is prepping for a September deployment to Iraq. Many of the soldiers of the 187 brigade for instance, are on block leave through the Labor Day weekend--their last time with family before they ship out to hazardous duty for more than a year. Deploying the 101st to Louisiana would also have a trickle down implications for other units in Iraq and elsewhere.

Most capability studies question the ability of the armed forces to fight multiple wars simultaneously. War games probably never calculated a simultaneous catastrophic national disaster into the scenario, but that is exactly what happened. At a time when military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia are stretching our nation’s ability to project military power, a national disaster struck, adding one more burden to be shouldered by the national command structure. Poor planning, dumb luck or just a highly improbably scenario--the poor and disenfranchised of New Orleans will pay the price of an over extended security apparatus.


Blogger Blake said...


My mind has been heavy in thought towards the situation in New Orleans as well. My father in law works as a naval officer and provided some good insight concerning the federal relief delay.

1. Social prejudice. He said he felt the sense of "we told them to get out." But the poor can't get out.
2. Command and Control issues. He says the gov waited for Louisiana to ask for help which they didn't till late wed or thurs. The feds should have taken initiative though. He says a lot of people still don't know who's in charge of what.
3. International priority. He also said that the federal government seems to care more for foreign aid when the "world is watching." if that's a case, that is very said. we elected these individuals for US citizens first, then the rest of humanity.

I feel the government is to blame for the delay. However, i do not feel this is similar to a terroist attack like many reporters say. Terrorist have nothing on mother nature. If you really feel the need to blame someone right away, blame the category 5 Katrina and the civil engineering of the city that's 10feet below sea level, yet right next to the sea...

11:53 AM  
Blogger GRRidd said...


As the levees colapsed and the city of New Orleans was submerged, I too thought about all those helicopters at Fort Campbell. And while I agree that the 101st's imminently scheduled departure likely contributed (if it was not wholly responsible) to the unit not mobilizing in support of the relief effort, I thought I'd throw out some additional thoughts on other obstacles--beyond those incident to an over-extended military--to the type of intervention you describe in your post.

The Posse Comitatus act of 1878 prohibits the use of federal troops for law enforcement within the continental United States. In general, this prohibition is something to be thankful for; it keeps the military from being used to prop up unpopular administrations or otherwise becoming politicized. In situations like Katrina, however, it means that any federal troops involved in the relief effort have to be unarmed. This is why we had reports early on of the relief effort suspending airborne rescue operations because the aircraft were receiving small-arms fire from the ground--the military personnel were not permitted, by law, to return fire. Federal troops operating in New Orleans would have had to do so without weapons, and their operations would have been limited to support roles such as delivering MREs, rebuilding levees, and so on.

Additionally, there's apparently a staged system of response when it comes to using federal troops to respond to domestic emergencies. I am not familiar with its legal basis, but it has been explained to me as follows:

1. at the first stage, National guard troops under the control of the governor are deployed.
2. if necessary, national guard troops under federal control join the efforts
3. and, finally, active-duty, federal troops are mobilized and deployed.

My guess is that that sort of bureucratic progression adds considerably to overall reaction time.

Of course, the president could have bypassed the above progression, and the Posse Comitatus Act by invoking the Insurrection Act. Under the Insurrection Act, it would have been possible to send in air assaults a la Apocalypse Now, amphibious landings, and the full might of the United States military to restore order. And that, I think we can agree, would have made for some awesome video.

There are, however, legal complications associated with invoking the Insurrection Act (does, for example, the anarchy in the streets of New Orleans satisfy the legal definition of an insurrection?), so that might not be the ideal solution either.

And finally, and perhaps most likely, I have read that there were a host of political concerns as well Here, in the New York Times. I hate domestic politics, so I won't really get into that.

In short, my perception from this coast was that U.S. law, concerns over federalism, political infighting, and perhaps the personal incompetence of the director of FEMA were primarily to blame, on the federal end, for the problems associated with the response to Katrina. I have not yet seen a comprehensive list of the military units involved in the response yet, but I wouldn't be too surprised if troops tended to be unavailable for the concerns mentioned above rather than overseas commitments.

Anyway, sorry to bore you. Talk to you soon.


ps. I have seen on the news that for the last week or so at least the 82nd Airborne has had armed patrols operating in the city. I am not sure how, legally, the powers that be worked around this apparent violation of Posse Comitatus, but I will find out. My guess is that they were seconded to state control, although I can't say definitively that that's even possible for active-duty troops. I'll let you know what I find out.

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