WASHINGTON, April 17: Responding to the Sept. 11 attacks with the military’s biggest structural change in decades, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday said a new military command would be created this year to defend against attacks inside the United States.

The new Northern Command, the 10th such command in the U.S. military structure, would provide military support to federal, state and local authorities in the event of a terror attack.

It would be headed by a four-star officer, elevating the military’s role in homeland defense, but would not be directly connected to the White House office of homeland security established shortly after Sept. 11, Pentagon officials said.

“The plan we announce today is undoubtedly the most significant reform of our nation’s military command structure since the first command plan was issued shortly after World War Two,” Rumsfeld told reporters.

“It has some historic firsts. This is the first time that the continental United States will be assigned a commander for the Northern Command,” he said.

The new command, responsible for land, air and sea defenses, was to have headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado and start operating on Oct. 1, Rumsfeld said.

The head of Northern Command would also be in charge of the existing North American Aerospace Defense Command, headquartered in Colorado, which oversees the defense of American skies in conjunction with Canada’s military.

While mainly expected to play a supporting role to local authorities, one exception in which the military would be the first to respond to an attack would be a chemical, biological or nuclear attack on Washington, Rumsfeld said.

Other military commands have responsibility over geographic regions, such as Central Command in Tampa, Florida, which is overseeing the war in Afghanistan.

With the Northern Command, the U.S. military command structure will cover Canada and Mexico for the first time, being responsible for security and military coordination with the two countries that share borders with the United States, the Pentagon said.

In other changes announced by the Pentagon, Russia and the Caspian Sea will for the first time be included as part of the U.S. European Command.

“Russia’s new status will give them the best of both worlds. They will have a command close by geographically that can deal with our military-to-military relationship on a daily basis and still maintain a dialogue with Washington,” said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said.

“This change allows for more cooperation and coordination between our militaries,” he said. “I also think it is one more signal that our post-Cold War relationship is improving.”—Reuters

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