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 News Article

Unified Command Plan Changes Announced

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 1999 – Changes in the Unified Command Plan replace the U.S. Atlantic Command, increase emphasis on homeland defense and extend the U.S. European Command's area of responsibility to the water areas around Europe and Africa.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Henry Shelton, made the recommendations that President Clinton approved Sept. 30 by signing the plan revision.

The Unified Command Plan allocates responsibilities among the nine combatant commands. It establishes the commands’ missions, responsibilities and force structure. The plan also defines the geographical commands' areas of responsibilities.

In the biggest change, the U.S. Joint Forces Command succeeds the U.S. Atlantic Command. The “reflagging” ceremony will be held Oct. 7 in Norfolk, Va. Command headquarters will remain in Norfolk. The commander, currently Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., will be dual-hatted as NATO's supreme allied commander, Atlantic.

One of the new missions of the Joint Forces Command is to provide military assistance to civil authorities in the event of an attack or accident involving weapons of mass destruction. A Joint Task Force for Civil Support commanded by a two-star general officer will carry out the mission. The Command is also tasked to accelerate opportunities for forces to gain training and experience in joint warfighting.

A growing area of concern for the United States is defending against cyberattacks. The plan assigns the Joint Task Force for Computer Network Defense to the U.S. Space Command. The task force, operational since December 1998, will continue to work closely with the Defense Information Systems Agency. The force recently proved its worth during the "Melissa" virus attack. Assigning the task force to Space Command will strengthen U.S. ability to counter cyberwarfare.

Command geographic boundaries are also affected by the revised plan. Responsibility for the waters off the east coast of Africa will be transferred from Pacific Command to European Command. The Atlantic Command areas that presently include the waters off Europe and the west coast of Africa will likewise be transferred to European Command.

The commander of U.S. European Command already had responsibility for all U.S. land and air military planning in Europe and most of Africa. This change simply gives the commander the responsibility for maritime planning in the same general area of operations. The changes will be effective Oct. 1, 2000.

One of the more controversial aspects of the Unified Command Plan is its assignment of homeland defense to Joint Forces Command. There is debate within DoD, at the White House, in Congress, other federal agencies and at the state level as to the military’s role in homeland defense.

DoD officials said that while the debate on the role continues, the changes in the Unified Command Plan would give the department the flexibility to implement the results. Officials said the department in no way seeks a domestic law enforcement mission. DoD recognizes that the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have the primary responsibility in the event of an attack by weapons of mass destruction. The department stands ready to play a supporting role, they said.

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