WASHINGTON – The U.S. military’s reserves and National Guard forces are not prepared to meet catastrophic threats at home and face an “appalling” shortage of forces able to respond to chemical, biological or nuclear strikes on U.S. soil, according to a congressional commission report released Thursday.
The problem is rooted in severe readiness problems in the reserves and National Guard forces, which would be well-suited to respond to domestic crises but suffer from a lack of personnel and training as well as a $48 billion shortage of equipment, the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves said in the report.
“Because the nation has not adequately resourced its forces designated for response to weapons of mass destruction, it does not have sufficient trained, ready forces available. This is an appalling gap that places the nation and its citizens at greater risk,” the report said.
National Guard readiness has continued to slide since March, when the commission found that 88 percent of Army National Guard units were rated “not ready,” commission Chairman Arnold Punaro said.
“We think there is an appalling gap in readiness for homeland defense because it will be the Guard and reserve that have to respond for these things,” Punaro said in an interview.
The commission’s report concluded that the Pentagon and Congress must act to transform and upgrade the nation’s military reserves into an operational force with many of the same capabilities as the active-duty forces. The military also must carry out the same kind of exhaustive contingency planning for domestic attacks and catastrophes that it does for developments overseas, according to the 400-page report, which includes 95 recommendations.
“You shouldn’t be dealing with WMD (weapons of mass destruction) scenarios with 52 pickup,” said Punaro. “It needs to be part of the deliberative planning process.”
The commission criticized steps taken so far by the Defense Department and Congress to create an operational reserve force as “reactive” and “timid,” saying there had been no serious debate on a matter vital to national security.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, nearly 600,000 reservists have served in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or other countries as part of the anti-terrorism campaign. The use of reservists, measured in man days, rose more than fivefold, according to the report.
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