The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon plans to call several thousand reservists to active duty in the next few days in what defense officials said Thursday would likely mark the start of a much larger military mobilization in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist strikes.
The initial call-up will focus on reservists with specialized skills, according to a senior military official. He said many of the extra personnel were necessary to support combat air patrols over major metropolitan areas instituted this week. They will fill out the ranks of pilots, aviation maintenance crews and air traffic controllers.
The Pentagon has the authorization to call about 40,000 reservists, the official said.
State authorities already have enlisted about 10,000 National Guard troops to assist in civilian recovery efforts in Washington, D.C., and New York.
Meanwhile, active duty sailors and troops at Western Washington’s military installations also are gearing up for a call to duty as the nation prepares to respond to Tuesday’s deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Navy pilots stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station were told to pack their bags.
"We are ready to accomplish any mission that we’re called upon to do," Col. Paul Selva, commander of the active-duty 62nd Airlift Wing at McChord Air Force Base, said in a statement Thursday.
More than 40 cargo planes capable of carrying hundreds of troops and thousands of pounds of military equipment were checked, fueled and ready for takeoff from McChord.
The Pentagon move on reserves represents the first significant federal call-up. And because major U.S. military actions almost invariably require reservists to supplement regular troops, Pentagon estimates of the number of reservists likely to be summoned in the weeks ahead range in the tens of thousands.
As President Bush and his top national security aides were reported reviewing retaliatory options, several high-ranking Pentagon officers said Thursday they expected the U.S. military response this time would be far more aggressive and require a larger force than the limited attacks that have characterized past American reactions to terrorist attacks.
"Things are different this time," one senior officer said. "For starters, the scale of the attack was greater. And for another, I don’t think the American people expect a light response."
One factor restraining previous military actions was an emphasis on zero casualties, which has tended to constrain the Pentagon from employing ground troops and has led to a reliance on sea- or air-launched cruise missiles.
Following the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, the United States launched cruise missiles against sites in Afghanistan and Sudan thought to have ties to Osama bin laden. But the attacks were criticized as largely ineffectual.
This time, military officials said, Bush and his advisers appear ready to consider the use of ground troops, particularly special forces. More generally, they said administration officials are inclined to give greater weight to employing military force rather than treating the matter largely as a police action marked by lengthy investigations and prolonged trials.