ARLINGTON, Va. — Active duty troops will not be used to forcibly evacuate people from New Orleans, but National Guard troops might, the deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command said Wednesday.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin instructed law enforcement officers and the U.S. military late Tuesday to evacuate all holdouts for their own safety.

But none have been forcibly removed yet, said Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Inge.

Should authorities decide to remove the people, that task would fall to the roughly 900 New Orleans police officers still on duty and the National Guard, he said.

Since forcible evacuations would be considered a law enforcement issue, federal troops could not be used, Inge said.

The National Guard troops in Louisiana and Mississippi are commanded by those state’s adjutant general; the active duty troops are under the command of Joint Task Force Katrina, headed up by Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, officials said.

No one combatant commander is in charge of both active duty and National Guard forces, said a NORTHCOM spokesman.

“It’s a cooperative effort,” said Navy Lt. Kevin Stephens.

As of Wednesday, 18,000 active duty troops and 45,000 National Guard troops were deployed in the region hit by Hurricane Katrina, Inge said.

But the Department of Defense was on the defensive Tuesday.

Asked at a Pentagon press briefing why it took days to get Guard troops to the area, Rumsfeld replied, “It didn’t.”

The Defense Department began pre-positioning assets in the area before the storm hit, he said.

“Not only was there no delay, I think we anticipated in most cases — not in all cases, but in most cases, the support that was required,” Myers said.

But lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, have ripped the federal relief effort as disorganized and inadequate.

“Once the immediate crisis is addressed, there will be many serious questions to answer about the speed and quality of the federal government’s response to this horrific disaster. As the president himself has said, the results of the recovery effort are not acceptable,” Hagel said in a statement Tuesday.

In other news, the Army will be taking over the medical mission from the Air Force at the New Orleans airport, Air Force Col. Lawrence Riddles, 4th Aeromedical Expeditionary Squadron Medical Commander, told his assembled airmen in the airport Tuesday night.

The Army will set up a Combat Support Hospital in place of the Air Force’s aeromedical expeditionary set-up here, Riddles said.

The Air Force will send some medical units home and keep others in a support function, Riddles said.

“We have excess [medical] capacity,” he said.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday the Air Force was putting the finishing touches on a large “tent city,” built to accommodate the air crews, flight line personnel and other staff needed to continue the service’s cargo handling duties.

Located in a remote section of the airfield, the tent city is complete with air conditioning, cots, and showers.

Flights of all types, from cargo to passenger charters to search and rescue, continued to pour into the airport.

Between Sept. 2 and Sept. 4, the Air Force alone had flown over 22,300 evacuees out of the airport to shelters and medical facilities in other states.

Lisa Burgess contributed to this report from New Orleans.

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