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ARLINGTON, Va. — With the Gulf Coast disaster provoked by Hurricane Katrina growing by the hour, the U.S. military focused Wednesday on trying to anticipate what kinds of assistance federal agencies might be need in the days to come, and moving assets accordingly.

The Defense Department is “leaning forward to get capacity to the (Gulf Coast) region,” rather than sitting back and waiting for requests for help to come in, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters Wednesday morning.

That means that in addition to military assets, such as helicopters, that are already in place and contributing to the rescue and relief efforts, DOD officials “are pre-positioning land, sea and air assets and pushing forward capability, in the absence of knowing exactly what might be needed, Whitman said.

By “surging various capabilities into the region,” military officials will “avoid lag times” between any further requests for help and the response, Whitman said.

Whitman said equipment on standby as of Wednesday morning included 48 helicopters from Fort Hood, Texas (in addition to 15 already in the region); “a couple of C-17” transport aircraft; Marine Landing Craft, Air-Cushioned, or “LCACs” from Panama City, Fla.; and Navy Seabee construction teams from unspecified bases.

Preparations also were under way for the Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group to sail from Norfolk to the Louisiana Coast, Whitman said.

The group, which includes four ships loaded with rescue and aid equipment, should “take three or four days” to arrive on station, Whitman said.

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference discussing the relief effort, Paul McHale, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, said that 60 percent to 65 percent “of the Louisiana and Mississippi members of the Guard will be available for state activity under command and control of the governor.”

“Despite the fact that significant portions of these Guard units are currently deployed overseas, a very robust capability remains within these affected states,” McHale said, “and in fact, we’re now using more than 11,000 of those forces for missions to include security and law enforcement.”

With the exception of the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Guard, the military is forbidden by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 to act in a law enforcement capacity inside the United States.

That means the Pentagon is focusing its active-duty assets on tasks such as logistics, search and rescue, communications and medical care.

To coordinate the military response, the U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., has set up “Task Force Katrina” at Camp Shelby, Miss., some 50 miles north of Biloxi.

Rapid mobilization

Military assets providing disaster relief as of Aug. 31:

National GuardTo include:

Alabama: 1,066 troops (law enforcement; power generation).Colorado: Eight troops (communications).Florida: 753 troops (ice and water distribution; search and rescue).Louisiana: 3,779 troops (law enforcement, evacuation, traffic control, shelter provision, medical care).Mississippi: 1,945 troops (generation, shelter provision, debris removal).Oklahoma: Nine troops (search and rescue).Pennsylvania: Six (communications).Texas: 1,007 troops (law enforcement, communications, engineering support, aviation support, medical support).Active-duty sea assetsThe multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, from Naval Station Ingleside, Texas.HSV2 Swift, from Naval Station Ingleside, Texas, for humanitarian assistance.The hospital ship USNS Comfort, Baltimore.The multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, Norfolk, Va.The amphibious transport dock USS Shreveport, Norfolk, Va.Dock landing ship USS Tortuga, Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Norfolk, Va.USS Grapple, Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va, for maritime and underwater survey and salvage operations.Mobile Dive Salvage Unit Two from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va.Assault Craft Unit Two from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va.Beach Masters Unit Two from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va.Active-duty air assetsFour C-5 transport aircraft from Scott Air Force Base, Ill.Fifteen UH-60 utility helicopters from Fort Hood, Texas, for search and rescue and damage assessment.Three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., for search and rescue, and transport for Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Rapid Needs Assessment teams.Three HHC-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, 347th Rescue Wing, Moody Air Force Base, Ga., for same.Four MH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15, Corpus Christi, Texas, for flying off the Bataan.Two MH-60 search and rescue helicopters, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, Norfolk, Va.; flying off the Bataan.— Source: DOD; Task Force Katrina

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