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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department will train and equip more than 15,000 troops to form special teams to respond to any terrorist attack on the homeland using weapons of mass destruction, the Pentagon’s top homeland security official said.

The exact number is classified, but about 70 percent of the troops are expected to come from the National Guard and the rest are expected to be active-duty troops and activated reservists, said Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense.

“The units would be trained to specific CBRN [Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear] missions. They would be rapidly deployable and they would be available to assist civilian authorities in responding to a terrorist attack,” McHale said.

The teams are expected to become fully operational over the next two to three years and fall under the purview of U.S. Northern Command, McHale said.

“The forces, as individual units, are trained and equipped today,” McHale said. “Additional training will be required and undoubtedly some new equipment will be necessary. So I want to make clear, we have this capability today, but with additional training and equipment and better organization than we currently have, our ability to respond will be much improved.”

The Defense Department is in the process of identifying the units that will be assigned to the teams, McHale said. He declined to say which active-duty units would be part of these teams, but he said units will be assigned to the teams on a rotational basis.

“The forces that are assigned to a CCMRF [CBRN Consequence Management Response Force] will in many cases reflect unique skill-sets associated with a CBRN-contaminated environment,” he said.

The mission would include decontamination, evacuating civilian casualties, and establishing logistics and communications, he said.

The CCMRFs would likely not be tasked with law enforcement, McHale said.

If troops were required to restore order, they would likely be National Guardsmen who are not part of the CCMRF teams, McHale said.

National Guardsmen who are mobilized by the state are exempt from the Posse Comitatus act, which prevents federal troops from enforcing civilian law on U.S. soil.

If for some reason the National Guard was not sufficient to restore order, additional active-duty troops could be used for law enforcement under a law commonly known as the Insurrection Act, McHale said.

However, the president would have to make a decision to use active-duty troops in such a capacity after receiving a recommendation from the attorney general, he said.

In any event, U.S. troops will always adhere to the law, a Defense Department spokesman said.

“The United States military will always act within the laws that govern use of force under the Constitution and laws of our nation,” the spokesman said.

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