ARLINGTON, Va. — Concerned by reports of global unrest caused by food shortages and rising oil prices, the Pentagon’s top military leader has asked staff to size up how the U.S. military might be affected or become involved in any such crisis.

After deadly food riots erupted in Haiti and Egypt in early April, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked members of his Warfighting and Analysis Division to pull together a temporary task force to look at other situations that could develop within the year that might trigger a Pentagon response.

The Food and Fuel Task Force, as the group is informally dubbed, meets weekly, according to Col. Walter Barge, chief of the War-fighting and Analysis Division.

The group includes officers who work in every Joint Staff division, from public affairs to intelligence, Barge said.

Mullen gave the group 30 days to develop a "framework" of possible global food crisis scenarios and the different outcomes that could result if the military took steps to address problems, Barge said.

Although the "warfighting" division is doing the planning, the task force’s mission is not to draw up war plans for U.S. military involvement in any specific country, such as Myanmar, Barge said. That job belongs to other Joint Staff divisions.

Food isn’t typically a military issue, but the Pentagon has never been faced with the degree of global unrest that is now being provoked by recent spikes in the cost of staple crops.

Prices for wheat, corn, soy and rice, which were relatively stable for years, have skyrocketed in the last three years, according to the new United Nations Task Force on the Global Food Crisis.

In April, World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that exploding food prices threaten to cause instability in at least 33 countries, including three that are playing critical roles in the U.S. fight against Islamic extremism: Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan.

"Adm. Mullen asked us, ‘How should I be thinking about all this?’ " Barge said.

To develop its framework for Mullen, the task force is brainstorming all the food-related problems that might arise within the next six months to a year that might require U.S. military involvement or otherwise affect U.S. troops and their families, Barge said.

Those potential scenarios span a huge range, Barge said, from widespread famine in a country hostile to international intervention, to potential food shortages in a country where many U.S. troops are deployed, such as Iraq.

The members are also going to try to figure out what might be the unintended, possibly negative consequences of each response, said Navy Cmdr. Brett Pierson, an irregular warfare analyst and member of the Food and Fuel Task Force.

It’s important for the Joint Staff to do this kind of troubleshooting analysis in advance, Pierson said, because when a real crisis develops, there is inevitably pressure from all sides for the Pentagon "to do something, fast, to fix it."

"And history shows us that the quick fix almost always makes a situation worse," Pierson said.

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