La. governor requests 40,000 Guard troops

Soldiers would provide security in New Orleans

Katrina's Wake

September 02, 2005|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - As hurricane-ravaged New Orleans descended into lawlessness, with looting punctuated by gunfire, residents pleaded again yesterday for enough police and National Guard troops to protect them.

But officials acknowledged that state government agencies and National Guard forces were either quickly overwhelmed by the scope of the security problem or diverted to other essential tasks - from search and rescue to debris removal - as chaos consumed the city of nearly half a million.

From the start, Louisiana appeared to lack enough Guard troops with the specific skills to handle the lawlessness, namely military police and other security forces.

Neighboring Mississippi, also hard hit by Katrina, requested - and is receiving - hundreds more MPs and other Guard security forces from other states, according to a list of National Guard troop deployments obtained by The Sun.

A document listing troops heading to both states shows that some 1,700 Guard security personnel from Maryland and four other states began streaming into Mississippi starting Wednesday. That day, just 150 security troops arrived in Louisiana from the Texas National Guard.

That began to change yesterday, when the list showed that Louisiana was bringing in another 1,560 Guard military police and security personnel from six states, nearly one-third of them from neighboring Arkansas. Mississippi was to receive another 1,700 security troops.

In Louisiana, the reign of terror had become so severe that Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco asked for 40,000 National Guard troops to help restore order in New Orleans.

"I have just gotten word that we will be getting all the troops that we need as long as we need them," Blanco said. "I have asked for no less than 40,000."

Blanco said there were 4,000 police officers in the New Orleans area, amid reports of shootings, lawlessness and mass looting. More troops were moving into the city. The governor said she had authorized law enforcement personnel to use "all necessary force" to quell unrest.

Her remarks contrasted with those by Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, who said yesterday that the Superdome, where thousands of refugees sought shelter, "is secure" with the help of "several hundred" National Guardsmen and city police.

His statement was belied by police at the scene, who described the situation as extremely dangerous.

On Tuesday, Louisiana - which has several thousand National Guard troops deployed in Iraq - had about 65 percent of its Guard force available, roughly 6,500 soldiers and airmen. About 3,800 of them were called to state active duty by Blanco, providing debris removal, security, food distribution and law enforcement support. As of yesterday, another 2,000 Louisiana Guard troops were on hurricane relief duty.

A governor can request Guard troops from other states, under a nine-year-old federal compact. It is up to each state, working with its National Guard and emergency management officials, to determine what type of soldier is needed, whether military police, water purification specialists or engineers.

"You have to turn to the right people with the right skills," said a Pentagon official, who requested anonymity.

At the same time, Guard troops taking part in the rescue effort - whether from Louisiana or other states - are under the control of the state's governor and other Louisiana officials, who determine priorities for the part-time soldiers, officials said.

"The Guard troops are where the civilian authorities place them," the Pentagon official said.

By Wednesday night, Blanco was telling PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer that it was necessary to shift the focus of some Guard forces to deal with the growing criminal behavior, particularly in New Orleans.

"We believe we need to free up the National Guard, essentially to do security in the city," the governor said.

Chertoff said that in addition to local law enforcement personnel, there were about 2,800 Guard troops in New Orleans. Starting yesterday and continuing through Saturday, 1,400 National Guard MPs were expected to arrive daily from other states.

"In effect, what that does is it adds the entire membership number of the New Orleans police force every day to the pool of security personnel who are in New Orleans," Chertoff said. "We will, using the National Guard, have more than quadrupled the number of security personnel who are available to maintain order in the city."

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