updated 9/20/2004 4:18:34 PM ET 2004-09-20T20:18:34

The Defense Department has established a new military headquarters whose mission is to defend the U.S. capital and to assist civil authorities in responding to a terrorist attack here.

The Joint Forces Headquarters for the National Capital Region is based at Fort McNair, a small Army post in Washington on the banks of the Anacostia River whose fortifications did not stop the British from invading in 1814 and burning the White House and Capitol building.

The idea of the new Joint Forces Headquarters is not to fend off foreign armies but to prevent if possible — and respond to, if not — surprise attack by terrorists using nuclear, chemical, biological or other unconventional means, Army Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackson said Monday.

“There are vulnerabilities in the nation’s capital,” he said without being specific.

One of those vulnerabilities is the proximity of the White House, the Capitol and other government buildings to commercial air traffic, as shown by the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.

Jackson is commander of the new headquarters. The deputy commander is Rear Adm. Jan Gaudio, who also is commandant of the Naval District of Washington, which provides support services to naval installations within a 100-mile (160-kilometer) radius of the Pentagon.

Jackson and Gaudio briefed reporters Monday about the arrangement and the new operations center, where they can monitor a broad range of information from the FBI and other government agencies.

The new outfit also has a mobile command center, a $3.2 million truck chock-full of computer, telephone, TV and other communications to enable Jackson or others to travel to the scene of an emergency and remain in touch with the secretary of defense as well as other agencies.

The idea is to improve the military’s ability to coordinate a post-attack response, as well as complicate a potential attacker’s planning by varying the placement and visibility of security measures, Jackson said.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, the military organizations in Washington focused largely on ceremonial activities like a presidential inauguration, as well as installation management.

Now they are being asked to focus also on homeland defense. Even the U.S. Army Band, for example, is now trained to provide administrative medical support in the event of an attack.

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