By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon said on Saturday it
will carefully limit the role of 7,200 federal troops heading
into chaotic New Orleans and other places hit by Hurricane
Katrina to avoid violating a law barring them from domestic law
“They will not take on a law enforcement role nor have they
been directed in any way to do so,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Inge,
deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command, which oversees the
military relief effort.
For the first time since Katrina devastated New Orleans and
other parts of Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday, President
George W. Bush on Saturday ordered in a large influx of regular
military troops — 5,200 Army active-duty Army soldiers and
Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the Pentagon’s National
Guard Bureau, also announced that an additional 10,000 National
Guard troops will stream into the region in the next three to
four days, bringing the total of these troops to 40,000.
A total of 54,000 military personnel are now committed to
The military relief effort until now has been primarily
handled by part-time National Guard troops under the command of
state governors. Under law, they are permitted to perform law
enforcement duties at a governor’s command.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, enacted during the
post-Civil War reconstruction period, prohibits federal
military personnel from acting in a law enforcement capacity
within the United States. But the president can waive the law
in an emergency.
Asked whether Bush might waive the law, White House
spokesman Scott McClellan said, “We continue to consider the
full range of options.”
Inge said the Marines and Army soldiers will concentrate on
providing humanitarian assistance to Katrina victims. But asked
whether they could perform tasks like crowd control and site
protection, Inge said, “That’s correct. Probably not too much
crowd control because you run the edge of law enforcement
“But I anticipate that their main effort will be providing
relief to suffering so that any type of thing that smacks of
law enforcement can be done by the National Guard,” Inge said.
Law enforcement needs are acute, particularly in chaotic
New Orleans, where flooding has been accompanied by looting and
violent crime, with large crowds of refugees desperate for
food, water and transportation to safety.
Blum, just back from New Orleans, said the need was
heightened by the fact that two-thirds of the police there have
abandoned the force amid horrific conditions.
“They are significantly degraded and they have less than
one-third of their original capability,” Blum said.
“Many of them lost their homes. Many of them lost ability
to get to the precinct. Many of them who did show up found what
they were dealing with so overwhelming and dangerous or
threatening to them as an individual that they made the
personal decision to not risk their life until the situation
made more sense to them.”
National Guard troops performing law enforcement in
Louisiana and Mississippi have been given shoot-to-kill rules
of engagement, officials said. Inge said the federal troops
will have different rules of engagement.
“These soldiers will have what we call the standing rules
for use of force, which in very general terms will give them
the right of self-protection and will give them the right and
authority to act should they witness an event that … causes
loss of human life,” Inge said.
Inge also said these federal troops largely will be kept
away from areas where looting is a concern.