Pentagon arms missile batteries around D.C.
For the first time since the Cuban missile crisis almost 40 years ago, armed missile launchers will be protecting the nation's capital by day's end Tuesday -- a precaution that comes amid a heightened alert status on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
The decision to arm the portable Stinger missile launchers was made Tuesday morning by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Pentagon officials said. A senior administration official told CNN that Rumsfeld recommended the move and the president signed off on it after a discussion about the "rules of engagement," meaning under what circumstances would U.S. military officials be authorized to launch the missiles.
A Pentagon statement said the decision to arm the portable Stinger missile launchers was "not a response to any specific threat," but "a prudent precaution to increase the radar and air defense posture in the National Capital Region."
In 1962, 82 Army National Guard units manned Nike Ajax air defense batteries in 15 states and the District of Columbia, according to a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
That exercise, dubbed Clear Skies II, was to involve 300 people and was designed to test the ability of small, portable air defenses to provide protection for key Washington installations.
Now the deployment is part of Operation Noble Eagle, the mission to protect the United States, which includes the combat air patrols over major U.S. cities.
The Pentagon said the military had begun moving Stinger missiles from storage sites in the Washington area to the deployed systems.
Pentagon officials said rigorous rules of engagement and tight restrictions on the use of the missiles were in place to guard against any accidental discharge in the busy Washington air corridor.
The Pentagon says for "security and deterrent" reason it will not discuss the exact location of the air defense sites, but one Army Avenger missile system can be seen outside the Pentagon.
Others were visible at Bolling Air Force Base and Fort McNair in Washington.
The Avenger system is a portable Stinger missile launcher mounted on a Humvee. It is capable of firing eight Stinger missiles at one time.
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