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Published Thursday, February 21, 2002

Stratcom commander: Mission is broadening in fight against terrorism

Last modified at 5:07 p.m. on Thursday, February 21, 2002

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Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral James Ellis Jr., speaks to reporters at Offutt Air Force Base Thursday.

By Joe Ruff
The Associated Press

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE -- The nation's nuclear command center is broadening its mission in the face of terrorism and other threats, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command said Thursday.

Intelligence gathering and communications are vital aspects to fighting threats against the United States that have multiplied since the Cold War ended against the Soviet Union, Naval Admiral James O. Ellis Jr. said.

Information used to help deter threats, together with advanced conventional weapons like precision bombing, will reduce the need to use the nation's ultimate threat -- launching a nuclear strike, Ellis said at a news conference.

"There's a growing realization that you can have a strategic impact or a strategic effect without necessarily deploying a nuclear weapon," Ellis said.

Stratcom, which puts the nation's air, sea and land-based nuclear weapons under one command, will participate as all branches of the military develop non-nuclear deterrents to violence, Ellis said.

One context of that effort is the war against terrorism, Ellis said.

The concepts that served the United States well in the bipolar environment of the Cold War may not work for today's wider range of threats, Ellis said.

"For example," Ellis said, "those that we saw so horribly demonstrated on the 11th of September. How do you deter that?"

Experts at Stratcom have helped in the global war against terrorism, Ellis said. That includes providing specialists on Afghanistan's caves and mountains, who helped military forces pin down and rout Taliban and Al-Qaida forces.

Stratcom's historic role in deterring nuclear war with Russia merged dramatically with its developing broader duties of intelligence and communications on Sept. 11, the day terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

The steel and concrete reinforced command center 60 feet under the base, built in the height of the Cold War, was staffed with top personnel as Stratcom conducted a global readiness exercise with all U.S. strategic forces.

Then two hijacked commercial airlines hit the Trade Center in New York, a third hit the Pentagon, and the alert became real.

The command center, a two-story, theater-like bunker built around eight video screens and complex communications systems, helped monitor events.

President Bush, who had been in Florida that morning, flew in from another military base and spent more than an hour holding top-level telephone and video conferences on the situation.

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