Pentagon: Military response in Texas could soon expand

WASHINGTON — The military's role in Harvey rescue and recovery efforts has been limited by weather and flooding but could soon expand by tenfold or more, a senior National Guard officer said Tuesday.

Air Force Maj. Gen. James Witham told reporters there currently are about 3,500 National Guard troops involved, including about 3,000 from the Texas National Guard. He estimated that the Texas guard number could rise to 8,000 to 10,000 in coming days, possibly joined by 20,000 to 30,000 from other states.

Witham is the director of domestic operations for the National Guard Bureau.

He said the military is providing everything that has been requested by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, although the response is constrained by the stormy weather and by flooding that limits use of roadways. He said weather has limited the use of military helicopters over the past two or three days, so the Guard has instead used boats and ground vehicles to rescue stranded residents in the Houston area.

Besides the additional National Guard troops from other states, there are about 1,000 active-duty military forces in position to provide assistance if called up by civilian authorities, he said.

Asked whether Texas authorities recognized the magnitude of the disaster quickly enough, Witham said, "That's debatable." He said in some respects the need was recognized quickly. But the extraordinary amount of rainfall and flooding exceeded what state planners could have foreseen.

"So if you're looking at an event that only occurs every few hundred years, the planning that would have normally occurred for that probably wasn't here," Witham said. "So, in many cases, the request for assistance, not only for the National Guard but federal forces, may not have been anticipated quickly enough."