| A father and son look at a World Trade Center memorial American flag quilt at East Meadow, New York. (Reuters)
Washington, Sept. 10 (Reuters): The US military deployed anti-aircraft missiles at the Pentagon and bases around Washington yesterday for an exercise to test an emergency defence of the nation’s capital, Pentagon officials said.
They said the “Avenger” systems — heat-seeking Stinger missiles on military jeeps — will be stationed at the bases for at least four days beginning today, including tomorrow’s anniversary of September 11 hijacked airliner attacks on America.
The officials, who asked not to be identified, said the “Clear Skies 2” exercise did not call for the missiles to carry live warheads, although defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld could order warheads mounted on the little Stingers.
The exercise, similar to one held in the summer, will test the integration of F-16 fighter jet patrols protecting Washington around the clock and missiles, radar and communications between the military and civilian agencies. The military began deploying some of the missile-carrying vehicles around the Pentagon and other bases yesterday. One stood near where an airliner slammed into the Pentagon last September 11.
The attacks also included the smashing of two hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City. A fourth hijacked airliner, believed headed for Washington, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
Some 3,000 persons died in the devastating attacks, blamed on the al Qaida guerrilla network of fugitive militant Osama bin Laden.
“The Clear Skies exercise is to test the viability of a multilayered defence of the national capital region,” one defence official said yesterday.
“It will include the missiles, F-16s, AWACS (airborne warning and control system) radar planes and communications between the military and the Federal Aviation Administration,” the official said.
Officials said the armed services would be involved, along with the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), the air defence network of fighter jets shared by the US and Canada.
With the attack anniversary approaching, the US military last Thursday resumed 24-hour air patrols by fighter jets over Washington and New York.
The round-the-clock patrols were resumed a day before hundreds of members of the US Congress flew to New York, meeting there on Friday for the first time in more than 200 years, to mark the anniversary of the attacks.
The pilots could be used, with tight restrictions, to shoot down a commercial airliner if it appeared to be headed for a sensitive ground target, according to officials.
Defence officials refused to comment on a CBS News report that the patrols were resumed due to increased Internet “chatter” or communications among known operatives of al Qaida.