- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2000

Secret mission

The Pentagon has no plans for putting American peacekeepers in war-torn Sierra Leone. But that doesn't mean the United States isn't helping.

According to a reliable Army source, the United States dispatched from Germany to Sierra Leone a task force of Army Special Forces soldiers to help capture notorious rebel leader Foday Sankoh.

The source said the U.S. commandos blended in among 10,700 United Nations peacekeepers and helped pro-government forces locate Mr. Sankoh. The key break was developing an informant who said the Revolutionary United Front leader planned to return to his home to recover some stashed cash and diamonds. When he arrived, he was shot in the leg and captured.

The Sierra Leonean government announced that forces loyal to the government found him. But our source said it was the American soldiers who did the heavy lifting.

Mr. Sankoh is blamed for orchestrating a wave of violence and killings in an eight-year civil war. He was turned over to government troops and flown via British helicopter to a military police jail. British troops are openly assisting U.N. peacekeepers.

An administration official said Thursday that "to my knowledge" no U.S. Special Forces were sent to the West African nation.

The United States has acknowledged positioning a PT boat, presumably with Navy Seals on board, in the vicinity to handle any contingency. "The boat never did any upriver missions," the official said. It left the area after Mr. Sankoh's capture.

Ninja peacekeepers

The U.S. Army took it on the chin during a recent meeting of military representatives from the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia. The session at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England, included addresses by British generals who criticized the Army for what they called its Ninja turtle approach to peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

They said American troops dress like ninjas with helmets and body armor and hide out in heavily fortified cantonments. The British, these generals said, shun body armor and wear light headgear. They extend their footprint with patrols of two lightly armed soldiers.

"The U.S. took the beating with regret, as it believes force protection is a responsibility, not a mission," said one Pentagon official. The official noted that the Clinton administration's approach is Somalia-centric based on the disastrous peacekeeping operation in Somalia that led to the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers in a firefight with Somalian rebels. "The administration's attitude is 'go everywhere, but don't get anyone hurt and don't hurt anyone,' " the official said.

Clinton's Air Force II

President Clinton is again mobilizing the Air Force for his upcoming trip to Russia. Pentagon officials said for the past several weeks huge C-5 cargo jets, and other aircraft, were diverted from other operations (such as sending humanitarian supplies) to ferry helicopters, limousines and security vehicles across the Atlantic. Word is the Air Force had to use 40 aircraft for the job. As one military officer put it, only half-jokingly: "We work harder to deploy the president than we ever have for a war."

The traveling White House leaves Monday for the eight-day trip to Portugal, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. The aircraft are sent because the president refuses to trust the local's helicopters for travel.

The last presidential junket was to India and cost upward of $27 million.

Costs for the latest trip? We won't know until after the trip, we are told.

McCain's back

Sen. John McCain did not endear himself to Senate Republicans before he left town to run for president. Some probably wish he had stayed out on the trail. He is continuing his war against the GOP, and the pending 2001 defense authorization may fall casualty.

Mr. McCain has vowed to attach his cherished campaign finance reform bill to the Senate Armed Services' yearly defense bill. Mr. McCain is quoted as telling senators that reforming the elections process is more important than the defense bill. Senators counter that his amendment is not germane to a military bill. Indications yesterday were that Mr. McCain was eyeing other major bills on which to piggyback finance reform.

"Senator McCain is reserving his right as a senator to offer it on one of the next amendable vehicles," said Nancy Ives, his spokeswoman. "Certainly, he will examine each vehicle and make the decision at that time. He has said he could live with as little as 15 minutes a side [of debate] with a vote."

Said a congressional aide, "We're not giving him a vote. His national agenda is not our agenda. We're not going to give him his time."

The Arizona Republican was the only Armed Services member to vote against its defense budget. In the process, the maverick wrote a dissenting opinion to the panel's report. Without naming names, he attacked Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott for backing a new amphibious assault ship to carry Marines not in the president's budget. And he chastised committee Chairman John W. Warner, among other interested parties, for bumping up funding for the Navy's new Virginia-class attack submarine.

"It is sufficient to say that the military needs less money spent on pork and more money spent wisely to redress the serious problems caused by a decade of declining defense budgets," the ex-Navy fighter pilot wrote. "We must reform."

Campbell successor

The contentious post of deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia has been filled. The Pentagon's new top China policy-maker is Fred Smith, who has little China experience. Currently on the Naval Academy staff, Mr. Smith is replacing Kurt Campbell, who stepped down last month.

Before his Annapolis tour, Mr. Smith served as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Near East and South Asia. His boss was Assistant Defense Secretary Franklin D. Kramer, in charge of the International Security Affairs office.

Administration officials have described debates between the Pentagon and White House on China policy as "open political warfare." The East Asia position was targeted by the White House last year in a covert attempt to wrest control of Pentagon policy toward China. The plan was hatched by Kenneth Lieberthal, the National Security Council's pro-Beijing staff director for Asia.

The plan was to put David Shambaugh, a professor and former student of Mr. Lieberthal, in the post in place of Mr. Campbell, who the White House regarded as too hard-line toward Beijing. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen stepped in, however, and blocked the move. Mr. Campbell is now vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on K Street.

The East Asia office also has a new military assistant: Rear Adm. Donald Weiss, who recently left as commander of naval forces in Japan. The two-star admiral is replacing Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Wallace Gregson.

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