- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

Iraq watch

U.S. intelligence agencies are closely monitoring Iraq's military forces and the ruling Ba'ath party in Baghdad. Spy agencies are looking carefully for signs that Saddam Hussein will start a pre-emptive attack before U.S. military forces can complete their buildup in the region.

"We suspect he will try to do something," one defense official told us.

So far, Iraqi military movements have been limited to some troop deployments that are not considered unusual.

Intelligence reports indicate Iraqi forces recently discussed plans for building up defenses, either through trenches or barriers around key facilities.

Potential pre-emptive attacks could include missile attacks on Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, where U.S. forces are deployed. Iraq is believed to have up to 50 Scud missiles that could be outfitted with chemical or biological warheads.


Then and now

After The Washington Times reported this week that an internal Army study backed continued mixed-sex basic training, John Raughter of the American Legion Magazine sent us an e-mail. It contained his magazine's "q and a" with then-candidate George W. Bush.

Q: What are your views on gender-integrated basic training?

A: The experts tell me, such as Condoleezza Rice, that we ought to have separate basic training facilities. I think women in the military have an important and good role, but the people who study the issue tell me that the most effective training would be to have the genders separated."

Army officials say they do not expect Army Secretary Thomas White to reverse policy, even though candidate Bush seemed in favor of the idea, and Miss Rice served on a presidential commission that recommended a change.


Media 'embeds'

The Pentagon public affairs office has drawn up a plan to put 490 news reporters and photographers with the troops in the event of war against Iraq.

The hundreds of media "embeds," as the military calls them, will be spread among the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps as they deploy near Iraq.

The jockeying for the best positions in the field is under way, with news organizations lobbying to be placed with front-line ground-forces units instead of being stuck on a ship in the Persian Gulf. The conflict could last up to two months, if all goes well.

Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and her deputy, Bryan Whitman, will have the final say on which reporters get the choicest slots.

Asked several months ago about the Pentagon's past policy of favoring large news organizations over smaller ones when it comes to placing reporters with troops, Donald H. Rumsfeld said the matter was too far down in the weeds for his attention.

"It's below my radar screen," Mr. Rumsfeld said, noting that "I, needless to say, don't look and see who's in and who's out and who's doing this and who's doing that. I just don't know."

With a limited number of slots for reporters, "I would assume that you try to rotate people for one thing, and have a mix of media types," Mr. Rumsfeld told news bureau chiefs.


Silent chiefs

It is one of the most momentous eras in U.S. military history. The armed forces are fighting a new kind of war against terrorists globally, and are about to fight an old-fashioned air and ground campaign against Iraq.

Yet, what strikes some of our contacts in the Pentagon is the silence of the chiefs. Except for the recently departed Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Jones, the other three service chiefs rarely grant press interviews to talk about what their men and women are doing in the war.

One Army official complained that when Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, does talk in public, he focuses on the futuristic "objective force" of 10 years from now. This official would like the decorated Vietnam War combatant to talk more about what is happening now, both in Afghanistan and in the buildup for Iraq.

"His aversion to the press is fatal in wartime," this senior official said. "The Marines, God knows, never stop. They do a great job. And they should. The Army is stuck in the future."


Rumsfeld's warning

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this week sent a warning to commanders that troops are likely to deploy for longer periods because of the war on terrorism and potential conflict with Iraq.

"The president has called the world's attention to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq," the Rumsfeld message states. "He has rallied the United Nations to enforce its resolutions calling for the regime's disarmament.

"To assist this diplomatic offensive and to preserve future options, adjustments to current mobilization, deployment and rotation cycles may be necessary, adjustments that may mean longer tours of duty than you may have expected.

"While the times, places and conditions of deployments cannot now be precisely known, we do recognize the uncertainty these circumstances may create for those in uniform, the civilians who work beside them, and the families and loved ones, without whose support their sacrifices would not be possible.

"I know the secretaries and chiefs of the military services are communicating with you in greater detail about these matters, but I want you to know that understanding the impacts of these deployments is important to us."

Sailors on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln can take Mr. Rumsfeld's message to heart. They completed a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf region and were on their way home when the Pentagon ordered the battle group to stay put at a port call in Australia. The Abraham Lincoln is now back in the Gulf, with its new F-18 Super Hornets ready to bomb Iraq.


Job chase

The contest for the next secretary of the Navy is near the finish line. Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim and Michael Wynne, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics are the most talked-about candidates inside the Pentagon.

Mr. Zakheim, a budget cruncher who is well-liked by Mr. Rumsfeld, is seen as the front-runner by some officials in the secretive selection process. Gordon England gave up the prestigious Navy post this week to become deputy secretary of the new Department of Homeland Security.

The Bush administration also has considered a top Pentagon job for Wanda Austin, a nationally known expert on military satellites.

Miss Austin is a top executive at the Aerospace Corp., a nonprofit engineering firm. The company's main customer is the Space and Missile Systems Center at the Air Force's Space Command.

Officials tell us she was interviewed two years ago when the new Bush team was assembling its first senior staff. But at that time, she could not leave the Los Angeles area. She did not return phone messages left by us. Her corporate leadership is the kind of job experience Mr. Rumsfeld likes.

Miss Austin has a Pentagon backer, Edward "Pete" Aldridge, who is undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. Mr. Aldridge was Aerospace Corp.'s chief executive officer before returning in 2001 to the Pentagon, where he had served as Air Force secretary in the late 1980s.


Deployment stress

From a retired Navy admiral on the 1990s' and current decade's high military deployment rates, "the chances of keeping a marriage together for 20 years at the current op tempo is approaching zero."

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