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Nuke modernization

All 40 Republican senators and one independent wrote to President Obama on Wednesday reminding him that the current defense authorization law links modernization of the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal to further U.S.-Russian arms reductions.

The law applies to the not-yet-finished successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired on Dec. 16.

The 41 senators - enough to block formal ratification of a new treaty, which requires 67 votes - stated in the letter that they agree with the defense legislation’s language that says modernizing the aging U.S. nuclear stockpile is critical to further U.S.-Russian arms cuts.

“In fact, we don’t believe further reductions can be in the national security interest of the U.S. in the absence of a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent,” the senators stated.

A Republican Senate aide said the letter is intended to put the White House on notice that formal ratification of a new START accord must include specific plans and funding for upgrading U.S. nuclear weapons outlined in Section 1251 of the Democrat-drafted 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law by Mr. Obama on Oct. 28.

A White House National Security Council spokesman had no immediate comment on the letter.

The senators stated that a bipartisan commission headed by former Defense Secretary William J. Perry and former Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger first drew the linkage between proposed new arms cuts under START and modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons.

The commission members “were unanimously alarmed by the serious disrepair and neglect they found [in the nuclear arsenal], and they made a series of recommendations to reverse this highly concerning situation,” the letter says.

Specifically, the senators called for full and timely life-extension upgrades to the B61 and W76 warheads; funding for “a modern warhead” with new features for life extension; full funding for nuclear stockpile surveillance; and full funding for timely replacements of the Los Alamos plutonium plant, the Oak Ridge uranium plant and a modern nuclear-pit facility.

The senators made clear to the president their view that the nuclear-modernization plan should be fully funded beginning with the fiscal 2011 budget and that the new treaty should be sent to the Senate for ratification with the plan.

The senators also stated that the president should follow the defense authorization provision that the new treaty “must not limit U.S. missile defenses, space capabilities, or advanced conventional modernization, such as non-nuclear global strike capability.”

Russia’s government has linked the new treaty’s arms cuts to limits on U.S. missile defenses.

Kamdesh video

Taliban insurgents recently posted on the Internet a propaganda video showing their version of a deadly attack on the U.S. military outpost near Kamdesh and the aftermath, according to a U.S. intelligence report.

The Open Source Center, part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, produced the report on the video, which was based on the Oct. 3 battle in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of eight U.S. soldiers. The deaths came despite advanced intelligence reports warning of an impending attack. It was the largest single number of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan since a similar attack in the same region last year.

The report, “Taliban Propaganda Video Capitalizes on ‘Capture’ of U.S. Base,” states that the Taliban video was put on an insurgent Web site Nov. 18 and “showcases what it describes as the ‘capture’ of a U.S. military base in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan Province.”

The video calls the attack a “message of success” and shows scenes of what appear to be the beginning of the raid by an estimated 200 insurgents, and the weapons and ammunition the Taliban claimed they captured. The video shows a battle with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades launched on the U.S. forces from hills surrounding the base.

At one point, the video shows a bearded Taliban leader trying out an exercise machine used by the Army troops before their departure. In another scene, an insurgent fires a captured U.S. Army M4 carbine.

Intelligence reports obtained by The Washington Times reveal that U.S. forces had warning days before the attack that Taliban insurgents were planning to strike the outpost.

U.S. forces had made preparations to pull out of the remote combat outpost, known as COP Keating, when the attack took place.

“Intelligence reports that confirm specific enemy intentions do not require analysis or analysts. Fundamentally, the art therefore is to evaluate enemy indicators against friendly indicators to anticipate the most likely enemy course of action,” said a military officer in the region, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The officer said that though parts of the video appear to have been staged after the battle, “U.S. forces ultimately withdrew because of enemy pressure and action.”

The video also seeks to glorify what it says was the group’s triumphant march into the captured base and the symbolic burning of an American flag. It includes video of the Taliban leader in the region, identified as Sheik Dost Mohammad, making a tour of the area.

A copy of the Open Source Center report and the Taliban video were obtained by the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Secrecy in Government. A link is posted at washingtontimes.com.

A military spokesman in Afghanistan could not be reached for comment on the report.

The video includes captions showing that the Taliban had at least two cameras to film the attack and footage of gunfire and smoke from burning buildings along with Taliban anti-aircraft fire at a helicopter.

The report says the Taliban fighters displayed “war booty” from the raid, including weapons and ammunition purportedly captured from what the video says were “invading crusaders.”

“Booty is an important part of the Taliban’s philosophy of [holy war], as seen by the dedication of an entire chapter of the Taliban Code of Conduct to the definition of, and rules for, the distribution of booty [Taliban Code of Conduct, Chapter 5, May],” the report says.

After reciting a verse from the Koran, the video announcers state, “This is a big American base in Kamdesh district, which was captured by the mujahedeen, with the help of God and as a result of continuous attacks by the brave mujahedeen.”

The video quotes a Taliban commander as saying: “You and the entire world know that a big field gun was placed here. The Americans were forced to flee after continuous attacks by the mujahedeen, and as far as you can see here, all fell into mujahedeen hands.”

The video also includes a question-and-answer session with a questioner asking whether the Taliban will be able to capture other bases; the answer is, “We are positive that other bases will be captured in the same way.”

The intelligence reports of an impending attack on Kamdesh were not acted upon because they were dismissed as unconfirmed or insignificant, according to an Army spokesman.

The intelligence indicated a new Taliban subcommander in Kamdesh, named Ghulan Faroq, had been appointed and “charged with attacking COP Keating.” It gave no date for the attack.

The intelligence reporting also states that days before the attack, “fighters in Kamdesh received a resupply of B-10 ammunition” suitable for use with Soviet-designed B-10 recoilless guns that fire 82 mm mortarlike rounds. Another pre-attack report states that around Oct. 2, a Taliban meeting was held in Kamdesh and that “a Taliban commander will arrive in Kamdesh soon to conduct attacks against coalition forces.”

A third report says that in late September, “a Taliban commander planned to conduct simultaneous attacks against coalition bases in Gewardesh, Kamu and Kamdesh regions of Nuristan and that each attack would be perpetrated by 10-15 Taliban fighters in each location.”

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr. confirmed in closed-door testimony Oct. 22 before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that there were three intelligence reports indicating that Taliban forces were preparing to attack a remote U.S. combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan, according to defense officials.

Great green fleet

As world representatives debate climate change in Copenhagen and skeptics continue to level charges of scientific fraud on the subject, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is taking the sea service green.

A report by Mr. Mabus’ office states that in the 21st century, the Navy will deploy a “great green fleet” that will seek aggressively to reduce the use of fossil fuels and seek to secure energy supplies.

In an interview with Inside the Ring, Mr. Mabus disputed critics who might suggest environmentalism was more important than force readiness. “Our No. 1 concern in becoming energy-efficient and moving away from fossil fuel is to improve war-fighting,” he said.

Also, Mr. Mabus said green technology is available, noting that an F-18 jet has been flown with biofuel instead of kerosine. “It worked fine,” he said.

Mr. Mabus also said the Navy’s first green ship is the amphibious assault carrier USS Makin Island, which is propelled with both gas turbines and electric motors.

In a preface to the report, Mr. Mabus stated that he is committed to “energy reform” and reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

“The underlying reasons for reform are clear,” he said. “Our energy sources are not secure. We need to be more efficient in energy use, and we emit too much carbon. Overreliance on fossil fuels is bad strategy, bad business and bad for the planet.”

He said the U.S. military uses 93 percent of all federally used energy supplies and is the largest single consumer of energy in the United States.

Instead of oil, Mr. Mabus wants Navy equipment to run on algae, grain, cellulose, seawater, waves, wind, solar and geothermal power in the future and to “dream of what today might seem unimaginable.”

“Environmental stewardship is our responsibility,” the report states. “We will reduce the environmental impacts of our energy use, lead in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and promote sustainability.”

It gives few details on how the Navy will make its ships, submarines, aircraft and ground vehicles environmentally friendly, but the report states that sailors will “consider carbon emissions in our daily operations and our procurements.”

The Navy also will “replace energy from fossil fuels with energy from alternative and renewable sources,” the report says.

The report says the green effort will be led by the Naval Energy Office, but it makes no mention of increasing the use of nuclear power, currently used to power all aircraft carriers and submarines.

On an unrelated subject, Mr. Mabus was asked to comment on the controversial case of four Navy SEALs currently courts-martial for purportedly punching an al Qaeda terrorist in Iraq. The terrorist was blamed for the deaths of four U.S. contractors and for misleading Navy investigators about the incident.

“It’s with the convening authority, and I can’t do it because of risk of command influence,” Mr. Mabus said.

Asked if he was aware of widespread criticism that the case has prompted from pro-military advocates, Mr. Mabus said: “I read the paper.”

About the Author

Bill Gertz INSIDE THE RING

Bill Gertz is geopolitics editor and a national security and investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. Gertz also writes a weekly column ...

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