- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 29, 2009

DIA on Afghan intel

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

Gen. Burgess appeared before a closed-door meeting of the committee on Oct. 22 and was asked by senators about the advance warning of a Taliban attack, first reported in The Washington Times, and whether the intelligence warnings were ignored.

About 100 Taliban fighters carried out the attack on the outpost near the town of Kamdesh on Oct. 3 in what U.S. Army spokesmen said was a surprise strike that left eight U.S. soldiers dead.

Gen. Burgess explained in testimony to the committee that the military had three intelligence reports on the issue, but that the reports were among many human-source reports that had not been verified by other means, such as electronic intelligence. As a result, the reporting was not deemed “actionable” intelligence, said defense officials familiar with the testimony.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Democratic and Republican spokesmen for the Senate Intelligence Committee had no comment, citing rules limiting discussion of closed-door committee meetings.

A DIA spokesman also declined to comment.

One official said the reports indicate that there was an intelligence failure by analysts who he suspects were “waiting for the smoking-gun report from technical systems.”

“The bottom line is that in spite of all our intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan, U.S. forces have been surprised twice by massed Taliban forces in a pre-planned attack against two of our outposts,” the official said. “That begs the question of whether we have a problem of analysis.”

The Oct. 3 battle resulted in the largest single number of U.S. combat deaths since a similar attack in July 2008 in the same region killed nine U.S. soldiers.

Partially declassified intelligence reports revealed that in the period before the Oct. 3 battle, a new Taliban subcommander in Kamdesh named Ghulan Faroq had been appointed and was in charge of attacking Combat Outpost Keating. The reports also indicated that days before the attack, insurgent fighters in Kamdesh were resupplied with ammunition for large-caliber guns.

The intelligence reporting also stated that on Oct. 2, Taliban forces held a meeting in Kamdesh and were told that a commander would arrive soon to conduct attacks against coalition forces. Other reporting noted that in late September, Taliban were planning to conduct simultaneous attacks on coalition forces in the region, which is located near the Pakistani border and is known to be a supply route for Afghan insurgents.

Body armor update

It was more than two years ago that Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, and then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the reliability of body armor worn by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts, which are plates that go by the acronym ESAPI, were under fire by military bloggers who said they were failing to protect troops in the field.

“In light of these revelations and constituent concerns we request that the Government Accountability Office reassess the various body armor systems currently being employed by all branches of the armed forces and the Special Operations Command for effectiveness and reliability against the threats facing our troops in combat,” the Webb-Clinton letter said.

However, when the GAO report came out last week, it did not address the reliability of fielded systems. Instead, it focused on testing back home. It criticized the Army’s methods for testing XSAPI, the next-generation plates. They have not been deployed because the threat rifle round they are designed to defeat has not shown up on the battlefield.

Special correspondent Rowan Scarborough asked the GAO why it did not look at fielded systems.

Chuck Young, chief spokesman for Congress’ auditor, replied in an e-mail:

“We actually received multiple requests to look at this issue beyond the ones from Sens. Webb and Clinton. There were several members in the House who also requested work. When we receive multiple requests across the House and Senate and there is clearly interest across the Congress we will frequently do the work under the Comptroller General’s authority rather than address each and every request individually. [For example, almost all our work on Iraq was done this way.] But we do still sit down with the requesters and figure out how to best handle the scope of all the work requested in a given time frame based on the needs of the Congress. The decision here was that the best approach was to look at what the Army was then considering for future needs and the requesters agreed to that approach. We don’t have anything else on the topic underway at this time.”

Regardless, one unit has vouched for the reliability of ESAPI plates currently in use. The Pentagon’s Department of Operational Test and Evaluation filed a lengthy rebuttal to the GAO report on the testing issue.

In the response, the Pentagon department said: “Plates that were fielded have consistently defeated and continue to defeat the threat for which they were designed.”

Info-ops funding

House and Senate conferees have restored $626 million requested by the Pentagon for information operations in the fiscal 2010 budget, after some members of Congress sought to cut the funding sharply.

The conference report on the issue states that information operations and strategic communications funding cost about $10 billion since 2001 on programs aimed at advancing U.S. interests.

The conference report on the fiscal Defense Authorization Act for 2010 says some members expressed concerns about lax oversight and integration of information activities. The conferees added language to the bill requiring the Pentagon to provide details on information-ops spending for next year’s budget.

President Obama signed the defense authorization bill into law on Wednesday.

The White House also is expected to complete a report next month that was required by Congress on its plan for comprehensive, governmentwide information operations and public diplomacy efforts.

The compromise followed a report in this space on a plan to cut from the budget millions that the Pentagon argued was urgently needed to counter terrorist and Iranian propaganda activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The Senate had planned to cut $58.8 million requested by military commands for strategic communications and information operations. The House had sought to cut about $500 million.

Military officials told Inside the Ring that the cuts could have significantly curtailed information operations at Central Command and Special Operations Command as well as the European and Africa commands.

Mum on Afghanistan

The Pentagon typically schedules several briefings per month from senior officers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As October comes to a close, four senior officers in Baghdad have briefed reporters at the Pentagon, via satellite. However, no officer briefings were piped in electronically from Afghanistan this month or in September. The last officer briefing from that country occurred in August.

Special correspondent Rowan Scarborough said the Pentagon has put a lid on such press conferences until President Obama settles on a new strategy for the country and decides whether to meet Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s troop request.

Whoever faces Washington reporters from Afghanistan is sure to be asked if he needs more troops, a question the Pentagon does not want briefers to face at the moment.

Gen. McChrystal took some heat after he gave a speech in London several weeks ago explaining why troop reinforcements are justified, while the commander in chief was privately studying the general’s new plan.

We asked a senior Pentagon official: Why no Afghan briefings this month?

“I think during this assessment period we are in a very challenging communication environment,” the official responded.

Bush Afghan strategy

Former Vice President Dick Cheney recently accused the Obama administration of secretly hijacking former President George W. Bush’s plan in late 2008 to revamp allied military strategy in Afghanistan.

In a speech to the Center for Security Policy on Oct. 21 that was highly critical of President Obama’s war policies, Mr. Cheney revealed that the Bush administration conducted a major strategy review that it gave to the incoming Obama team.

“In the fall of 2008, fully aware of the need to meet new challenges being posed by the Taliban, we dug into every aspect of Afghanistan policy, assembling a team that traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan, reviewing options and recommendations, and briefing President-elect Obama’s team,” Mr. Cheney said.

“They asked us not to announce our findings publicly, and we agreed, giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt,” Mr. Cheney said. “The new strategy they embraced in March, with a focus on counterinsurgency and an increase in the numbers of troops, bears a striking resemblance to the strategy we passed to them.”

Mr. Cheney noted that Obama advisers in recent weeks claimed that the Bush administration did not ask enough questions about the war in Afghanistan, and noted that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was among those who “have decided that it’s easier to blame the Bush administration than support our troops.”

“Now they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced,” he said.

He called on Mr. Obama “to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked by a reporter on Wednesday about Mr. Emanuel’s comments on the Bush administration not asking the right questions about military operations in Afghanistan.

“Based on your understanding of what you got from Bush-Cheney, is it still accurate to say none of those questions were raised or dealt with in those transition documents?” one reporter asked.

Mr. Gibbs replied: “I think, if you look at what Rahm was saying, the question isn’t whether or not somebody was asking those questions. The question was whether anybody was acting on any assessments relating to those questions. That’s what the president evaluated between the time he was sworn in, in March, when he authorized additional troops moving to Afghanistan.”

Earlier, Mr. Gibbs stated that Mr. Cheney’s criticism was “a curious comment” because “I think it’s pretty safe to say that the vice president was for seven years not focused on Afghanistan.”

“Even more curious given the fact that an increase in troops sat on desks in [the Bush] White House, including the vice president’s, for more than eight months, a resource request filled by President Obama in March,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Intelligence support site

Former Marine Corps Lt. Ilario Pantano, who was falsely accused and later cleared of murder charges in the deaths of Iraqi civilians during military operations, on Thursday will launch a new Web site designed to support U.S. civilian and military intelligence professionals.

“This is an online advocacy effort for the American people to show their support for the intelligence community and its professionals,” Mr. Pantano told Inside the Ring.

The site was prompted in part by the Obama Justice Department’s launch of a new investigation into purported abuses by intelligence officers involved in interrogations of detainees.

The Web site, StandwithIntelligence.com, states: “This purely political decision is damaging not only to the intelligence community, but the safety of us all, especially in the face of global terrorism.”

“We, the people, must stand with the unsung heroes who are defending this country and our families from harm,” the introduction statement says. “We can still turn the tide by publicly opposing this travesty.”

The Web site also honors Mike Spann, the retired Marine officer and CIA official who was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 25, 2001, the first casualty in the war on terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Johnny Spann, Mike’s father, stated in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that he was very concerned about the Justice Department investigation of intelligence officers who interrogated detainees.

“Career prosecutors determined four years ago that no other criminal investigations were warranted,” Mr. Spann stated.

“Sir, it is no accident that our homeland has not been attacked since 9/11,” he said. “We have brave men and women doing hard things in dark places and we, the American people and government, must stand behind those who willingly risk their lives doing dangerous jobs to protect our freedom.

“Intelligence professionals and their families must know that our government supports them at home and abroad, in good times and bad,” he said. “We need to know that the sacrifices made by them and their families were not in vain.”

The department’s decision to launch a criminal investigation of the intelligence officers “will help al Qaeda and all other enemies of the United States to commit their horrible acts against Americans and others,” Mr. Spann said.

Mr. Pantano said the goal of the Web site is to inform the intelligence community that “American people support them.”

In announcing the investigation in August, Mr. Holder said available information “warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.”

He also said: “The Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.”

Missile defense test

U.S. and Japanese military forces conducted a successful test of the Navy’s Aegis missile-defense system, hitting a medium-range target missile with an SM-3 interceptor in the middle of the Pacific off Hawaii on Tuesday.

The SM-3 was fired from the Japanese destroyer Myoko in cooperation with the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency.

“The SM-3 successfully intercepted a medium range target that had been launched minutes earlier from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The Myoko’s crew had detected and tracked the target and its weapons system developed a fire control solution, then launched the SM-3.”

Also taking part in the test were Pearl Harbor-based warships, the USS Lake Erie and USS Paul Hamilton, which detected and tracked the target and conducted a simulated engagement.

The test was the third time a Japanese ship shot down a target missile, highlighting progress on Japan’s development of a sea-based missile system to deter and counter North Korean missiles.

Riki Ellison, president of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said the test showed the Japanese navy’s “capability to destroy any current deployed North Korean ballistic missile threatening the people of Japan.”

The Kongo-class destroyer is one of three Japanese missile-defense ships equipped with the Aegis battle-management system, which is used on most U.S. Navy warships.

Mr. Ellison said the test proved that Japanese can “patrol and defend the seas surrounding Japan against the threat from North Korea to their homeland..

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