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The four aircraft were sought for U.S. special operations forces that are engaged in large-scale counterterrorism operations largely out of public view in Afghanistan.

The Brazilian Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano can be fitted with 250-pound laser-guided bombs and other weapons.

Gen. McChrystal, who recently retired, had been seeking to get the aircraft to the commando forces after Congress blocked funds for the classified project several months ago. The aircraft were first requested nearly a year ago for what Gen. McChrystal said was “to conduct critical find, fix and finish operations against [al Qaeda] and Taliban networks.”

The money for the aircraft lease, $44 million, was blocked over pork-barrel political issues, namely an effort to get a new contract for U.S.-based light attack aircraft, as reported in this space last month.

On Tuesday, the incoming U.S. Central Command commander, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he supports the Imminent Fury program.

“It’s a test program to see if we can use turboprop planes to replace much more expensive planes, but more importantly, more effectively in the counterinsurgency environment,” Gen. Mattis said, noting that the four-star general needs “to build some support for it.”

Gates gazing

One of the ongoing pastimes inside the Pentagon is to speculate on the departure date for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Mr. Gates fueled the guessing game from Day One, when President Obama asked him to be a holdover from President George W. Bush’s administration. Mr. Gates told reporters he had hoped the president-elect would not ask the question so he could return to private life.

“With the country fighting two wars and our men and women in uniform at risk, if a president asked me to help, there’s no way I can say no,” said Mr. Gates. “So I spent a long time hoping the question would never be popped. I then hoped he’d change his mind, and yesterday it became a reality.”

Mr. Gates has not acted as a caretaker, that’s for sure, what with a new strategy for Afghanistan, weapon systems canceled, four four-star generals fired on his watch and a new drive to lower Defense Department overhead.

Sources tell special correspondent Rowan Scarborough the latest date bandied about inside the building for departure is April. By then, Mr. Gates will have presented the 2012 budget, with new cost savings. Most troops will be out of Iraq and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus will have, the Pentagon hopes, turned the tide of battle in Afghanistan.

But Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell calls the April speculation “Nonsense. Untrue. The folks you are speaking to know not of what they speak.”

Mr. Morrell told Inside the Ring in January 2008, after Mr. Gates took up residence at the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery near the State Department, that the move “made sense because he has no intention of staying past Jan. 20, 2009, [Inauguration Day] and therefore he decided not to buy.”

Contact Bill Gertz at