- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

Coup rumors
U.S. intelligence officials said reports had reached Washington last week of a planned Pakistani military coup to coincide with the visit to the United States by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whose stay here ended Monday.
Gen. Musharraf's departure was delayed slightly by the crash of an American Airlines Airbus A300 that day.
The intelligence reports, we are told, stated that disaffected Pakistani military officers and personnel were planning to carry out a coup during the president's absence. The officers were said to be upset with Gen. Musharraf's pro-U.S. policies.
Reports of the coup planning, we are told, were one reason President Bush announced during a joint press conference Saturday with Gen. Musharraf that he hoped Northern Alliance forces would not occupy Kabul. The fall of the Afghan capital was seen as a blow to the Pakistani military, which in the past had supported the Taliban.
Other intelligence reports last week said a small number of Pakistan Army personnel had defected to Afghanistan to fight alongside Taliban forces.
The defections provided further intelligence evidence that all was not well within the government and military of Gen. Musharraf.

Osama's reporter
Hamid Mir, editor of Pakistan's Ausaf newspaper, is the only reporter known to have interviewed Osama bin Laden since the September 11 attacks. Mr. Mir told the world he was driven by jeep blindfolded for five hours on Nov. 7, and met the world's most wanted man in a brick hut somewhere in Afghanistan.
A U.S. intelligence official tells us Washington believes Mr. Mir's trek to bin Laden was much longer 10 hours longer. The official suggests the editor gave the five-hour timeline to stay in bin Laden's good graces and perhaps win a follow-up interview.
"We're very skeptical," said this official, noting that the CIA and U.S. special operations forces are gaining more intelligence sources on the ground. "At least half the time was deceptive driving with a mask on. North for three hours, then south for three hours."

Strategic missile test
The growing friendship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush, who spent time together in Crawford, Texas, this week, apparently has not altered Moscow's drive to develop new and potentially revolutionary strategic weapons.
U.S. intelligence officials tell us the Nov. 1 flight test of a Russian SS-27 strategic missile had unique characteristics. It was the second time Moscow had carried out what appeared to be a test firing of a new low-trajectory missile. The SS-27 was fired from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome and landed at the Kura test range on Kamchatka Peninsula.
In July, Russian military developers fired the first long-range strategic missile that left the atmosphere and then dropped down to an altitude of about 100,000 feet before impacting at a target range on the far eastern peninsula. The missile is believed to have a "scramjet"-powered last stage that travels at speeds around five times the speed of sound.
U.S. intelligence agencies believe the Russians are developing the new missile stage to defeat U.S. strategic defenses, which are currently focused on hitting warheads in space.
Russia remains opposed to U.S. plans for a nationwide strategic defense network. Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin were unable to agree on changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that would allow the legal deployment of such a system. In response, the United States could pull out of the treaty next month.

Taliban body count
In an effort to avoid the Vietnam War practice of counting enemy dead, the Pentagon has sought to desist from public recitation of estimated body counts for the Taliban during Operation Enduring Freedom.
U.S. intelligence officials, however, said that up until the Nov. 9 fall of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, intelligence agencies put the number of Taliban dead from weeks of U.S. aerial bombardment at 800.
Since then, the death toll is said to have grown to well over 1,000 as opposition forces pressed their advance throughout the country and into Kabul.

Rummy's gripes
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has some problems with the pending fiscal 2002 defense authorization bill now in a House-Senate conference.
But the tactic that has Hill staffers scratching their heads is Mr. Rumsfeld's threat yesterday to recommend a presidential veto if the bill does not authorize another round of base closings.
One GOP staffer said all the Democrats have to do is leave the provision out and dare President Bush to veto a bill that, in a time of war, contains a pay raise for men and women in uniform.
"Many are wondering how you threaten to veto a bill because something is not in it," said one aide. "This is setting up as a win-win for Democrats."
In an earlier letter to congressmen, Mr. Rumsfeld also hit on one of his favorite topics: reducing Congress' demand for all sorts of reports on Pentagon programs.
"As a general matter, excessive reporting requirements drain significant management and manpower focus," he wrote.
"Recognizing the important constitutional responsibilities Congress has to provide for the national defense, we believe we can significantly reduce the number, length and frequency of required reports for [fiscal year] 2002 and beyond and will work with the committees to reach that objective."
Mr. Rumsfeld then went on to list a number of House and Senate measures that would "unduly restrict our management options."

Short takes
We received a number of e-mails in response to an item last week on how Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs chairman, joked on network TV about a subordinate using the word "eviscerate" to describe Taliban military power. The Pentagon retracted the term 10 days into the bombing campaign.
The writers noted that in the wake of the Taliban's quick collapse in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul that Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold's word choice was, in fact, correct.
"I think the world of him and his competence," said a former colleague.
"I feel the full context of what he said needs to be shown. 'I think … the combat power of the Taliban has been eviscerated, and it will progressively over time.'"
The former colleague said, "In fact the word [means] 'to deprive of an essential part' is exactly what we were doing."
The war in Afghanistan did not prevent Marine pilots in an F-18 squadron from celebrating the Corps' 226th birthday on Sunday aboard the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. The officers helped dish out chow to all the ship's Marines and then cut a birthday cake.
The Air Force will likely station warplanes in Tajikistan, despite the Northern Alliance's rapid advances across Afghanistan. The F-15Es and F-16s will be needed to bomb Taliban and al Qaeda fighters during the country's harsh winter, a military source said, when their all-weather systems will pay dividends.
Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Mr. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at [email protected] Mr. Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at RScarborough<@WashingtonTimes.com.


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