- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

Uzbeks threatened

Senior Pentagon civilian and military officials were alarmed last week when Taliban leaders began moving additional troops near Uzbekistan, threatening to attack the Central Asian nation that is hosting U.S. forces at a base near the Afghan border.

The deployment of up to 2,000 additional Taliban troops to the 8,000 already based near Uzbekistan was unexpected and prompted additional U.S. bombing raids on Taliban troop garrisons in the region.

U.S. military planners saw the buildup as a prelude to a potential Taliban incursion into Uzbekistan.

An administration official said intelligence reports gauged that the Taliban would not threaten Uzbekistan. But after the bombing and missile raids began Oct. 7, "they moved north."

Uzbekistan is a base for U.S. military aircraft delivering humanitarian relief supplies and for combat search-and-rescue teams at the Khanabad airfield, located about 10 miles from the town of Karshi. An administration official says commandos are also based there.

An agreement governing military ties between Washington and Tashkent was announced before Oct. 7. In announcing the accord, a statement said both sides would hold "urgent" consultations.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last Friday that "there have been threats to Uzbekistan for some period of time."

"They live in that part of the world, it's a tough part of the world, and there have been terrorist groups internally and cross-border that they have had to deal with over time," he said.

U.S. officials said Uzbekistan's government secretly welcomed U.S. military forces and support but backed off permitting greater activities under pressure from Moscow, which views the country as part of its sphere of influence.

"They are afraid we will leave them [after Afghanistan operations end] to the mercy of the Russians and the Islamic Army of Uzbekistan," the official said.

The Islamic Army of Uzbekistan is working with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization in Afghanistan and is seeking to create an Islamist, Talibanlike regime in the Central Asian country.

Nomination nixed

Michelle K. Van Cleave, a science adviser to President Reagan who was to be the first woman to become assistant secretary of defense for special operations, is not getting the job after all.

The White House nominated Ms. Van Cleave to the senior post on Sept. 21, but she never got a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. A committee spokeswoman told us yesterday, in response to a query, that the White House had withdrawn the nomination.

Ms. Van Cleave, a consultant who served as counsel to several Senate committees, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has picked Army Secretary Thomas White, a retired Army general, to serve as acting assistant secretary.

Congressional sources say the policy office needs a top official at a time when special operations troops are playing a key role in President Bush's war on terrorism, especially in Afghanistan.

On another front, there is movement in the nomination of Joseph Schmitz to be the Pentagon's top investigator as Defense Department inspector general.

Two Senate Republicans, Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, sent a letter last month to committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, urging a confirmation hearing and approval.

"Joseph Schmitz's nomination has languished in the Armed Services Committee for three months," the two wrote. "The president deserves to have his team in place during this national emergency."

The Republican-controlled Senate refused to act on President Clinton's last IG nominee. The important investigative post, which oversees ethics and criminal investigations, sometimes involving senior officers and civilians, has not been held by a confirmed IG in three years.

This week, Mr. Levin agreed to hold a hearing next Tuesday.

On media

Mr. Rumsfeld loves to jab the press. He says the Washington media often get things wrong, especially when writing about his working relationships with Mr. Bush's other top national security advisers.

In an interview this week, even though the audience comprised Arab speakers, Mr. Rumsfeld found another opportunity to take a dig.

He told an interviewer for Qatar's Arab-language Al Jazeera TV network:

"I don't know, there's something about the press that they like to get up in the morning and create conflict between people. It's apparently a lot easier for people in the media to write about personalities than it is about concepts and strategies and direction.

"If you personalize a thing into good guys and bad guys, it's an easier story, I suppose, for a journalist, but it's not terribly useful. I've been kind of amused by it all from time to time, and my wife and children know I'm basically a nice person."

Nimitz rough seas

While Navy pilots are scoring bull's-eyes over Afghanistan, what was supposed to be a routine diplomatic and redeployment cruise for the carrier USS Nimitz turned into a day of mishaps on Oct. 10.

That morning, the huge ship barely missed a fishing boat. As the boat came out of the fog, the crew executed a quick turn that rattled everyone below deck. Later, while fixing a propeller, the carrier backed into a swell.

Then the carrier's C-2 COD (carrier onboard delivery) aircraft landed too far left, caught the restraining wire at a bad angle and stopped. Part of the COD hung over the flight deck. The passengers: 18 VIPs, among them Uruguay's defense minister, navy chief and congressional leader.

Cmdr. Jack Papp, a spokesman for Navy Pacific air forces, said no one was hurt. The guests went ahead with a tour and lunch with the captain. A formal mishap investigation is under way.

The Nimitz had just completed a refueling and overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding. It is still under way, heading to its new home port of San Diego, via South America's Cape Horn.

Said a Navy source, "The State Department loves to use these inter-fleet transfers as an opportunity to schmooze the South American hot spots."

Pakistan rejects help

The government of Pakistan last week rejected a U.S. government proposal to provide security for Islamabad's nuclear arsenal, we are told.

The offer to protect the weapons, believed to number around 20, was turned down because of fears that U.S. security personnel could be used to block the Pakistani military's deployment of the arms.

Tensions have mounted in the past several days between Pakistan and India as fighting flared anew in the disputed region of Kashmir. The tensions are dangerous because both India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them, quickly.

U.S. intelligence agencies fear that instability in Pakistan could lead to the seizure of power in Islamabad of Islamic extremists who might use nuclear weapons. Instability in Pakistan also could lead to attacks on the Pakistani military's nuclear arsenal and the theft of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons security was said to be on the agenda of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell during his visit to Islamabad this week.

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