- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

Secret buildup

Oman, located on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, quietly is becoming a major staging area for U.S. military forces preparing for raids on Afghanistan.

Officials said U.S. military forces and supplies began moving into the country secretly about two weeks ago. An AWACS airborne warning and control aircraft and single C-130 transport plane at the air base in the capital, Muscat, were the only visible signs of the growing U.S. military presence here. The main area for "prepositioned" forces and equipment is farther south, we are told.

American warplanes would cross the Gulf of Oman and Pakistan to hit targets in Afghanistan, home to global terrorist Osama bin Laden.

The Sultan of Oman believes there may be a bright side to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Sultan Quaboos told a group of visiting U.S. defense officials yesterday that the one positive thing about the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center is that the nations of the world are more united than ever in the fight against terrorism. As a result, the world may be able to avert even worse terrorist attacks, such as those using deadly chemical or biological and even nuclear weapons.

Terror warning

U.S. Pacific Command, which oversees American forces in Asia, has sent a message to troops telling them not to visit Indonesia. There is a fear that radical Islamic followers there have plans to kill Americans.

"Social unrest and violence can erupt with little forewarning anywhere in the country," the message says. "Bombings of religious, political and business targets have occurred throughout the country. In addition, radical Indonesian groups have threatened to attack U.S. facilities and expel American citizens from Indonesia if the U.S. strikes any Muslim country."

Says the Pacific Command message, "The U.S. embassy in Jakarta received information that indicates extremist elements may be planning to target U.S. interests in Indonesia, particularly U.S. government facilities."

Special ops

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says special-operations troops will be used extensively in America's war on terrorism, prompting some to suggest the Pentagon needs to hire more commandos.

But at Fort Bragg, N.C., home to U.S. Army Special Operations Command, troops are skeptical about inflating the number of elite warriors above the current 30,000.

"There is always an upper limit to the size of SOF because if it gets too big, it will get sloppy," said one soldier. "It goes back to the axiom, 'If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.' There just aren't that many people out there that are capable and willing to do the things that we do."

Gen. Henry H. Shelton, who retired this week after serving four years as Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, was a career special-operations soldier, with more than 300 "jumps" to his credit.

He was asked by CNN's Larry King if the military now needs more SOF troops.

Gen. Shelton said, "We have a great capability in our special-operations right now. Whether or not you could actually increase the size of the force is something that will have to be determined. The standards to get in are very high. We don't want to lower those standards. The first truth for special operations is that quality is more important than quantity."

But commandos are anticipating the public getting to read about operations that normally stay classified forever.

The commandos do not relish the fact that capturing or killing Osama bin Laden is placed largely in their lap. But, says one soldier, "This may in many ways be very good for [special forces or Green Berets]. That may sound a little cold, but this is what I mean: The value of SF will come to the fore. You have to realize that 99 percent of general officers, and for that matter, the military in general, don't understand unconventional warfare at all."

The Bush administration has deployed a large number of special-operations troops to the region for possible combat missions inside Afghanistan.

There are reportedly Army Rangers, Green Berets and Delta Force soldiers among the special-ops troops tapped for the mission. Missions may include collecting intelligence, identifying targets for air strikes, sabotaging Taliban assets or killing bin Laden. Commandos train and deploy in secret. They conduct lots of missions each year that never escape the classified world. But in Afghanistan, things may change.

"Turn us loose, we can do this," the soldier said. "It is an incredible source of frustration if an operator doesn't get to ply his trade for real."

How to win

James Webb, a Vietnam combat veteran and former Navy secretary, has a strategic plan for stopping future terror attacks. It includes reinvigorated spycraft, tough diplomacy and the big stick.

In an interview, Mr. Webb says the first step is to stop looking at terror acts, such as the Sept. 11 catastrophe, as just a crime scene.

"I think we made a grave mistake for more than 20 years in attempting to categorize these sorts of incidents as mere crimes," Mr. Webb says. "Certainly, you can bring criminal actions when you bring people to justice. But these are clearly, from their perspective, acts of war. And they have been since [Ayatollah] Khomeini took over in Iran. Elements of the Islamic fundamentalist movement have considered themselves to be in a state of war with us."

Mr. Webb's plan of action: "At the end of this, we need two things. One is, we need to have a sophisticated and effective intelligence apparatus reinstituted in this country. I think you can do that without compromising individual liberties. I think really what has happened [is] we, in many ways, have become paralyzed by a lot of the political-correctness debates and by the movements in the mid-1970s to take apart a lot of our intelligence functioning, domestically and overseas. At the end of this, we need to have an apparatus that is free to do the job it wasn't able to do in this incident.

"The second thing is, ideally, in the notion of attempting to combat this international movement, we need to be able to have encouraged the result that other countries around the world are going to feel the necessity of dealing with terrorist movements inside their own borders, so we don't end up having to, over the long period of time, force the issue from outside. They should come from the inside."

Mr. Webb, a filmmaker and writer whose new novel, "Lost Soldiers," arrived in bookstores last month, also sees an important military role that is based on gaining good intelligence.

"We have to serve notice that we consider these people at the moment of training or logistical support to be our enemies and to be willing to take them out at the point of training. In my view, if I were participating in this, I would be urging that we have no compunctions about taking out people who are training or who are logistically or otherwise supporting the training of these terrorists to cut the terrorists away from their support base."

Tent meetings

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was in Oman yesterday to meet top leaders of this desert Persian Gulf state to explain President Bush's war on terrorism. The secretary stopped off for several hours before flying on to Cairo.

What the secretary did not expect was to hold meetings in tents in the midday desert sun, where temperatures were in the high 90s. After arriving in his C-32 jet at Muscat Air Base, Mr. Rumsfeld and a few aides hopped aboard helicopters for a 45-minute flight into the desert.

Dressed in suits and ties, the secretary and a group of several aides, including his undersecretary for policy, Douglas Feith, were surprised to have their first meeting with a senior Omani defense official in a canvas tent.

For the second meeting with Oman's top leader, the Sultan of Oman, they were hoping for one of the Arabs' famed air-conditioned tents. No such luck.

Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Feith and the others, including Victoria Clarke, assistant defense secretary for public affairs, met Sultan Quaboos in a large, carpeted tent for about an hour.

Protocol prevented the men taking off their suit coats and those so attired sweated profusely during the session.

c Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Mr. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at bgertz@washingtontimes.com. Mr. Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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