- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

Thin Saudi support

A Saudi Arabian air force general has said privately that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States were the result of America "reaping what it sows," according to a U.S. intelligence official. The comment shows how shallow Saudi Arabian military and government support is for the coming U.S. military attacks on Afghanistan.

Riyadh's lukewarm backing also is evident in limitations it has placed on military operations from the desert kingdom, where the United States has been sending a large number of warplanes for coming attacks. The Saudi government did break relations with the Taliban government this week in a show of support for the United States.

Moscow perplexed

Only in Russia could the government be offended by intelligence reports linking Russian organized crime to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist associates.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement in response to reports in this newspaper that the U.S. government has obtained new intelligence linking bin Laden to efforts to obtain chemical, biological and nuclear weapons materials with the help of Russian organized crime groups.

The Foreign Ministry expressed its pique at the disclosure in the press "rather than being discussed through the channels existing between the two countries, including those between their secret services."

"The artificially created image of Russia as a country associated mainly with the sway of the mafia is not in keeping with reality," the ministry said in a statement carried by the ITAR-Tass News Agency.

The ministry called the leak an attempt to "compromise Russo-American cooperation" in finding the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.

Chinese missile shot

China's military continues its steady buildup of missile forces. This time the People's Liberation Army tested an advanced surface-to-air missile that appears to be part of China's developing missile-defense program.

U.S. intelligence officials said the Chinese test-fired a new SA-20 interceptor missile in central China. The missile test was successful and it was tracked by U.S. intelligence to a range of 93 miles.

The SA-20 is Russia's newest anti-aircraft/anti-missile system also known as the S-400 Triumf, and its appearance in China is another sign of growing military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing following their cooperation agreement signed last summer.

The SA-20 is believed to have a maximum range of up to 248 miles. It is said to have a formidable anti-missile capability and can hit warheads traveling at 4.8 kilometers per second, the speed of intermediate-range missiles with ranges of up to 2,170 miles.

James Webb's view

The former Marine officer, former Navy secretary, novelist and filmmaker stopped by The Washington Times on Wednesday to discuss his new novel, "Lost Soldier."

Mr. Webb, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, says the Bush administration should not only target strongholds of bin Laden, but also any terrorist training camp that produces perpetrators of global terror. He said that whatever military option the president chooses, it is important that the first mission is a success.

Asked what the rules of engagement should be for special operation troops going into Afghanistan, Mr. Webb said, "If you're sending something in, way in like that, the most important thing for them to do is to accomplish their objective and get out alive. So whatever that takes. I'm with the guys who want to come back."

His new book is about Vietnam, and he was asked if the generational antagonism over the war still exists.

"There has been, and continues to be, a very strong battle over the history of the Vietnam War," he said. "It's being fought principally in academia and Hollywood … I've been a part of that. I sort of inherited being part of that when "Fields of Fire" came out and suddenly people are asking me all these questions … It's not going to be eliminated by [the war on terrorism]. If anything it will be distinguished, just like in the Gulf war.

"The most irritating part of the coverage of the Gulf war was when people started talking about 'unlike our military in Vietnam, these guys are good,' or 'unlike our military in Vietnam, these guys don't do drugs,' or 'unlike our military in Vietnam these people are volunteers.' You go back and you start looking at the factual basis for that and it's just total crap. If you'd have taken that military and dropped it into Vietnam, within six months you'd have had I'm not going to say what you would have had. The Vietnam War is so misunderstood by our own people."

Mr. Webb has written a screenplay for his best-selling "Fields of Fire" and wants to film the movie in Vietnam. If the communist regime exercises censorship, he says, he will move production to Thailand.

Bin Laden watch

The United States' most wanted man is reportedly still in Afghanistan. The Rawalpindi Jang newspaper in Pakistan reported Monday that Osama bin Laden held a meeting "at a secret place" near Kandahar, Afghanistan, with Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban militia. Quoting sources in the Taliban information ministry office in Kandahar, the newspaper said both men talked about the Taliban's decision to ask bin Laden to leave the country and "possible attacks on Afghanistan."

A Taliban spokesman in Kabul said yesterday that an edict asking bin Laden to leave was delivered.

Pentagon strike

The Army and Navy suffered the brunt of the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon. The hijacked airliner slammed into the building's fourth corridor, killing officers working in the Army's personnel offices and the Navy's command center.

The Marine Corps lost lots of office space, but no lives. Gen. James Jones, the Marine commandant, quickly moved his operation up the hill to the Navy Annex.

Here's one Marine's account of trying to navigate an escape in the Pentagon's smoke-filled maze of corridors:

"The explosion occurred as I got to [a colleagues] door. We were thrown into the air; the floor buckled and separated along the expansion joint that separated [two offices]. The ceiling began to fall in; the lights came down. We could see the fireball rolling up past the windows. We all made for the door but it was stuck shut. [A corporal] wrenched it open. When we got into the hallway it was already filling with smoke.

"We met in the hall, accounting for all our people. We made toward the north end. The smoke was thicker and blacker that way and someone came through the doorway yelling that there was fire in that end … We doubled back, stopped to choose which risk to take, then heard someone shouting from the north end to follow the sound of his voice, that there was a way out. We followed his voice, a young naval officer and my new hero, whoever he is and made our way to the interior and on to the South parking lot."

Osama bin Laden's suicide operatives killed 125 persons working in the Pentagon.

Afghan attack plan

A well-placed government source told us the August 1998 military operation to attack terrorist training camps in Afghanistan was a shell of the original operation drawn up by the Joint Staff. The initial plan called for sending in two battalions of U.S. special operations troops by aircraft and helicopter to hit the camps and wipe out and decapitate the terrorist network, using B-2 long-range bomber strikes as well.

The final "mop-up" operation was to be sea-based cruise missile strikes to get anything left over from the earlier raids.

The formidable plan was rejected as too risky by President Clinton and his top aides. All that was done was the last part firing 75 cruise missiles at Afghanistan and a purported chemical arms factory in Sudan. The biggest failure of the raid was that they key target Osama bin Laden was not home at the time.

The Bush administration is preparing a variant of that original plan, which will emphasize commando attacks.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a group of visiting conservative leaders on Wednesday that the Pentagon had a number of "high-value" targets picked out already in Afghanistan.


•Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has told colleagues he misspoke when he told a Pentagon press conference the administration wants to end the regimes of countries that sponsor terrorism. He says he meant to say the United States plans to end state-sponsored terrorism. While Mr. Wolfowitz is more hawkish in the war on terrorism than Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, his misstatement has exaggerated their differences.

•As Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gives final approval to the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) due in Congress this weekend, he must sift through more than 500 comments submitted by his commanders in chief, the generals and admirals who run combatant commands.

Pentagon sources differ on whether the Sept. 11 attack saved military force structure. Some said the QDR was set to impose cuts until the assault. Others said the military had successfully argued with Mr. Rumsfeld's aides not to reduce troops without a matching cut in overseas missions.

Regardless, Mr. Rumsfeld is saying the military has not closed the book on reducing the number of carriers, divisions and fighter wings in order to create money for new weapons and combat readiness.

•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 rscarborough@WashingtonTimes.com.

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