Afghan President Hamid Karzai doesn’t yet have the money he needs to hold national elections in October, government sources tell us.
The estimated cost is more than $100 million, but donor countries have contributed just $70 million.
The Bush administration has capped its contribution at $25 million, meaning that other countries must cough up at least $75 million. One bright spot is that Britain is poised to send $15 million to help close the gap.
Other problems ahead: The government census takers cannot gain access to all provinces, especially in Pashtun tribal areas, owing to violence against public employees.
Local law allows for population estimates in such areas, but such estimates risk offending Pashtuns and causing them to turn to remnants of the ousted Taliban regime if they think they are undercounted.
What’s more, warlords and some Afghan government officials are so deeply involved in the opium trade that voters may decide that Afghanistan has fallen into the hands of the corrupt and that going to the polls is not worth it.
Not that simple
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry has called for greatly increasing the size of U.S. special operations forces. Trouble is, if you talk to the folks in commando country at Fort Bragg, N.C., it’s not that easy.
Here’s what one covert warrior told us:
“Special Forces [Green Berets] has been trying to drastically increase in size for the last five years. You don’t just wave a magic wand and produce Special Forces soldiers. First of all, they are volunteers, and how many people out there want to, and are willing to, do the things we do?
“The training facilities are finite. There are just so many that can push through the pipeline each year without lowering standards and cutting corners on training. The Clinton years gave us a drastically reduced Army. Since the Army is the pool from which we draw our recruits, normally on their second enlistment, where does he think we get enough candidates for SF training?
“This shows his fundamental lack of understanding of Special Forces and how we work. President Bush and [Donald Rumsfeld] get it. They’ve let us do the things that we’ve trained for and advocated for years.”
No attack plans
North Korea’s state-run media outlets have warned repeatedly in recent weeks that the U.S. military realignment in South Korea is intended as a prelude to a pre-emptive attack by U.S. and South Korean forces.
The U.S. military is withdrawing 12,500 troops and consolidating spread-out 2nd Infantry Division units near the demilitarized zone to areas farther south.
Even some left-wing voices in South Korea, echoing the North’s propaganda, have been floating conspiracy theories that the troop relocation and the addition of new weapons systems is part of a secret U.S. plan to trigger a war against North Korea.
We asked Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, about the North Korean fears of attack and the South Korean media reports.
He dismissed both claims as speculation and said the U.S. force buildup and troop consolidation are part of the United States’ “solemn commitment” to protecting South Korea.
“There are no plans for pre-emptive attacks of North Korea,” Gen. LaPorte said. “This is an alliance. Any action that would be taken would be taken as a result of both governments.”
Still, the four-star general said the new military capabilities being added to U.S. and South Korean forces will make them more powerful and agile. They include Marine battalions in Japan that can be rushed to South Korea aboard high-speed vessels in 23 hours, and Army combat Stryker units based in Fort Lewis, Wash., that can be flown to South Korea aboard C-17 transports in 11 hours.
Prepositioned arms for both Marine and Army units and Air Force bombs can be sent from Saipan and Diego Garcia “in a matter of days,” Gen. LaPorte said.
“You don’t want to put blinders on and only look at forces on the peninsula,” Gen. LaPorte said. “You have to look at what are the capabilities the United States can bring to bear both in armistice and in wartime and they’re tremendous.
“We think that better disposes us for both our armistice mission and for any potential conflict mission,” Gen. LaPorte said.
Last month, North Korea’s military at the Panmunjom mission sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan denouncing the “vast arms buildup” by the United States as a “total denial” of the 1953 armistice agreement.
The July 22 letter signed by North Korean Col. Gen. Li Chan-pok said war with the United States is “almost unavoidable.”
“The future war in Korea, in which the U.S. vicious hostile policy toward [North Korea] and our army and people’s deep-rooted grudge and rage toward the United States will clash, will become an unprecedented, vicious, and life-and-death battle yet unknown to the world, which will bring about terrible destruction and vast sacrifice that go beyond imagination,” the letter states.
The letter noted that under current conditions “a pre-emptive strike cannot be the monopoly of only the United States.”
Urban Air Force
The Air Force has completed a prototype training course at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to teach security forces how to fight in urban environments.
The courses included tactical pistol and sharpshooting skills, close-quarters firefights and hand-to-hand combat.
The first 30 students are supposed to go back to their home bases and teach these skills to other airmen. The Air Education and Training Command, which conducted the trial, is assessing whether to make it permanent.
Maj. Harry Schmidt has lost his appeal to reverse a severe written reprimand he received for the mistaken bombing and killing of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in 2002.
Maj. Schmidt, an Illinois Air National Guard F-16 pilot, had submitted to an administrative hearing rather than a court-martial, where he could have received prison time if convicted of dereliction of duty.
But the pilot and his attorney, Charles Gittins, were taken aback by the severe language in the reprimand. They decided to appeal to Air Force Air Combat Command in Langley, Va., knowing the move had little chance of success.
This week, Gen. Hal Hornburg announced he had denied the appeal of the reprimand, which was meted out by Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, 8th Air Force commander.
In addition to the reprimand, Gen. Carlson ordered a fine of $5,672. Mr. Gittins said his decision to submit to a nonjudicial hearing came after he gained assurances that his client will be allowed to remain in the Air Force until he reaches 20-year retirement in three years. He will be confined to nonflying jobs.
Maj. Schmidt says he fired in self-defense after seeing flashes of ground fire.
Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Mr. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at email@example.com Mr. Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.