- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

TAMPA, Fla. — Foreign military advisers at U.S. Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base are giving their frank views on the nation’s counterterror strategy, and the military is so pleased that it has hired them.

It may be just U.S. lip service to organize coalitions more readily, but specialists from France, Germany and other countries are working with U.S. analysts to address emerging threats in the larger Middle East/Horn of Africa region.

“It’s a wide debate,” said French Col. Francois Chevant, acknowledging that the analysts don’t always agree. But that’s the whole point behind the decision to bring in the foreign experts to advise the U.S. military.

“We give this commander what he was asking for — a view through a different set of glasses,” said German Col. Wolfgang E. Herbst, acting director of the Combined Planning Group.

The group is made up of top-level military strategists from 20 countries around the world. All have been screened and integrated into the U.S. military command structure, which is paying their salaries while they are on loan from their host militaries.

Their mandate is to help shape policy both for the military and administrators in Washington, meeting with both State Department the Department of Defense officials.

“We want to make sure our work is congruent with the U.S. departments. At the same time, we are engaged in debate,” said British Col. David Greenwood.

Every country has its own perspective on how to deal with threats in the region, and the group constantly battles with political differences.

“This is a very tiny step-by-step process,” Col. Chevant said.

The Combined Planning Group’s role in CentCom — which is responsible for operations in Iraq — is just one step toward a much larger integration of coalition officers into the command, officials said. So far, the effectiveness of the group is hard to judge.

After two years of work, members of the group declined to identify how they had influenced or helped direct policy in any way beyond helping to determine the composition of Afghan forces.

Overall, the planning group intends to examine ways in which transnational terrorist networks can bring instability across the region, the conditions that help them to attract recruits, and practical assistance that will help governments defeat them.

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