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February 3, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Commando power
The soon-to-be-released Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) further empowers U.S. Special Operations warriors to find and kill, or capture, terrorists. The language in a late draft we've seen is fairly explicit, leaving no doubt that special operations forces (SOF) are out there, day in, day out, hunting al Qaeda members in uniform and out:

"SOF will increase their capacity to perform more demanding and specialized tasks, especially long-duration, indirect and clandestine operations in politically sensitive environments and denied areas. For direct action, they will possess an expanded organic ability to locate, tag and track dangerous individuals and other high-value targets globally. ... SOF will have increased ability to train and work with partners, employ surrogates, operate clandestinely and sustain a larger posture with lower visibility."

Special operations' budget has increased 81 percent since the September 11 attacks. The Army's school to mold new Green Berets produced 617 graduates last year, up from 282 in 2001.

The final QDR is to be released today at the Pentagon.

Iran in Iraq
Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte confirmed publicly for the first time yesterday what had been reported unofficially in the past: Iran is helping Iraqi insurgents make bombs used to maim and kill U.S. troops.

"Iran seeks a Shia-dominated and unified Iraq but also wants the United States to experience continued setbacks in our efforts to promote democracy and stability," Mr. Negroponte told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Iranians are providing guidance and training to select Iraqi Shia political groups, and giving weapons and training to Shia militants "to enable anti-coalition attacks," he said.

"Tehran has been responsible for at least some of the increasing lethality of anti-coalition attacks by providing Shia militants with the capability to build improvised explosive devices ... similar to those developed by Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah," Mr. Negroponte said.

"Tehran's intentions to inflict pain on the United States in Iraq have been constrained by its caution to avoid giving Washington an excuse to attack it, also the clerical leadership's general satisfaction with trends in Iraq, and Iran's desire to avoid chaos on its border."

Front man
Ayman al-Zawahiri's latest taped message, in which he called President Bush a "butcher," is his eighth over the past year. He has clearly become the voice and face of al Qaeda as his boss, Osama bin Laden, stays mostly silent.

We asked a U.S. intelligence official why.

"Bin Laden is intentionally keeping a low profile because he is on the run and doesn't want to give away his location," the official said. Bin Laden surfaced last month for the first time in more than a year with an audiotape on which he offered Mr. Bush a "truce" in Afghanistan and Iraq.

New pilots
The Army long has relied on warrant officers to pilot attack and transport helicopters. Now the Navy is going to give it a try.

Navy planes and helicopters are piloted by line officers who serve as pilots. Other officers serve as naval flight officers . Under a pilot program, the Navy is asking "hard-charging sailors" to apply to become chief warrant officers and be among 30 selected for flight school, says a message from the chief of naval operations.

New warrant officers must, on receiving their wings, sign up for at least eight years' service.

The Navy plans to keep fighter jets off limits for now, but will open up four aircraft: two types of helicopters, a patrol plane and the venerable EA-6B electronic jammer that targets enemy tracking radars.

A selection board will pick 16 enlisted personnel this July and 14 others next year. All must complete flight training and fleet qualifications before being promoted to senior warrant officer.

Capt. Mark Guadagnini, division director for aviation personnel at Navy Personnel Command, said tapping the enlisted ranks does not mean the Navy has a pilot shortage. In fact, he told us, there are 12,500 pilots on active duty and more waiting in line.

The new policy is being adopted for somewhat complicated reasons. It has to do with freeing up a backlog of junior pilots who need to spend time as squadron department heads in order to be promoted.

The problem is not new, Capt. Guadagnini said. It's just that someone thought of this new way to solve it. "The Navy is always looking for better ways of doing business," the test pilot said.

He said the fighter community will not necessarily stay off-limits to enlisted personnel forever. "If it works, and then there is a requirement to change the way we are doing personnel business, we can put them in any community," he said.

Dr. Rumsfeld
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld did not send a letter to The Washington Post, as did the Joint Chiefs of Staff, protesting a Tom Toles cartoon. But Mr. Rumsfeld's staff thinks he had a right to. The cartoon depicted Mr. Rumsfeld as an uncaring physician standing over an armless and legless Army soldier. Political cartoons, by design, are not fair. But Mr. Rumsfeld's staff considers the liberal cartoonist's latest attack as particularly unfair. Some used words such as "heinous" and "over the top."

They talked of Mr. Rumsfeld's frequent trips to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit the wounded and their families, and his practice of holding town hall meetings with the troops and then schmoozing with them afterward. "He's like a rock star with those guys," a defense official said. "He will stand and talk and sign pictures for an hour among 5,000 guys."

Displeasure within the Bush administration with The Post is not new. Most recently, the White House staff was unhappy with a headline over a picture of first daughter Barbara Bush that described her as "trampy."

Staff change
Larry Di Rita, a close adviser to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, has relinquished his public affairs duties and has a new post: counselor to the Defense Department.

His old job is being assumed by Dorrance Smith, the new assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Mr. Smith's confirmation had been blocked by Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, over a column Mr. Smith penned that was critical of the television networks. President Bush then made a recess appointment.

Mr. Smith will not necessarily become the voice and face of the Pentagon. He likely will do strategic communications and leave briefings to press aide Eric Ruff.

Then again, the most prominent figure at the Pentagon press room lectern is Mr. Rumsfeld himself.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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