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February 11, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

Kandahar scare
U.S. and British security officials launched a hunt recently for suicide bomber vests at Kandahar air base after an intelligence report said terrorists were planning a major attack on the strategic air base in southern Afghanistan.

However, after a six-day security lockdown of the air base, a major hub for the 30,000-troop surge in forces, no vests or bombers were found, said U.S. intelligence officials, who ultimately dismissed the human intelligence report as unconfirmed.

Officials provided some details of the search for suicide bombers on the condition of anonymity based on the sensitive nature of the information.

Pentagon and International Security Assistance Forces spokesmen said they were unaware of the incident.

A military source said "items" related to the threatened attack were found and that one person was removed from the base. Other officials said nothing turned up during the six-day search.

Disclosure of the air base security alert comes as U.S. and allied military forces are set to kick off a major operation in southern Afghanistan in the next several days.

Concerns about the report were also heightened because of the deadly suicide bombing in December of a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan that was carried out by an al Qaeda double agent, killing eight people, most of them senior CIA officers.

Kandahar is the military's major hub and in recent months air transport flights into the base have risen from some 1,700 to 5,000 flights a week, making it one of the busiest runways in the world.

According to the officials, a human intelligence report from Afghanistan about two weeks ago stated that insurgents were planning to conduct multiple suicide bombing attacks inside the Kandahar airfield.

The warning set off a six-day search of the entire base including incoming and outgoing soldiers and local Afghan contractors, base offices and living quarters.

The effort to find the bombers and their explosives was led by counterintelligence officers of a British air force unit, along with U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and Army counterintelligence specialists. "They put the entire base on lockdown," one official said.

During the search, Taliban insurgents in the surrounding area launched a shelling campaign on the base, leading some officials to suspect that the shelling may have coincided with the planned suicide attack. The daily shelling of the base injured several troops and was unusual because earlier shelling attacks had been carried out only sporadically, the officials said.

After the search, the security restrictions were relaxed and intelligence officials concluded the original report was unconfirmed.

However, the search triggered heightened security at the base for would-be suicide bombers who might try to sneak in from the Afghan government-controlled international airport inside the base, or possible terrorists from within the community of local Afghan contract workers, or through some of the several hundred trucks that enter the base every day with supplies.

Obama gaffe
An embarrassing mispronunciation of the term for Navy medical personnel by President Obama went largely unnoticed last week, despite the penchant among political pundits and media types for savagely attacking political leaders - mostly Republicans such as Sarah Palin - for similar misstatements.

In a speech to the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 4, the commander in chief referred to Navy Corpsman Christopher R. Brossard as "Corpse-man" Brossard - not once but three times.

The gaffe, which exposed the president's lack of military experience, was ignored by all the major news networks, except Fox News Channel, and most of the major newspapers.

Mr. Obama said Hospitalman Brossard was a translator of Haitian descent who was "representative of the extraordinary work that our men and women in uniform do all around the world."

He then incorrectly identified Corpsman Brossard's first name as "Christian,"- instead of Christopher - prompting the White House to insert a "[sic]" on the official transcript. The president's mispronunciation of "Corpsman,"of course, went uncorrected.

"God's grace, and the compassion and decency of the American people," Mr. Obama said, "is expressed through the men and women like [Corpse-man] Brossard."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the presidential gaffe.

Corpsman Brossard is assigned to the military sealift commander ship USNS Comfort, which was dispatched to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.

"It appears again and again that this president has no real depth of knowledge or understanding of the military and its organization," said retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely. "He and his staff surely do not do their homework. I am not sure he makes any attempt to be schooled in the military, national security or financial affairs as there seems to be no progress over the past year in his understanding of matters."

Kamdesh probe results
A military investigation into the deadly Oct. 3 battle at the remote eastern Afghanistan base called Combat Outpost Keating has determined that commanders failed to beef up intelligence in advance of a pullout from the base and that intelligence reports of an impending attack were dismissed.

The investigation confirmed reports in The Washington Times that intelligence reports prior to the attack were dismissed or ignored, preventing defenses from being increased before the attack, which preceded a pullout from the base and a subsequent propaganda claim of victory by the Taliban.

"The investigation concluded that critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets which had been supporting COP Keating had been diverted to assist ongoing intense combat operations in other areas, that intelligence assessments had become desensitized to reports of massing enemy formations by previous reports that had proved false, and needed force protection improvements were not made because of the imminent closure of the outpost," the Army said in statement Feb. 5. "These factors resulted in an attractive target for enemy fighters."

Some 100 Taliban fighters attacked the base in what the Army said was a surprise attack that left eight U.S. soldiers dead. It was one of the deadliest battles for U.S. forces in a year.

Several intelligence reports were circulated prior to the Oct. 3 attack, including information indicating that a new Taliban subcommander had been named in Kamdesh, Ghulan Faroq who was put in charge of attacking the base.

The report also stated that insurgent fighters in Kamdesh were resupplied with ammunition for large-caliber guns days before the attack and that a Taliban meeting was held the day before the battle during which insurgents were told that a commander would arrive soon to lead the attacks.

The report stated that the U.S. forces "fought heroically" in battling enemy forces that were five time their size.

According to the report, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of forces in Afghanistan, "took appropriate action regarding Army personnel involved." He also issued orders for commanders to use the "lessons learned" from the incident to "prevent or mitigate future incidents."

Pacom China group
The commander of the U.S. Pacific Command has formed a special group of experts at the Hawaii-based headquarters to examine China - its military buildup, cyber activities and other military and security threats.

The China Strategic Focus Group is one of five new groups formed by Adm. Robert Willard, head of the command.

Navy Capt. Lydia Robertson, a spokeswoman for the admiral, said the groups were formed shortly after Adm. Willard took over in October and will operate as "mini-think tanks" to address the commander's "challenges and opportunities."

"The small groups are made up of Pacom staff assigned to research and recommend opinion to better inform the commander on ways to develop strategy and follow on engagement in the region using a whole of government approach," she said.

In addition to China, the special focus groups include panels on allies and partners, India, North Korea and transnational threat.

However, a defense official said the China group, by far, is the most important unit of them all.

Adm. Willard highlighted U.S. intelligence community shortfalls on China with his comments last year that "China has exceeded most of our intelligence estimates of their military capability and capacity every year" for more than a decade. Although aides said he intended the remark to highlight China's rapid buildup, some intelligence analysts viewed it as a slap at deficient intelligence estimates on China's military that officials say underestimated Beijing's military power for over a decade.

Adm. Willard is continuing with earlier defense policies in the Pacific that have come to be known as the "hedge strategy" of hoping for a future benign China but preparing for a hostile one.

Adm. Willard's immediate predecessor, Adm. Tim Keating, said in January 2009 that the Pentagon's semi-secret strategy for countering the rise of a hostile China is outlined in the classified Defense Policy Guidance. Asked by a reporter if China was monitoring the U.S. buildup of forces in the Pacific, Adm. Keating said: "I kind of hope they do. We've got a number of B-2s in Guam now. I'm hoping they notice. We're doing our best to make sure they do. We want them to understand that we're going to continue to course around the Pacific in ways apparent and maybe not quite so apparent, but we're going to utilize all the arrows in our quiver, if you will, and B-2s in Guam, continuous bomber presence writ larger in Guam and elsewhere. We've been told to do it by Defense Policy Guidance, and we're most assuredly doing it."

Capt. Robertson, the spokeswoman, said the groups are part of a coordinated interagency effort that will work with the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies. "The mission of each special focus group is to advance strategic understanding, informing development of strategic guidance from the commander," she said. "The goal is to inform Pacom's continued efforts to build a comprehensive understanding of the security environment, working with U.S. government agencies, allies, partners and other combatant commands," she said.

They also will develop the command's strategic guidance for Pacom subunits for short-, medium- and long-term objectives for Pacific Command engagement in the Asia Pacific region.

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