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February 25, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Afghan drugs
The State Department has dropped plans to buy used Israeli and Russian helicopters to fight the drug war in Afghanistan.

The department backed off its plan after House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, put a "hold" on money for the transaction.

Critics of the proposed deal said the United States should not use Israeli Huey helicopters to destroy the poppy crops of Muslim farmers. They also worried about the safety of old Russian models.

Mr. Hyde, in a Feb. 10 letter to acting Assistant Secretary of State Nancy J. Powell, said the Drug Enforcement Administration was evaluating whether the helicopters were safe.

"We hope the DEA can move forward and reach closure on the relative value of these Russian helicopters for destruction of heroin labs and high value target take downs in a possibly hostile and dangerous Afghan environment," Mr. Hyde wrote. "We need to do this correctly at the outset for the sake of the courageous young DEA agents and Afghan police we ask to do this difficult job."

The Bush administration recently announced a new strategy to remove Afghanistan as the world's No. 1 supplier of heroin. But Mr. Hyde so far is unimpressed.

"As we have seen nearly two years go by without a coherent and coordinated anti-drug plan for Afghanistan, an additional, short delay of a few days to address these concerns would be better than moving forward now," he wrote.

Rush in Afghanistan
Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh is in Afghanistan visiting U.S. military forces. The man who calls himself the "doctor of democracy" flew to Kabul on a U.N. humanitarian flight Tuesday and met with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. He and his radio show are known to be wildly popular among the U.S. military.

"They're just doing the Lord's work over here," Mr. Limbaugh told talk-show host Roger Hedgecock in a telephone interview from Kabul. He described Afghanistan as a "hellhole" but said the U.S. and allied military personnel and civilians in the country "are committed to straightening this place out [and] are having amazing success."

"I am more impressed and more in awe of the armed forces in this country, the uniformed personnel, than ever," he said. "I mean, they volunteer and they get sent to a place like this, and they're all smiling, and they're all happy. They are ecstatic to see people from back home, and they love hearing stories about support for their operations and their mission, because they're all committed to it. I saw men, women, black, white, you name it. All ethnic groups represented in the military here."

Mr. Limbaugh will be traveling around Afghanistan until tomorrow.

"Everybody can be as proud as they can of the American military here in this operation. It's just astounding to see," he said.

Asked by one soldier whether the United States should impose its system of government on Afghanistan, Mr. Limbaugh replied: "A great question, and you know, I actually wouldn't impose anything on them. Just give them their freedom. I trust freedom. I trust free people. Let free people make up their own minds about things and you can trust the results.

"There are a lot of people in America who don't trust free people to do the right thing. I won't mention a political party; you all know it. And I won't mention the ideology; you all know it. But I have no desire to tell the Afghans they have to do it this way, they have to do it that way. Give them their freedom."

Stopping Iran
The Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control has issued a paper on how to stop Iran's nuclear-arms ambitions. The think tank's assessment is not promising.

After listening to five experts, the project's Iran Watch newsletter writes that if Iran fails to stop pursuing the bomb, there will be no international consensus on choosing a military option to stop it.

"The panelists agreed that, barring a flagrant act by Iran, it will be very difficult to unify the world behind either sanctions or the use of force," writes Iran Watch. "In this case, a nuclear-capable Iran is likely to emerge."

Iran Watch is edited by Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin.

"Any use of force by the United States against Iran is likely to trigger asymmetric retaliation and could leave the United States without a practical response," the Iran Watch paper said. "Nevertheless, the most effective use of force would be a naval blockade of Iran's ports. Air strikes or a ground invasion could entail more costs than benefits."

In an interview with The Washington Times last year, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that it was difficult to solve the Iran problem diplomatically when other nations will not join with the United States to take a tough, united stand.

Russia has built a light-water reactor for Iran, which could secretly extract enriched uranium. More troubling, Iran is working on a heavy-water reactor that could produce plutonium. The United States thinks Iran got the heavy-water technology via the black market.

Clark's exit
Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations, will retire this summer rather than serve the final year of a two-year extension. To insiders, Adm. Clark's announcement means he does not think he will win the competition to be the next Joint Chiefs chairman, the nation's highest-ranking military officer.

Adm. Clark had told associates that he would not stay the sixth year if he did not win the post, according to a well-placed source.

Adm. Clark is highly regarded by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for embracing military transformation. But he became increasingly less popular with the shipbuilding industry and some naval officers as they saw the fleet continue to shrink as the Navy buys fewer new ships.

The chairman's job opens up this fall when Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers completes his four-year term.

Buying power
If Navy Secretary Gordon England shifts to the Air Force as expected, he may take John Young with him as the service's top acquisition chief.

Mr. Young now serves in that capacity in the Navy and has been mentioned for several senior Pentagon posts. He is well-respected in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. He may be the man needed to straighten out Air Force procurement practices in the aftermath of the Boeing tanker-lease scandal.

The White House has not announced Mr. England's nomination, nor has it said who would succeed him at the Navy post. Word is the Bush White House has its eye on a corporate leader and Republican contributor.

Coca growers in Colombia have found a way to defeat the U.S. aerial spraying of herbicide. Growers are spraying the leaves with a protective coat of molasses.

Stay tuned for the counter-molasses measure.

Coca produces cocaine, the No. 1 cash crop of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a terror group that routinely kills innocent civilians. The FARC controls virtually all the cocaine produced in Colombia and shipped to the United States.

  • 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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