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October 29, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

ElBaradei's revenge
Defense officials tell us the disclosure this week of the 380 tons of missing high explosives from Iraq was the work of International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei, who is said to be opposed to the United States.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said they believe Mr. ElBaradei, an Egyptian, sought to influence the outcome of the presidential election when his agency called on the new Iraqi government to account for the stored high explosives at Al-Qaqaa.

"There's no question that most people here think the whole [Iraqi explosives] thing was cooked up," one official said.

The IAEA wrote a letter to Iraqi Science and Technology Minister Rashan Mandan Omar, who then had his chief monitor, Mohammad Abbas, write back. It was Mr. Abbas who claimed that the explosives were looted after the U.S.-led invasion, a claim defense officials dispute.

The Bush administration has been frustrated that Mr. ElBaradei has been slow to deal with the growing crisis over Iran's nuclear program and the refusal of Tehran to halt uranium enrichment in violation of IAEA rules.

Mr. ElBaradei also has not been tough on North Korea, for its rogue nuclear program.

An IAEA spokesman could not be reached for comment.

The speed with which the campaign of Sen. John Kerry exploited the issue also has raised suspicions in the Pentagon that U.S. intelligence agencies helped the Kerry campaign with the story, at least until it began to fall apart shortly after the report appeared in the New York Times on Monday.

Snake eaters
Special operations forces have played their largest role in combat history during fighting in Iraq, according to an internal briefing chart we've seen.

The mix of the Army's Delta Force, Green Berets, Rangers and Navy SEALs did not turn the tide of battle, as they did in Afghanistan. But they did contribute to a host of battlefield victories. They:

•Fought with Kurdish forces in the north and helped secure Mosul and Kirkuk.

•Formed a "pilot team with OGA." OGA is "other government agency" (i.e. — CIA).

•Captured a number of key Ba'athists, including Saddam Hussein.

•Did a large number of joint missions with conventional forces, including finding Saddam in his "spider hole."

A Green Beret who fought the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001 said the United States committed the largest-ever joint special operations task force.

Chinese visit
The visit to the Pentagon yesterday by Chinese Gen. Liang Guanglie was deliberately kept quiet to avoid calling attention to the now-stalled U.S.-Chinese military-to-military exchange program, defense officials said.

The exchange program was put on hold by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld after the April 2001 collision between a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft and a Chinese F-8 jet. The crash nearly killed the 23 crew members on the aircraft, who were imprisoned after making an emergency landing at a Chinese military base on Hainan island.

The White House has been pressuring Mr. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon to resume the program as a way to court Chinese support for the war on terrorism and other U.S. policies.

Mr. Rumsfeld met yesterday with Gen. Liang, who is considered the most powerful member of the Chinese military as the chief of the general staff.

Defense officials say Gen. Liang is an advocate of "liberation warfare" against Taiwan and as leader of the Nanjing military district near Taiwan is considered the man who would lead any conflict against Taiwan — and ultimately the United States, which has vowed to defend Taiwan from mainland attack. Officials said Gen. Liang also met Wednesday with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

During his meetings, Gen. Liang repeated calls by China for the United States to end U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

A Pentagon spokesman said Gen. Liang will visit the U.S. Joint Forces Command, Air Combat Command, Joint Task Force Civil Support, U.S. Army Infantry Center and the Air Force Academy.

No other details of the discussions were disclosed by the spokesman, who said the purpose of the visit is for U.S. defense leaders to "clearly communicate [U.S.] security priorities in Asia and the region."

Marine postcard
A Marine Corps officer in Anbar province, the home of such lovely spots as Ramadi and Fallujah, has sent out a postcard on daily life in the hostile desert.

•The gym. "Better get there early to get a space as it gets crowded. Just like in the states. As I sat there and thought about all, it just struck me as odd again and I continued to be blown away. Middle of Iraq, getting missiles launched at us, and there in the next room is a certified aerobics instructor teaching some sort of PowerFlex class."

•Quarters. "My roommate and I sleep with our pistols loaded and within arm's reach of our beds. There is really no chance of each other shooting ourselves. We keep our door locked so that we would know if someone was trying to get in."

•Health. "Dust, it is everywhere and you get tired of smelling it. You can't get away from it. In your clothes, hands, hair, through your boots into your socks to the point where your socks are stiff after one day from the mixing of sweat and dust."

•Rest. "People fall asleep. You can see people struggling to stay awake sometimes during the day. Especially in meetings. ... No one gets too wrapped up over it because everyone knows the days are long and you never know who had to ride a helo or take a night convoy. You get no recovery time, back to work as normal."

Shortly after the Marine mailed this postcard to friends, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited the 3rd Marine Air Wing, part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in western Iraq.

The defense secretary told them, "Because of your efforts, we now have a government in Iraq that will not invade other countries, will not fire missiles at its neighbors, will not seek weapons of mass destruction, will not harbor terrorists, will not slaughter its own people, will not behead people, and you can be enormously proud of the contribution you're making to that important progress."

  • 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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