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November 7, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

It is not a perfect solution, but the Army is trying a combination of boots on the ground and high-tech surveillance to stop the placement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq.

The IEDs come in many forms, but one thing is consistent: Saddam Hussein loyalists place them along the path of unsuspecting American convoys and then detonate them by remote control when the vehicles pass by.

The 4th Infantry and 1st Armored divisions, which occupy the most dangerous territory in Iraq, are flying drones with night-piercing infrared sensors to spot the terrorists in the act. The intelligence is passed along to sniper scout teams, who go to the spot and kill the saboteurs. One soldier told us the 4th ID scouts had killed more than 10 guerrillas in one week as they tried to hide IEDs.

The 4th ID soldiers, whose sector includes the notorious Tikrit, also are doing something that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld might find transformational. They have taken Austrian hunting rifles seized from Saddam's army and used them as their long-range sniper rifles. They go out at night, finding their prey with advanced night-vision goggles. The terrorists look like deer caught in the headlights.

Triggering IEDs
One thing the U.S. military can do to counter Iraq's homemade terrorist bombs is to use a trick known to ham radio operators.

U.S. helicopters and military vehicles could fly and drive around high-threat areas with Variable Frequency Oscillator (VFO) transmitters.

"What we did in high school was drive around the neighborhood with a VFO transmitter and many of the garage doors would flap open and closed as we moved along," said Bill Sweet, a ham operator in Michigan.

VFOs can be manually tuned up and down frequency bands and targeted at Iraq's remote-control bombs. "This procedure could set off bombs prematurely and even some as they were being built," Mr. Sweet tells us. "Digital VFO remote-control thwarting could be tried too, with a computer running random number combinations."

Mystery round
Army officials are trying to figure out what high-speed projectile crippled an M1A1 tank in August.

The tank, on routine patrol in Baghdad on Aug. 28, was hit by what the Army is calling a mystery round.

The unknown projectile was the subject of a report to the Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command in Warren, Mich. The Army Times first disclosed the report.

The report said some type of yellow molten metal penetrated the tank. But the kind of weapon that fired it is unknown and has a lot of tank drivers and other military vehicle drivers worried.

One theory is that the tank was hit by a round that causes "spalling," which occurs after a hollow or shaped-charge warhead from an antitank weapon burns its way through armor.

The weapon that killed the tank may be part of an advanced rocket-propelled grenade.

An Army spokesman declined to comment, saying the report on the mystery round is classified.

Rummy to Asia
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will leave for Asia next week on his first visit to the region since becoming defense chief, the Asian press is reporting.

The trip will take him to Japan and Korea for defense consultative talks, Japan's Kyodo news agency and South Korea's Yonhap reported.

A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment on the trip.

Some in Asia were beginning to think Mr. Rumsfeld did not like Japan and South Korea because he had not visited America's two closest allies in northeast Asia.

The trip comes amid heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear program and political uncertainty in South Korea. Japanese voters go to the polls Sunday and are expected to re-elect Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Mr. Rumsfeld is expected to meet in Tokyo with Mr. Koizumi, Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba and Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. In Seoul, he will meet South Korean Defense Minister Cho Yong-kil.

Topics of discussion are expected to include North Korea and issues related to U.S. troops in both countries, as well as the dispatch of Japanese and South Korean troops to security forces in Iraq.

Col. West petition
A Web site called "PatriotPetitions" has begun collecting signatures for a letter to President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and congressional leaders on behalf of accused Army Lt. Col. Allen B. West.

The West case has stirred anger across the country among pro-military people. It is a daily topic on talk radio. The 4th Infantry Division is moving to court-martial Col. West on a charge of assault for scaring an Iraqi detainee into talking. Col. West admits he violated the rules of interrogation by firing his 9 mm pistol twice to frighten the Iraqi. He has asked to retire at the 20-year mark rather than face a trial.

PatriotPetitions ( is asking Washington to stop the prosecution. Reads the petition, in part: "We, the people of these United States, petition [national leaders] on behalf of Army Lt. Col. Allen B. West. Col. West, together with his fellow line officers engaged in combat with terrorists in Iraq, has been ordered to complete a difficult mission under impossible circumstances. U.S. forces in Iraq are not engaged in conventional warfare. They are facing a terrorist enemy who blends into the civilian population — hiding behind women and children — only to reemerge to conduct deadly attacks against our troops. Col. West's own battalion faces such attacks almost every day.

"Col. West's actions do not merit prosecution, demotion, loss of benefits or prison time. Col. West's actions merit the praise of his countrymen for the lives he saved in the line of duty."

Col. West says that after he fired the gun, the Iraqi provided information about a planned ambush against U.S. soldiers and gave the names of three collaborators.

Col. West's defense
Lt. Col. Allen B. West's attorney, Neal Puckett, left the United States yesterday for a showdown with the Army in Tikrit. That's where Col. West's Article 32 hearing will be conducted later this month at Saddam Hussein's main palace in the town of his birthplace.

Col. West, who was relieved of his battalion command and does administrative work for an airborne unit, has a military attorney in Iraq who has been investigating the case.

Four persons had interrogated an Iraqi before Col. West, desperate to protect his troops, intervened and fired his gun. All four, including two women professional interrogators, roughed up the Iraqi, but did no serious harm. The Army punished all four. Only West, who did not strike the detainee, is facing a criminal charge, Mr. Puckett said.

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

  • 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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