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February 8, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Philippines confusion
Administration insiders say recent confusion about the U.S. role in the Philippines arose when some troops tried to get too close to the action. The Philippine armed forces are currently waging war against Abu Sayyaf, a ruthless Islamic terrorist group with ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

American soldiers are flowing into the Asian nation for exercises and training, but are not supposed to directly fight the terrorists.

"Admiral Blair tried to get too aggressive," said one senior administration official, referring to Adm. Dennis Blair, who heads the U.S. Pacific Command, based in Honolulu.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, conceded this week there has been "confusion" about the Americans' role in the former U.S. territory.

"I know there's been some confusion over the role that what we call Joint Task Force 510 will play in the Philippines," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "They are really there to assist the Philippine government and the Philippine armed forces in their quest to rid their country of terrorist organizations. And what we hope to bring to them is some assistance and some training and some advice in the areas of command and control, of communications, of intelligence analysis and fusion of many sources of intelligence. And we'll do that, provide that advice and training, down to the battalion level. This is not an operation like you saw in Afghanistan."

The general said Americans would not be going out on combat patrols.

"They're not there in an active military role," added Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Some 250 members of the Special Operations Command-Pacific are currently in Zamboanga set to begin the first phase of what the Pentagon is calling a training mission to "train, advise and assist" the Philippines military in hunting Islamic terrorists.

New China exchanges
The Pentagon has approved the first major military exchanges with China since the April 1 incident involving a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft and Chinese interceptor jet.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld halted the Clinton administration's large-scale military-to-military contacts with China after the incident, during which 23 U.S. military personnel were held hostage on Hainan island where their EP-3 had made an emergency landing.

About two dozen U.S. generals and admirals will travel to Beijing next week as part of the Capstone program for new flag officers. The officers will visit the People's Liberation Army national defense university and a PLA military base.

Other exchanges that have been approved include visits to China by the president of the National Defense University, Vice Adm. Paul G. Gaffney, and by a group from the U.S. Air Force's Air War College.

In another exchange, the Pentagon has signed off on allowing six Chinese military officers to observe the multinational war games known as Cobra Gold in Thailand in May.

"We did approve the participation of six PLA observers," Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis told us. "They're observers, not particpants."

Cmdr. Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Pentagon approved the PLA's participation at the request of the Thai military. The Chinese will be strictly controlled and will not see any sensitive U.S. military activities, he said. The exercises will practice noncombat humanitarian operations. "The stuff they'll see is pretty benign," Cmdr. Davis said.

Critics of resuming military exchanges say that allowing the Chinese military to take part in Cobra Gold is sending the wrong signal. "It's saying China is just another member of the club when clearly they're not," one government official said.

Some members of Congress have sharply criticized the U.S.-China military exchanges. They have said China should be punished for his handling of the April 1 incident. They also say the exchanges were one-sided in allowing the Chinese military to learn about valuable U.S. warfighting skills and technology.

Peter Brookes, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, told congressional aides recently that the Pentagon has drafted new guidelines on military exchanges. He says they are intended to make sure that the exchanges do not boost Chinese military capabilities.

Food fight
The war on terror requires sacrifice, even when it comes to surf and turf night at the Army's Camp Doha in Kuwait.

Late last month, the mess sergeant discovered a shortage of sirloin steaks, due in part to increased demand by U.S. troops in Kuwait participating in exercises. How he fixed the shortage did not sit well with regular customers.

"Recommend you stop serving 'steak' until an edible product arrives," one colonel messaged to the mess cook, Master Sgt. Kevin Tatem. "Last night's meal was terrible."

Sgt. Tatem wrote back, "you are so right."

He explained that his stocks of 10-ounce sirloins "are currently very low a residual retroactive side-effect of the high influx of bodies we had come into the theater back in Nov. 1."

Sgt. Tatem explained that he attempted to create steaks by carving them from a "top side" roast. "That is a mistake we will not repeat," he said. A senior colonel at Doha did not appreciate his officers complaining directly to the mess cook. He defended the cook's decision to send what steaks there were to the men and women in the field conducting training.

"If you want a real steak on Wednesday night you can move your bunk into one of our Five Star field locations known as Kabals," the colonel told his officers. "We have a very good open door policy at Camp Doha. Where I come from gripes go up the chain not down. So if you are an enlisted soldier feel free to gripe to MSG Tatem. If you are an officer come see me."

We've been writing about Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's desire for more clearly and concisely written memos. Here's some proof.

The director of the Joint Staff the Joint Chiefs band of analysts and planners has sent a very concise directive to senior commanders telling them to stop referring to Mr. Rumsfeld as the "national command authorities."

"The secretary of defense has directed that use of the term 'national command authorities' be discontinued," the director wrote. "In future, pleased discontinue use of the term. Documents should instead refer specifically to the 'president' or the 'secretary of defense,' or both, as appropriate. In most cases, the term 'national command authorities' can simply be replaced by 'secretary of defense.'"

China wars, continued
The departure of the White House National Security Council staff specialist on China has set off a scramble among factions within the Bush administration to find a suitable replacement.

Torkel Paterson, NSC director for East Asia, stepped down two weeks ago for personal reasons, we are told by U.S. officials.

The arrangements for the upcoming trip to China by President Bush in two weeks are being handled by Foreign Service officer Jim Moriority, the acting NSC Asia director.

Planning is off to a rocky start. Mr. Bush at first was set to give a speech at the Chinese Communist Party school in Beijing but advisers thought better of having Mr. Bush talk to Communist cadres. The speech is now set for another venue.

The candidates to replace Mr. Paterson include Michael J. Green, a Japan specialist with the Council on Foreign Relations. He is considered the favorite candidate of State Department officials.

Also in the running is Stephen Yates, currently a national security aide to Vice President Richard B. Cheney and a fluent Chinese language speaker.

Other candidates include Heritage Foundation Japan specialist James Przystup, and Eric Melby, of the Forum for International Policy headed by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. Mr. Melby's specialty is international economics.

  • 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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