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February 15, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

GRU chief visits
The head of Russia's GRU military intelligence, Col. Gen. Valentin Korabelnikov, made a covert visit to Washington this week to talk to his counterpart in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

A U.S. official said the Russians are keen to get their hands on the Chechen al Qaeda members now held by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. An unknown number of Chechens fought for the al Qaeda terrorist group. Russia's government wants the Chechens returned and the United States is expected to turn them over after they are fully interrogated.

A DIA spokesman said the GRU chief met Adm. Thomas Wilson, DIA director, on Monday and received a tour of how DIA was "organized to fight terror." Gen. Korabelnikov also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday. He met with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Asked if the issue of Chechen prisoners was raised, the spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Jim Brooks, said: "The discussions on our side were really generic. Whether there were side discussions of that I don't know."

Gen. Korabelnikov is a veteran of Russia's ongoing war against Chechen rebels. He was credited with orchestrating the 1996 assassination of Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.

While running GRU intelligence and special-forces operations in Chechnya, Gen. Korabelnikov traced Mr. Dudayev's cellular telephone with a surveillance aircraft and helped guide a missile to his location, killing him instantly.

No deal
We did an unscientific poll of congressional defense staffers and found there is no chance President Bush will win approval for his proposed $10 billion war reserve in the fiscal 2003 budget.

The president wants the money as an up-front emergency supplemental bill. As fuel and munitions are consumed in the war on terrorism, the fund would be there to replenish stocks.

But congressional aides say one of two things will happen: Democrats will be successful in peeling off money for domestic spending, or (more likely) pro-defense Democrats and Republicans will earmark the money for specific Pentagon programs. The candidates: tactical aircraft, a new ship, more precision-guided weapons and improvements to military facilities and housing.

"The likelihood of anything like an unspecified war reserve is zero," said a senior House aide. "Everybody up here is going to have their say .... Let's take that 10 billion and do something specific."

Staffers say Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, wants some of the pot for domestic projects but will run into stiff Republican opposition.

Double standard
The detention of al Qaeda terrorists in Cuba has drawn an international outcry from numerous groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. Kim Gordon-Bates, ICRC spokesman in Geneva, said Feb. 9 that the decision by Mr. Bush to treat Taliban but not al Qaeda captives as prisoners of war did not go far enough.

"The ICRC stands by its position that people in a situation of international conflict are considered to be prisoners of war unless a competent tribunal decides otherwise," Mr. Gordon-Bates said.

ICRC officials are continuing to press the Pentagon to declare the al Qaeda captives POWs under the Geneva Convention, something the Bush administration is refusing to do in order to avoid legitimizing the terrorist group under an international convention.

Pentagon officials are said to be angered by the ICRC's public and private complaints.

One outraged official told us the Geneva-based ICRC vocally supported al Qaeda prisoners but made no similar complaints when the North Vietnamese communists denied prisoner of war status to captured U.S. military personnel in the 1960s and 1970s. American troops were forced by the Vietnamese to give press conferences before foreign journalists and the ICRC said nothing.

Yet the ICRC has complained that al Qaeda prisoners were improperly photographed in a holding area at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"When captured U.S. servicemen were taken out of their prison cells by their captors on July 6, 1966, and marched through Hanoi streets, where they were kicked, spat upon, otherwise assaulted, and photographed, the ICRC said nothing," the official said.

Also, in 1991, when U.S. and coalition military personnel were captured by Iraqis during the Persian Gulf war, they were denied prisoner of war status. The ICRC was again silent.

So why are they complaining now?

"For this double standard, Congress, through the State Department, donates more than $100 million annually to the ICRC 25 percent of its budget, and more than the next 10 donor nations combined," the official said.

Smaller bombs
Rather than planning for a new heavy bomber, the Air Force is taking a different path: smaller bombs.

The service wants to develop high-explosive, independently targetable 250-pound munitions. Instead of carrying two 2,000-pound munitions, a fighter could carry eight or more of the smaller bombs. It could loiter over the battlefield and deliver each satellite-guided weapon on different targets as they emerge.

Plan Colombia
Five influential House Republicans have written to the State Department's top anti-drug official. They say now is the time for U.S. military equipment to be used against narco-terrorist kidnappers.

Such use would mark a departure from a Clinton administration policy that restricts the deployment of American-provided military equip to fighting drug producers, not powerful rebel armies.

"As we endeavor to expand our role in Colombia to help fight terrorism and drug trafficking, we should help improve the capabilities of the [Colombian national police] by dedicating at least two helicopters for purposes of rescuing kidnapping victims, especially Americans," said the letter to Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

The letter was signed by five Republicans: House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde of Illinois; Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton of Indiana; committee Vice Chairman Bob Barr of Georgia; Cass Ballenger of North Carolina, chairman of the International Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere; and former International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman of New York.

The letter comes as the Bush administration wants to break with past policy on another front. The White House has asked Congress to authorize money to set up a new Colombian brigade. The unit would protect an oil pipeline and other power-related infrastructure from attack by left-wing guerrillas who have a deep hand in Colombia's vast illegal drug networks. The administration also wants money to train and equip a second Colombian anti-narcotics brigade.

Under current policy, the existing brigade may go after only drug producers. But the administration is debating whether to ask Congress to let the brigades attack rebel units who are about to strike Colombian civilian or military targets.

The House Republicans' letter opens up yet another role for U.S. equipment: anti-kidnapping.

"Helicopter assets now used to support anti-narcotics efforts should be authorized to support [the national police] operations, at a minimum, in rescuing American citizens taken hostage in Colombia," the letter states.

The Washington Times reported this week that a U.S. intelligence report says the principal rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, held a summit in mid-January and decided to seek the overthrow of the democratic government in Bogota, even while publicly adhering to a shaky peace process.

The House letter states that narco-terrorists such as FARC have kidnapped 50 American citizens the past decade, 10 of whom were murdered.

  • 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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