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February 16, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Korea nuclear denial
A senior Bush administration official said that one serious shortcoming of the tentative deal on North Korea's nuclear program is that it does not resolve the status of Pyongyang's secret highly enriched uranium (HEU) program.

"North Korea denies having a HEU program and denies making any acquisitions necessary for a production-scale HEU program," the senior official said. "We know they made these acquisitions."

North Korea purchased special metals from Germany used in centrifuges in 2002 through a procurement office based in Shenyang, China. The North Koreans also were part of the centrifuge-technology network headed by Pakistani covert nuclear supplier A.Q. Khan.

The purchases were the basis for the confrontation in October 2002 between State Department official James Kelly and North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Seok-ju, who admitted that the uranium program had been under way for several years.

The North Koreans then reversed course and began denying that they had the uranium program, a position eventually adopted by both China and Russia.

The U.S. discovery of the HEU program in 2002 was the trigger to the current crisis with North Korea, which ultimately led to the six-party talks among North Korea, the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Rules of engagement
Now that Lt. Gen. David Petraeus is the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, one of his first jobs will be to clarify what military and defense officials say are vague rules of engagement that govern how U.S. troops can use force to defend themselves.

Gen. Petraeus was asked recently about the problem of the vague rules, which have been discussed at length in this column over the past several weeks. He told a former general during a recent meeting that fixing the rules will be one of his most important priorities.

More evidence of the rules problem comes from an e-mail from an Army E-5 sergeant in Iraq who took issue with the recent letter in The Washington Times written by an Army attorney. The lawyer asserted that the current rules for soldiers were adequate and not confusing.

"I can tell you from personal experience that [the current rules of engagement] don't give us very much leeway with self-defense," wrote the sergeant, a member of a combat service support unit.

"They tell us in our convoy briefings that we have the right to self-defense, defense for civilians and other coalition forces," the soldier said. "However, I do know that it is hard for soldiers to distinguish when is the proper time to use self-defense and when it is not. Soldiers are scared and they have a right to be. If a higher-up decides what you did was not in self-defense, you could get in major trouble and we feel that it's really not worth it."

In one case, a soldier fired two 5.56 rounds and as a result "had to sit in an office for two days straight and tell his story over and over and fill out a ton of paperwork for doing what he felt was right."

The soldier said after the experience that "he would never fire his weapon again because he felt the aftermath wasn't worth it, and that's just not right."

"The military has gone severely soft in its effort over here and that is why more and more [people] are dying," the sergeant concluded. "They're just too scared to let soldiers think for themselves."

Surge forces
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker told Congress yesterday that the Army will be able to supply its portion of the 21,500 troops needed for the new "surge" of troops in Baghdad but that there will be some problems with training and equipping the soldiers.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said yesterday there are problems equipping the new troops and that equipment is being taken from other units and given to those deploying to Baghdad. Two of the brigades now are in Iraq and one more will be added later this month. Two additional brigades will be added later.

"We've got about 40 percent of all of our equipment that is either currently in Iraq or Afghanistan or in depots for repair, which leaves you about 60 percent of your inventory, which is an enormous amount of equipment," Gen. Pace said.

He acknowledged that "we are moving equipment from some units to those units." However, he insisted that the new troops will be sent "fully trained and have all the equipment that they're required to have, so when we put those soldiers and Marines into combat, they are as well protected and trained as those who they are joining."

Asked if the Army is now "scurrying" to get five brigades geared up to the proper combat readiness for the Iraq deployment, Gen. Schoomaker said:

"I testified previously that I was concerned about the strategic depth in the Army. We're now supplying more; therefore we have an additional challenge on the strategic depth. Obviously, we are not going to put any force in the theater that isn't properly trained and equipped; therefore scurry is a kind word in terms of, you know, the machinations we go through to make this happen."

Gen. Schoomaker said there are "some issues" with preparing the troops but he does not consider them critical problems. "And our estimation is that we will be able to provide the surge forces in the time that the theater has asked for them, and they will be properly trained, led and equipped when they arrive," he said.

The additional troops will have 500 medium and large trucks sent to the region by June to augment the 8,000 trucks currently in the region.

Gen. Schoomaker assured the House Armed Services Committee that every soldier sent into Iraq, both in combat zones and those who stay "inside the wire," will be equipped with what he described as "the very finest body armor that can be manufactured."

  • 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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