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March 16, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Petraeus on rules
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus sent a letter yesterday to all U.S. and allied troops in Iraq that military officials say helps clarify current rules of engagement that many in Iraq view as vague and dangerous.

"The environment in Iraq is the most challenging that I have seen in over 32 years of service," Gen. Petraeus wrote in the two-page letter. "Indeed, few soldiers have ever had to contend with the reality of an enemy willing to blow himself up for his twisted cause.

"In view of that, as you conduct your daily operations, remember that you have every right to protect yourself, even as you attempt to prevent situations from escalating without good reason," the four-star general stated. A copy of the letter was obtained by Inside the Ring.

Gen. Petraeus reportedly is concerned about unintended consequences from confrontations with insurgents in Iraq because some young leaders are unsure how to react to what the military calls "escalation of force" situations.

Before taking over as the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Petraeus said one of his first jobs would be to clarify rules of engagement, a problem identified in this column for the past several weeks.

One Army sergeant said the current rules of engagement "don't give us very much leeway with self-defense."

"The right of self-defense under the rules is not clear" and as a result "it is hard for soldiers to distinguish when is the proper time to use self-defense and when it is not," the sergeant said.

ONI on China
The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) has produced a 130-page report on China's navy that reveals new details of its structure, doctrine and function.

Key to China's naval forces are new and deadlier submarines, and Beijing is producing several types at a very rapid pace, including five new ballistic-missile submarines.

The report identified what it called Beijing's "capability of nuclear counter-attacks," a reference to new missile submarines that will be equipped with JL-2 long-range nuclear missiles.

China's navy also is beefing up "integrated combat capabilities" to better conduct combat in "offshore campaigns," the report stated.

"In accordance with the principle of smaller but more efficient troops, the [People's Liberation Army] navy has compressed the chain of command and reorganized the combat forces in a more scientific way while giving prominence to building maritime combat forces, especially amphibious combat forces," it stated. China's navy "has also sped up the process of updating its weaponry and equipment with priority given to the development of new combat ships as well as various kinds of special purpose aircraft and relevant equipment," the report stated.

China's submarine forces are given "first priority" of all branches of the navy, it stated.

One significant disclosure: China is building a nuclear-submarine base on Hainan island that U.S. specialists say could be used in the future to interdict vital sea lanes in Southeast Asia, a key worry of Pentagon planners.

The Hainan base is thought to be where China will deploy some of the five new Jin-class missile submarines.

Overall, China is building new naval weapons with advanced guidance, power and other characteristics using what the Chinese call "informationalized" elements, such as long-range precision-strike weapons, which are part of ballistic and cruise missiles.

The goal of the naval buildup: transforming China into "the pre-eminent regional power in East Asia," said William E. Tarry, director of ONI's Naval Analysis Directorate.

"By acquiring some of the world's most impressive naval technologies from abroad while simultaneously building advanced indigenous submarines, combatants and naval aircraft, China is positioning itself to play a growing role in regional and transregional affairs," Mr. Tarry wrote in a preface to the report.

The report does not contain details on weapons and states, in a dig at Chinese military secrecy, "the [navy] does not openly publish information on the types and numbers of weapon systems and equipment in its inventory."

According to the Pentagon, China in 2006 had 70 warships, including 25 destroyers, 45 frigates, 55 submarines, about 50 amphibious lift ships and about 45 coastal missile patrol craft.

Anti-aircraft trucks
U.S. forces in Iraq this week struck a major blow against terrorists by killing a group that was behind the recent string of helicopter shootdowns, according to defense officials.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) patrolling Baghdad discovered that insurgents have built low-tech mobile anti-aircraft units trucks outfitted with heavy machine guns that are covered with tarpaulins.

UAV patrols identified four of the machine gun-equipped trucks that drove through the city and stopped when drivers or gunners heard the sound of an approaching helicopter. The gunners then would uncover the tarp and begin firing before quickly driving away.

All four of the trucks recently were tracked down and destroyed by F-16 jet strikes. Knocking the trucks out is viewed as one of the signs of progress being made against the terrorists.

At least eight helicopters have been shot down in Iraq since January, and some were hit with shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

Last month, U.S. military commanders said two or three al Qaeda cells were behind the helicopter attacks.

Gates on John Wayne
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates views legendary film star and patriot John Wayne as a model of moral leadership. "I referred to John Wayne as a great American philosopher, and he basically said, 'There's right and there's wrong, you can do one or the other,' " Mr. Gates told the Pentagon Channel this week.

"If you do the one, you're living. If you do the other, you may be walking around, but you're as dead as a beaver hat, and what he was trying to say is the importance of integrity. And I think for a leader, it's important to be seen to have your actions consistent with your words. Accountability is obviously very important to me, taking care of our people."

Mr. Gates said leadership is more than just making decisions on budgets and administrative matters. It also is "setting the tone ... not just of integrity but of caring, of communicating to every person in the organization that their well-being is important to you, and that you want to know if somebody is not being treated right and that you'll take care of that and for the people to have the confidence that that's the attitude of the people that are making decisions that affect their lives."

  • Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at

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