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March 29, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

China pulls troops
U.S. intelligence agencies have closely monitored the buildup of Chinese military forces in western China since the start of military operations in Afghanistan in October.

China moved troops and armored vehicles to Xinjiang province in response to the deployment of U.S. forces in Central Asia, specifically in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Chinese military writers have described the U.S. deployments as part of a strategy to encircle and contain China's growing power.

Last week, several motorized infantry brigades sent to China's western border recently were spotted withdrawing, as the fighting in Afghanistan has subsided, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Pacific Fleet vacancy
Adm. Dennis Blair, who won high marks inside the White House for his handling of crises in Asia, is retiring in May. He turns over the reins of U.S. Pacific Command to Adm. Thomas Fargo, who is relinquishing command of the Navy's Pacific Fleet, based in Honolulu.

We hear there are a pair of three-star admirals at the top of the list to replace Adm. Fargo in Honolulu. They are Vice Adm. Walter F. Doran, a former 7th Fleet commander in Japan, who is now an assistant to the Joint Chiefs chairman; and Vice Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, who is senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Rotating troops
The Army's 5th Special Forces Group, which did the bulk of ground combat in Afghanistan and led the way to victory over the Taliban, mostly has turned over in-theater duties to the 3rd Special Forces Group.

Most of the 5th Group Green Berets are back at Fort Campbell, Ky., resting up and preparing for possible future missions. The 3rd Group, which is geared toward action in eastern Africa and the Middle East, is based at Fort Bragg, home to Army Special Operations Command.

On many Green Berets' minds is action in Iraq. One option weighed by the Bush administration is to build up existing opposition forces in northern and southern Iraq. The administration might also create a whole new anti-Saddam Hussein army to topple the dictator. If that track is taken, Green Berets would play a major role, roaming the hills of northern Iraq and the marshes of southern Iraq to equip and train resisters.

Green Beret visionary
When Army Brig. Gen. Frank J. Toney took command of Army Special Forces in 2000, he was greeted with a lot of grumbling in the ranks. Gen. Toney, who spent just one year as commander before retiring in September, reoriented the Army's 3,500 Green Berets toward their old standard mission: Unconventional warfare.

The retraining came just in time. Terrorists stuck America on September 11. Weeks later, Green Berets were inserted inside Afghanistan to organize anti-Taliban forces. In other words, classic unconventional warfare.

Of the Gen. Toney era, one Army officer told us, "This was extremely inconvenient for the teams as they struggled to change their training focus in midstream. They had to go out and figure out how to train this stuff with no additional funding. Toney began to beat it into everyone's heads that unconventional warfare was our niche and this is what would make us relevant in the 21st century ... In hindsight, Toney was speaking prophetically. His vision of Special Forces was on full display in Afghanistan, where 5th Special Forces Group did exactly what he said SF would be called upon to do."

Chinese choke points
The U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., may be getting a new neighbor. U.S. officials tell us Hutchison Port Holdings, the Hong Kong-based port conglomerate headed by billionaire Li Kashing, is trying to buy a new container facility in Tampa.

Mr. Li is viewed by U.S. intelligence as having close ties to China's communist leaders. And Hutchison is part of the same company, Hutchison Whampoa, that quietly obtained long-term leases on two port facilities at either end of the Panama Canal in the 1997. The ports give China easy access to the canal and any U.S. strategic cargo that passes through like military supplies needed in the Pacific or Europe.

U.S. security officials are worried that if Hutchison gets access to Tampa, it would provide Chinese intelligence with a close-up viewing and listening post for Central Command headquarters, where the war in Afghanistan is being directed.

Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, set off alarms in 1999 when he wrote the Pentagon warning that U.S. ships could be blocked by the Chinese company from using the waterway. He stated that "we have given away the farm without a shot being fired."

The U.S. military has been concerned since the 1990s about communist China moving into strategic choke points around the world, using its pseudo-commercial entities as cover. The U.S. Southern Command, in charge of U.S. forces in Latin America, carried out an intelligence study in 1997 focusing on China's efforts to obtain strategic bases at ocean choke points.

In this hemisphere, the company has port facilities in Panama; Vancouver, Canada; and the Bahamas. Other U.S. locations sought by Hutchison in its bid for a U.S. presence are Jacksonville, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; Charleston, S.C.; Tacoma, Wash.; and Long Beach, Calif.

The port of Boston agreed in January to allow China Ocean Shipping Co. (COSCO) freighters to call in Boston beginning this month. COSCO was started by the Chinese military and has been used recently to ship military goods to Cuba.

Knife warning
U.S. military security agencies issued a safety alert recently to all soldiers and police involved in airport security. The alert warns passenger screeners to be on the lookout for lethal plastic knives that could be used by hijackers.

One of the knives was taken from a Japanese national during a search at Los Angeles International Airport on Feb. 6. It was described as "completely invisible" to screening equipment.

"This item is sharp and could easily be used as a stabbing weapon," the Air Force Office of Special Investigations stated in a notice. "The knife was distributed free of charge to attendees at a local Las Vegas shotgun/handgun outdoor trade show known as the Shot Show."

One military source said the knife was similar to a blue CIA "letter opener," although it was improved because it is nearly clear and has a blade designed for increased strength.

NorthCom rises
The Pentagon has set up a team to organize Northern Command, with a new commander in chief, or CINC, that will be responsible for the military's defense of U.S. shores.

A memo signed March 7 by Gen. Richard Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said President Bush is expected to approve creating this new homeland security command. He said the command's area of responsibility will encompass the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and surrounding water out to 500 miles.

NorthCom is to reach initial operating capability by Oct. 1 and be headquartered somewhere in the Washington area.

The memo says the Joint Chiefs have approved this definition of homeland security: "The preparation for, prevention of, deterrence of, preemption of, defense against, and response to threats and aggression directed towards U.S. territory, sovereignty, domestic population, and infrastructure; as well as crisis management, consequence management, and other domestic civil support."

  • 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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