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March 30, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Iraq report
Last week this space included an upbeat report on the situation in Afghanistan based on a memorandum written by retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey after his visit to the region.

Gen. McCaffrey has circulated a contrasting memorandum, obtained by Inside the Ring, after his visit to Iraq revealing dire problems facing that country, based on interviews with senior military and civilian leaders in the region, including Army Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander.

"Iraq is ripped by a low-grade civil war which has worsened to catastrophic levels with as many as 3,000 citizens murdered per month," Gen. McCaffrey stated in the memorandum sent Monday to colleagues at West Point, where he is a professor.

"The population is in despair. Life in many of the urban areas is now desperate. A handful of foreign fighters (500 plus) -- and a couple of thousand al Qaeda operatives incite open factional struggle through suicide bombings which target Shia holy places and innocent civilians. Thousands of attacks target U.S. military forces (2,900 IEDs) a month -- primarily stand off attacks with IEDs, rockets, mortars, snipers, and mines from both Shia ([explosively formed projectile] attacks are a primary casualty producer) -- and Sunni (85 percent of all attacks; 80 percent of U.S. deaths; 16 percent of Iraqi population.)"

Insurgents or militias are estimated to have about 100,000 fighters, he said.

"Although we have arrested 120,000 insurgents (hold 27,000) and killed some huge number of enemy combatants (perhaps 20,000 plus) -- the armed insurgents, militias, and al Qaeda in Iraq without fail apparently re-generate both leadership cadres and foot soldiers," Gen. McCaffrey said. "Their sophistication, numbers, and lethality go up -- not down -- as they incur these staggering battle losses."

"In summary, the U.S. armed forces are in a position of strategic peril," he concluded. "A disaster in Iraq will in all likelihood result in a widened regional struggle which will endanger America's strategic interests (oil) in the Mideast for a generation. We will also produce another generation of soldiers who lack confidence in their American politicians, the media, and their own senior military leadership."

The key to winning the war is for the United States to convince the top 100 Shia and Sunni leaders to "walk back" from the edge of full-scale civil war, he stated. "Reconciliation is the way out," Gen. McCaffrey said. "Military power cannot alone defeat an insurgency -- the political and economic struggle for power is the actual field of battle."

Space defense
Senior Pentagon officials told Congress last week that defenses and intelligence-gathering on threats to satellites are being strengthened after China's recent test of an anti-satellite weapon.

Air Force Undersecretary Ronald Sega told the House Armed Services Committee that spending for space systems, including increases for intelligence and satellite defenses, doubled since 2001, going from about $500 million a year to more than $1 billion.

Mr. Sega said new systems are being developed and deployed that increase "space situation awareness" -- the Pentagon's term for spying in space and identifying threats to satellites. Two new "microsatellites," called TacSat-2 and XSS-11, are part of the surveillance effort, he said.

One major problem in space warfare is knowing right away whether a satellite breaks down from hitting debris, from internal problems or from a weapon, said Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of the Space Command.

"You need to understand the environment, who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, who the neutrals are," he said.

Gen. Chilton said an experimental satellite called MSX, in orbit since the 1990s, is helping the Air Force to spy on threats in geosynchronous, high-Earth orbit, while radar currently is being used for targets in low-Earth orbit. The MSX system is "starting to fade" and the Air Force needs to deploy a new space-based surveillance system to replace it, he said.

"We need to continue to expand our focus on space surveillance, not only to the low-altitude areas where we clearly have seen that we are vulnerable, but also to the higher-altitude areas and beyond," he said.

Asked about gaps in intelligence in space, Donald Kerr, the National Reconnaissance Office director, said there is a lack of "good intelligence" on what other nations are doing in space. U.S. analysis capability of space threats has "diminished substantially" following cutbacks after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, he said. Mr. Sega said the number of analysts focusing on space threats today is about 10 percent of that 10 to 15 years ago.

Russian nukes
The U.S. intelligence community still lacks complete confidence that Russia's nuclear arsenal is safe and secure. The latest annual report to Congress covering 2005 and 2006 states that an unauthorized nuclear missile launch or other nuclear weapon use is "highly unlikely as long as the current technical and procedural safeguards" remain in place and are enforced.

"Our concerns about possible circumvention of the system would rise if central political authority broke down," the report said. One such near-breakdown occurred during the aborted coup of 1991.

The report notes repeated attempts by Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, to assure the public that Moscow's nukes are safe, but also stated that terrorists have targeted Russian nuclear storage sites in the past.

"Undetected smuggling of weapons-usable nuclear material has likely occurred, and we are concerned about the total amount of material that could have been diverted or stolen in the last 15 years," stated the report, first made public last week by Hearst newspapers. "We find it highly unlikely that Russian or other authorities would have been able to recover all the material likely stolen."

The report was produced before a January 2007 article by Russian defense specialist Pavel Felgenhauer, who obtained a Russian security service (FSB) document showing Kremlin officials lied about the danger of uranium smuggled from Russia to Georgia in early 2006.

Mr. Felgenhauer wrote in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta that Georgian authorities cooperated with the Russians in providing samples of the weapons-grade uranium but Moscow botched the case and publicly denied the material was dangerous. An FSB letter stated that the Georgian samples were found to be uranyl uranate with uranium-235 content of 89.39 percent by weight, and that it was "a hazard to human life and health, and to the environment."

China report react
Richard Lawless, deputy defense undersecretary for Asia-Pacific policy, took issue with last week's Inside the Ring item on the Chinese military role in drafting or providing input to the annual Pentagon report on Beijing's military power, which was due to be delivered to Congress on March 1.

Mr. Lawless denied that two Chinese military delegations came specifically to complain about the report, but acknowledged that Beijing does not like it.

"Numerous [People's Liberation Army] delegations have visited the U.S. for a variety of reasons over the past several years, [and] virtually every delegation raises the report and complains about its findings in one way or another," he stated, noting that a regular complaint involves Chinese budget portions of the report.

He denied the Chinese were invited to provide input on the report but made an invitation: "If China takes issue with the findings of the report, we would welcome them to provide evidence to the contrary. So far, they have not done so."

Regarding the 50 requested changes in the latest draft report received from U.S. government agencies outside the Pentagon, Mr. Lawless said "many suggestions for changes" were made and most were "non-substantive."

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

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