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May 17, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Iran's missile boats
China's military has sold Iran high-speed catamaran missile patrol boats, according to defense and intelligence officials.

The first of the new C-14 patrol boats was observed by U.S. military intelligence recently inside an Iranian port, according to officials familiar with intelligence reports.

According to the officials, China recently sent a delegation of technicians to Iran to help the Iranian navy train and equip the new boats.

"We've seen a small number," said one defense official. "These are designed to carry anti-ship cruise missiles and usually have one gun." The high-speed gunboat can carry up to eight C-701 anti-ship cruise missiles.

"It is a fast attack craft designed for high speed and low cost," said Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the Jamestown Foundation. "It is ideal for ambush attacks in narrow straits."

China sold Iran about 40 Hudong fast attack missile boats and more than 80 C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles during the mid-1990s and agreed to U.S. requests in 1998 to halt further C-802 sales.

A shipment of shorter-range anti-ship missiles were sent in January for Iranian coastal patrol boats. The missiles were identified as anti-ship cruise missiles with a range of about 10 miles, the same as the C-701.

The Bush administration is said to be investigating the missile boat transfers to see whether they violate U.S. proliferation laws.

The administration announced last week that it had imposed economic sanctions on eight Chinese companies and exporters, and on six Armenian and Moldovan companies for selling chemical weapons technology and cruise missile components to Iran. It was the third time in the past year that Chinese companies were sanctioned for selling missile and weapons goods to dangerous regions.

Afghan lessons
The Army puts importance on "lessons learned" even while an operation is in progress. Its Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., recently sent a team to Afghanistan to see what soldiers might do better next time.

A source provided us a synopsis of the team's findings:

  • The Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are professional soldiers even though they do not wear uniforms. Some are superior marksmen, not only with rifles but with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. They adapt quickly and change tactics.

  • Osama bin Laden's cave complexes show a knowledge of engineering and safety. There are air vents to minimize the overpressure effect of stored munitions. The caves feature escape routes, with false turns to thwart a chasing enemy.

  • There was more close combat in Operation Anaconda in March than media reports indicated. Soldiers' body armor saved lives.

  • The Army's front-line transport helicopter, the Black Hawk, has trouble in high-altitude operation due to a balky tail rotor. Older Chinook CH-47s did most of the troop ferrying.

  • In some hot landing zones, the Air Force was late in delivering prestrikes before the Chinooks landed during Operation Anaconda in the Shah-e-Kot Valley, south of Gardez. Some commanders sent in the choppers rather than let the al Qaeda and Taliban mass more troops.

    Hot landing zones were the most glaring flaw in Anaconda. A Navy SEAL was killed when his Chinook received intense ground fire and had to back off a planned landing spot. The commandos went in to establish a blocking force to kill enemy fighters trying to escape from Shah-e-Kot.

    New China wars
    Pentagon officials are upset by what they see as an effort by pro-Beijing officials in the State Department and the White House National Security Council staff to discredit the harder-line policies on China of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

    They cite as evidence a recent item in the Far Eastern Economic Review. The magazine stated that Michael Pillsbury, a key adviser to Mr. Rumsfeld who is fluent in Chinese, misinterpreted discussions between Mr. Rumsfeld and Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao about military exchanges.

    The magazine article stated that the State Department's interpreter was forced out of the meeting and that Mr. Pillsbury's interpretation misled the Chinese vice president into falsely believing Mr. Rumsfeld was set for a full-scale resumption of U.S.-Chinese military exchanges. The Pentagon later disputed official Chinese press reports that said that.

    A U.S. official familiar with the dispute said NSC China staffer James Moriarity was responsible for the critical magazine item. Mr. Moriarity declined to be interviewed. This official said Mr. Moriarity has criticized Mr. Rumsfeld in interagency discussions for supposedly being ignorant about Chinese affairs, despite the fact that Mr. Rumsfeld has traveled to China several times.

    Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis said yesterday he would not disclose details of who was permitted into the 45-minute meeting at the Pentagon on May 1. But he denied there were any language misinterpretations.

    "The fact of the matter is we are confident that both parties on both sides of the table left with a full and complete understanding of what was said and what was agreed to," Cmdr. Davis said.

    Meanwhile, the Pentagon's military exchanges with China, once a very public effort, are now secret. As part of the Bush administration's overall effort to keep more of its activities from the public, the latest annual report to Congress on military exchanges carried a classified "confidential" label and will not be made public, we are told.

    The secrecy on the exchange report contrasts sharply with earlier openness. In 1999, defense officials released to The Washington Times a detailed "game plan" for defense exchanges that outlined more than 80 activities by the U.S. and Chinese militaries, including visits by high-level officials, and trips by Chinese officers to sensitive U.S. military facilities, including a nuclear submarine base, joint training maneuvers in California and talks on logistics, a key weakness of Chinese military forces.

    Mr. Rumsfeld cut off all military exchanges with China in April, but pro-Beijing officials are pushing to resume large-scale contacts. Mr. Hu, during his meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld, invited the defense secretary to visit China.

    Kadish's future
    "Will he stay long term or go?" is the question being asked by Pentagon insiders about Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish. As director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, Gen. Kadish is the man who is attempting to make a reality of President Bush's vision of national missile defense.

    He is said to be well-liked by Bush loyalists, and by his immediate supervisor, Edward Aldridge, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition. The rank and file give him high marks for reorganizing the agency and presiding over a string of successful test intercepts.

    Next month, he reaches the three-year mark as director, the normal tenure for senior officers in any one post. Insiders say he is ready to stay on, if he wins a fourth star from the Bush administration.

    "He wants to stay there," said a Pentagon source. "He wants to be known as the person who brought it to reality."

    Pam Bain, chief spokeswoman for the agency, said Gen. Kadish has been asked to stay on at least another year. As to a fourth star, "We've heard talk of that, but we don't hear it inside the building."

    The fact Army Gen. Tommy Franks never requested artillery for the war in Afghanistan played a role in the decision by the staff of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to recommend cancellation of the Crusader artillery system.

    The Army seemed to sense early in the war that it needed to showcase artillery in Afghanistan or face criticism that in this new type of warfare, artillery was not needed.

    Defense sources say a number of Army officials, including Undersecretary of the Army Les Brownlee, a retired Army colonel and Vietnam combatant, asked why Gen. Franks had not yet requested artillery.

    Gen. Franks, who as head of U.S. Central Command is running the war, answered back that heavy mortars, not artillery, were the answers to cave-hidden al Qaeda fighters.

    Armitage's record
    We received a number of e-mails scolding us for writing, as many news outlets have done, that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is a former Navy SEAL.

    To set the record straight, Mr. Armitage was a Navy surface warfare officer who specialized in the special operations field of counterinsurgency. He completed three combat tours with the Riverine/advisory forces in Vietnam.

  • 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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