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September 6, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Watching Iraq
      As the debate over military action against Saddam Hussein heats up in Washington and around the world, Iraqi military forces remain relatively quiet.

There have been no unusual movements so far, but all the forces are being watched extremely closely by U.S. intelligence agencies. The U.S. intelligence community is focusing its satellites and other snooping equipment on all known Iraqi military bases.

The only military force movements in recent days were the transfer of several SA-2 and SA-3 anti-aircraft missile batteries from one location in central Iraq to another.

Iraqi ground-force activities have been limited to some troop movements within military garrisons. All the movements are viewed as routine.

Intelligence agencies are watching closely for any Iraqi military excursions into northern Iraq, where U.S.-led opposition groups are being organized in anticipation of the overthrow of Saddam's government in Baghdad. Press reports from northern Iraq indicating Saddam was moving troops toward the region were dismissed by U.S. officials as false.

Taliban hotbed
While the U.S. military investigates the June "friendly fire" incident in the village of Deh Rawod, north of Kandahar, military sources tell us the village was a hotbed of Taliban support.

Crews aboard an AC-130 gunship say anti-aircraft volleys came from the hamlet before they returned fire. The gunship is equipped with machine guns and howitzers.

Locals claim the shots hit a wedding party where celebrants fired guns into the air. The United States has confirmed that some civilians were killed, but has not reached a conclusion on all the facts.

Our sources say Deh Rawod, in a region loyal to ousted Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, was a well-known sanctuary for Taliban fighters trying to organize a guerrilla movement against the new Afghan government.

Al Qaeda fighters also hide there amid a robust heroin and opium trade. Our sources say that from that same village, anti-aircraft fire emerged on previous nights against AC-130s flying in support of special-operations forces in the Uruzgan Province.

The June strike was called in by ground troops who pinpointed the anti-aircraft fire. The Taliban is known to mount anti-aircraft artillery pieces on trucks or carry the weapon like a rifle.

Tracking Mullah O
U.S. intelligence agencies are having little success in locating the elusive Osama bin Laden, but are making progress in hunting down Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. Officials tell us Mullah Omar came out of hiding in Afghanistan and paid a visit to his fourth wife recently. The visit several months ago coincided with the birth of Mullah Omar's child to the wife, we are told.

According to U.S. officials, the latest intelligence reports say that bin Laden is believed to be located somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Some officials believe the al Qaeda leader is dead, although many intelligence analysts have ruled out bin Laden's death because they believe that his followers would have discussed the death in some communications overheard by U.S. and Western intelligence agencies.

Israel's playbook
Pentagon planners trying to figure out a better way of finding and killing al Qaeda fighters are looking at the Israeli example.

The lesson is how an Israeli counterterrorism unit methodically hunted down members of Black September who planned or carried out the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich.

An Israeli assassination squad was assigned to track down the targeted terrorists. Israel views the mission as highly successful. Culprits who thought they were safely hidden in a European city were suddenly found dead. Only one died of natural causes.

Administration sources say there is much to be learned in how the Israeli agents found the terrorists, entered foreign countries, killed their targets and returned to Israel.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has ordered his top special-operations officer, Gen. Charles Holland, to come up with a new plan for finding al Qaeda terrorists and capturing or killing them. He wants covert warriors to be able, at a moment's notice, to enter a foreign country, find the terrorists and then exit, without ruffling anybody's feathers.

"We can't do exactly what the Israelis did," said one senior administration official. "But we can learn from their techniques."

Jack, unfurled
The Navy sent a message to the fleet last month telling ship commanders to start flying the first Navy jack as of September 11 to honor those who died in the terrorist attacks on America.

"The first Navy jack will be flown on board all U.S. Navy ships in lieu of the Union Jack during the global war on terrorism," says the message from Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations. "To honor those who died during the attack of 11 Sep. 01, all afloat commands will commence flying the first Navy jack at morning colors on 11 Sep. 02.

"The first Navy jack is a flag consisting of a rattlesnake, superimposed across 13 horizontal alternating red and white stripes with the motto 'don't tread on me.' The jack was first employed by commodore Esek Hopkins in the fall of 1775 as he readied the continental navy in the Delaware River.

"His signal for the whole fleet to engage the enemy was the striped jack and ensign flown at their proper places. The temporary substitution of this jack represents a historic reminder of the nation's and Navy's origin."

Rummy's future
The buzz in the Pentagon for weeks is that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is the man President Bush wants to head a new Department of Homeland Security. The White House says the president has made no decision on the choice of a director.

The argument goes that protecting America's homeland is now the top national security objective, and there is no better leader to pull together disparate bureaucracies than Mr. Rumsfeld.

He has won high marks for running the military's war on terrorism. Uniform officers say he understands that in war you keep score by the number of enemy you kill or capture.

Mr. Rumsfeld is not afraid to hurt the feelings of four-star generals or longtime defense policy-makers. As chief of the new homeland security department, his backers say, he would similarly not be shy about "knocking heads around" to make things work.

But other insiders say the job likely will go to Homeland Security adviser Tom Ridge.

  • 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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