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September 13, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Iraq and Eucom
Pentagon officials privately have discussed the idea of shifting command of a war against Iraq from U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., to U.S. European Command (Eucom) in Germany. But administration sources say the chance of such a history-making shift is less than 50 percent.

The argument for change is that Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads Central Command, already has his hands full fighting al Qaeda and Taliban hard-core fighters and trying to stabilize Afghanistan. An Iraq invasion could be run from a NATO air base at Incirlik, Turkey, on the Iraqi border and from where the northern no-fly zone is enforced.

The counterargument is that such a switch would look like a slap at Gen. Franks and set a bad precedent for trespassing on the turf of regional commands.

Combatant commanders jealously guard their assigned areas of responsibility. Gen. Franks oversees military activity in the Persian Gulf, including Iraq, the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan.

Discussion of putting an invasion force under Eucom has reached high levels in the Pentagon. If it is done, the commander in Europe would keep the operations within Eucom, and not share authority with NATO members. (The Eucom commander wears the dual hat of NATO commander.)

Officials would want to avoid the red tape and security leaks that go with any NATO operation. In NATO's 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark was forced to get NATO ministers' approval for certain bombing targets, a practice that prolonged the conflict.

The current commander is Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston. Gen. James Jones, the Marine Corps commandant, is slated to succeed Gen. Ralston in January.

Terrorist in D.C.?
U.S. intelligence agencies are on the lookout for a suspected terrorist in Washington who may be a close associate of Osama bin Laden.

Sources familiar with classified reports on the suspect said the tip was received from a foreign intelligence service late last month. The man in question is believed to be an Islamic terrorist. The information, however, is said to be sketchy. It may be that the man has an Arabic name similar to that of a close aide to bin Laden.

An FBI spokesman said the bureau is unaware of any intelligence alert for a suspected terrorist in the area.

One source said the FBI has two suspects under surveillance in the Washington-Baltimore area who may be linked to the September 11 hijackers.

Iraq watch
U.S. intelligence agencies are continuing intense reconnaissance and surveillance of Iraq. The latest satellite intelligence reports show the Iraqi military has begun dispersing ammunition from storage facilities to areas around the country, in apparent anticipation of a U.S.-led attack.

Earlier reports showed almost no preparations by the Iraqis, other than the movement of some surface-to-air missile batteries and in-garrison maneuvers by some military units.

Marine commandos
The special operations community needs help. It has become the spear in President Bush's war on terrorism. But its total strength of about 30,000 troops is not enough to do all the clandestine missions.

Enter the Marine Corps, the nation's "911 Force." The Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command (Socom) in Tampa, Fla., are discussing how to bring Marine units into the world of covert warriors.

The likely candidates for inclusion are the Marines' force reconnaissance units and air-naval gunfire liaison companies. "The best bet is some combination of the two," said a Marine source.

The source added, "There is thought among the Socom community that the Marine Corps has been pushing this issue of emerging integration too publicly."

But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld himself touched on the issue during a Sept. 3 press conference.

"Special operations are in limited supply. And clearly, in the global war on terrorism they have a role that is different and more extensive than they might in a more conventional conflict," he said. "One of the things we've done early on, of course, was for the first time in history to get the Marine Corps to develop a closer relationship with special operations people and allow Marines to be drawn into that pool. So we've expanded the size of the pool."

Gen. James Jones, the Marine Corps commandant, told us in a recent interview that with the war on terrorism, "There's going to be a premium for special operations forces-like forces. And the Marine Corps has been a special operations forces-like force for a long, long time. We're agile. We're mobile."

Speicher update
President Bush, in his litany of Iraq's broken promises to the United Nations, accused Baghdad yesterday of failing to account for hundreds of missing prisoners, including an American pilot.

The president referred to the case of missing Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher in his speech on Iraq to the United Nations. Mr. Bush stated Baghdad has broken its promise to the United Nations to return all prisoners from Kuwait and other lands following the 1991 Gulf war. Iraq currently holds more than 600 people, including Kuwaitis, Saudis, Indians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iranians, Egyptians, Bahrainis and Omanis, Mr. Bush said. All are unaccounted for.

The president then added: "One American pilot is among them."

Cmdr. Speicher was flying an F-18 near Baghdad in 1991 when it was hit with a missile. He was declared killed in action a few days later. Last year, however, he was reclassified as missing and the Navy is close to a decision on a further change to "missing-in-action, captured."

U.S. intelligence continues to receive reports indicating Iraq is holding an American pilot believed to be Cmdr. Speicher.

Golden Gate threat
National Guard troops, in response to the national upgraded security alert, were deployed to the landmark Golden Gate Bridge that crosses San Francisco Bay to defend against potential terrorist attacks.

Intelligence officials tell us the bridge remains a potential target for terrorists. The bridge was among the targets identified in videotapes made by terrorists.

The latest threats, however, came from overseas. Recently, two U.S. embassies received written warnings from terrorists that the bridge will be hit. The warnings indicated that the attacks would be carried out by small boats packed with explosives.

GI tax break
The Senate Finance Committee passed a bill yesterday that would give new tax breaks to U.S. armed services personnel. Under the legislation, those in the military will get among other benefits a waiver on taxes for death benefits, and a tax break on travel expenses for reservists.

"This bill pays respect to the men and women making sacrifices and, in some cases, risking their lives to protect and defend freedom," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and co-sponsor of the bill. "The full Senate should pass the bill before the session ends this fall." The House approved a similar measure in July.

  • 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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