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September 29, 2011
Notes from the Pentagon

Obama administration intelligence, military, defense and diplomatic officials are engaged in a vigorous debate over policy toward Pakistan. The battle surfaced publicly this week after a senior Pentagon official criticized Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for remarks to Congress linking Pakistan's government to terrorist attacks.

Adm. Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 22 that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service helped the al Qaeda-affiliated Pakistani terrorist group, the Haqqani Network, plan a truck-bomb attack Sept. 10 near Kabul, Afghanistan, and the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck-bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” he said.

The remarks drew an angry reaction from Pakistan's government, which denied the links.

Then, this week a senior Pentagon official told The Washington Post that Adm. Mullen “overstated” ties between ISI and the Haqqani Network, in an apparent effort by the official to patch over growing strains in U.S.-Pakistani military relations. The official insisted there was little evidence of Pakistan control of the terrorists and also criticized Adm. Mullen for what the official said was needlessly inflaming Pakistani government officials.

A defense official told Inside the Ring that the Pentagon official’s comments surprised many administration officials because they revealed the basis for Adm. Mullen’s remarks. The statement that strong evidence exists on ISI control and direction of the Haqqani Network is based on highly classified intelligence.

“The chairman stands by his testimony,” said his spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby.

Pentagon spokesman George Little added: “Whoever spoke on background and under the cloak of anonymity doesn’t represent the consensus view of this government, which is that the Haqqanis have a sanctuary in Pakistan, where they’re able to plan and direct attacks against American, Afghan and coalition forces.”

Congress, too, has entered the debate. House and Senate intelligence committees recently requested top-secret intelligence reports that were the basis for Adm. Mullen’s testimony, as well as additional material on the ISI-Haqqani links.

The top-secret intelligence is said to show clear operational ties between Afghan insurgents, Haqqani Network operatives and ISI officers, based on communications traced to cellphones recovered from insurgents after the Kabul attack.

Defense officials said the comments critical of Adm. Mullen reflect the views of some Pentagon intelligence officials who favor a major shift in U.S. policy toward Pakistan that would involve sharply cutting back drone strikes against insurgents as a way to improve relations with Islamabad.

Other officials in the intelligence community and State Department who favor this new approach have argued that the drone war can be scaled back because al Qaeda has been damaged severely by the strikes and military raids over the past several years. They also claim that keeping the current pace is no longer needed and is actually counterproductive.

Adm. Mullen and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, however, favor keeping up the current high pace of drone attacks and special-operations direct action, which have been the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism strategy.

Another defense official acknowledged that there is a debate under way on U.S. military activities in Pakistan, but declined to provide further details.

A group of Obama administration officials that favors ramping up military hardware sales and closer defense relations with Taiwan is closely watching China’s reaction to the latest $5.8 billion arms package to the island, announced last week.

So far, the response from Beijing is muted. No major cancellation of military relations with the Pentagon has occurred, as happened last year after a major arms package was announced.

“The group wants a very robust set of weapons and other defense measures that would reverse the decline of Taiwan’s armed forces,” said one official familiar with the group.

If the Chinese reaction remains mild as anticipated, plans are under way for major increases next year in U.S. military sales and cooperation with Taiwan, which has been hampered by constant protests from Beijing regarding all military relations with the island.

The latest arms package is limited to upgrading Taiwan’s 145 F-16 A/B model jets sold in the 1990s and did not include 66 new F-16 C/Ds.

On the list of new measures are:

• Launching a series of military visits by Navy warships and Air Force jets to the island nation. Currently, the Pentagon will not fly military aircraft to Taiwan for more than a few hours, and ship visits were curtailed to avoid upsetting Beijing.

U.S. military support for disaster relief in Taiwan in August 2009 did not rile China, and thus more formal ship and aircraft visits are being planned.

• Selling Taiwan new F-35B short-take off and vertical-landing jets. New F-35Bs for Taiwan are said to be one of the recommendations yet to be released in a Pentagon study of Taiwan’s air power.

Chinese government officials have been inquiring in Washington whether the F-35B sales are possible, U.S. officials said.

• Helping Taiwan build diesel electric submarines for anti-submarine warfare. The Pentagon is looking at ways to help Taiwan with design data and components for submarines that currently are no long made by U.S. defense contractors.

• Conducting joint exercises with the Taiwanese military, including the temporary dispatch of U.S. Army Patriot anti-missile systems, as well as other joint naval and air exercises. Currently, Taiwan’s Patriot batteries are unable to communicate with U.S. anti-missile interceptors, and the exercises would help link them to U.S. defenses.

• Reversing this year’s decision not to sell new F-16 C/Ds and perhaps sell more than the 66 aircraft that were under consideration.

U.S. officials said there is evidence linking hackers in China to recent cyber-attacks on Japan’s main defense contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Mitsubishi stated Sept. 19 that 83 company computers at 11 places were infected with a computer virus.

U.S. officials said military data was likely stolen during the attacks, which involved servers connected to 14 computers in China, Hong Kong, the United States and India.

Also hit in the attacks were two other major defense contractors, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and IHI.

The companies are involved in electronic-warfare systems for Japan’s F-15 fighters, building Patriot anti-missile interceptors, as well as a new Japanese missile interceptor, military helicopters and destroyers.

Reports from Japan revealed that Chinese characters used in mainland China appeared on the hacker’s screen after analysis of a virus that infected Mitsubishi’s computers.

Additionally, separate denial-of-service computer attacks were launched on Sept. 18 against Japanese government sites, coinciding with calls by China hackers for electronic attacks coinciding with the 80th anniversary of the Manchurian incident used by Japan’s military to take control of Manchuria in 1931.

The Washington Times reported earlier this month on a scathing anti-political correctness article written by former Navy Secretary John Lehman. He wrote in the military journal Proceedings that naval aviation has been so consumed by PC - harassment complaints, the integration of women and now gays, zero-tolerance for mistakes - that it has lost its swagger.

Mr. Lehman, a career naval Reserve aviator, tells reporter Rowan Scarborough he has received no response from the Navy leadership.

“I have had no official reaction from the Navy or anyone else, but as you might imagine, a cascade of positive unofficial reaction from the active ranks, and including all the services,” Mr. Lehman said in an email.

“While the aviators are the most vulnerable because of the swagger factor, the disease is afflicting all the services in many ways, [for example] the Fort Hood affair, which is but a different facet of the same phenomenon.”

Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the accused Fort Hood shooter, left plenty of clues he had turned to radical Islam. But superiors ignored the signs in what some say was excessive concern with sensitivity and diversity.

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