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October 12, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Pentagon and Islam
Defense officials involved in waging the global war against Islamist extremism are increasingly frustrated by the apparent failure of senior military and civilian officials to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys.

They are concerned that community outreach efforts have helped legitimize some U.S. Islamic groups with covert or overt ties to extremists, a problem that also is occurring at the FBI and Justice Department.

Officials said the Pentagon's problem was highlighted by a recent Marine Corps ceremony marking Ramadan. The little-noticed "iftar," or fast-breaking, was held Sept. 26 at the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast and was hosted by Marine Corps Deputy Commandant Gen. Robert Magnus.

Among the guests was Agha Saeed, national chairman of the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), a political group that has been linked to Muslim organizations that voice support for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists.

Official Pentagon backing for the Marine Corps event and a similar Oct. 1 Pentagon iftar celebration were demoralizing, several Pentagon and military officials said.

"During the Cold War, we at least had the brains to recognize Soviet front groups and didn't invite them to the Pentagon for vodka and caviar," one defense official said. "Now, the Islamic militant front groups are [the Department of Defense's] guests of honor."

According to the Web site, AMA is a political group that works to get Muslims elected or appointed to senior influential positions in the U.S. government.

"AMA is an active member of the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council," DiscoverTheNetworks stated. "It also is affiliated with Muslim groups -- such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council -- whose members have publicly supported Hamas and Hezbollah, or have been linked to the funding of terrorist activities."

As noted in this space earlier, Stephen Coughlin, a counterterrorism analyst on the Joint Staff, warned in a recent memorandum that U.S. government efforts to work with front groups for the extremist Muslim Brotherhood had increased the danger that instead of countering Islamist extremists, the government is helping to legitimize groups that are potential terrorist and insurgent support groups.

Officials said Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England has been among the least careful in associating with various suspect Muslim groups and their leaders.

Sunni defeat
Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami said yesterday the political reality in Iraq is that the Sunni minority has been defeated, resulting in a "massive" Shi'ite victory in the country.

Additionally, the U.S. military presence has created a "pax Americana" in the region that is forcing all states, even those like Syria and Iran, to seek an accommodation with U.S. power, Mr. Ajami, who recently returned from Iraq, said at a luncheon meeting hosted by the Hoover Institution.

"The American expedition is proving itself," he said. "We've drawn a line in the region against radicalism. ... The American security umbrella is everywhere in the region."

Mr. Ajami said that Iraq's new regime needs to prevail and that Sunni states in the region eventually will accept it. "When the Iraqis show that they are here to stay, I think they [neighboring states] will come to terms with it," he said.

The U.S. needs to "cushion" the Sunni defeat, which is not reversible, and to help Iraq's government gain support of moderate Sunnis, Mr. Ajami said.

In the coming years, the role for U.S. military forces in Iraq will be to train and support Iraqi forces. Regardless of who wins the White House in 2008, Mr. Ajami noted that U.S. forces will be in the country for years to come. "We are in Iraq indefinitely, but not infinitely," he said.

Fallon's house
Military officers say the new commander of U.S. Central Command, Adm. William J. "Fox" Fallon, is upsetting subordinates at the Army-dominated command with his Navy ways.

One of the first things that upset troops at the Tampa, Fla.-based Central Command headquarters was a restoration project started by Adm. Fallon to fix up his residence at MacDill Air Force base.

"Fallon thought the house was not up to the standards he was used to in Honolulu," one officer said, referring to the four-star admiral's quarters when he was commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific.

One officer said Adm. Fallon also is planning on entertaining more guests and visitors in Tampa.

Until Adm. Fallon took over in March, Central Command, the United States' premier warfighting command, had been led by a string of three Army generals and, as a result reflected Army traditions, despite efforts to homogenize the combatant command's various services.

Navy Lt. Joseph R. Holstead, a Central Command spokesman, said Adm. Fallon ordered some maintenance and improvements to his house. They included painting and finishing the floors, replacing a staircase and a front awning. Other improvements included adding wood floors and wood blinds, he said.

The fixes were normal "general maintenance" and not unusual in response to a new officer moving into the base, Lt. Holstead said.

Lt. Holstead denied Adm. Fallon planned to purchase or modify a boat for entertaining Centcom guests.

Vets for Freedom
A new group is trying to better educate the American public about the need for victory in the war on global extremism, especially the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vets for Freedom says it seeks to counter the constant barrage of negativity produced by the predominantly liberal media that threatens to demoralize American fighting forces on the front lines.

The nonpartisan group was formed by combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and its self-stated mission is "to educate the American public about the importance of achieving success in these conflicts by applying our firsthand knowledge to issues of American strategy and tactics -- namely 'the surge' in Iraq."

"We support policymakers from both sides of the aisle who have stood behind our great generation of American warriors on the battlefield, and who have put long-term national security before short-term partisan political gain," the group's mission statement says.

Two new books by Vets for Freedom members highlight that cause.

The first is "Hard Corps: From Gangster to Marine Hero," by former Cpl. Marco Martinez, a gang member-turned-Marine who was awarded the Navy Cross for actions during a deadly Baghdad firefight. Mr. Martinez was given the medal after he fired a captured insurgent rocket into a building full of enemy fighters, allowing a wounded Marine to be rescued, and then single-handedly attacked the building with his rifle and a grenade, killing four insurgents.

"There are no shortcuts," Mr. Martinez stated in his book. "Troops do what million of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen before us did: We prepare for war and pray for peace."

The second book is by Vets for Freedom member and former Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia. "House to House: An Epic Memoir of War" chronicles one of the fiercest battles of the Iraq war: The 2004 assault by American forces on Fallujah against tens of thousands of insurgents in close combat. "This is our war," he stated. "We can't shoot at every target; we can't always tell who is a target; but we look out for one another and we don't mind doing the nation's dirty work. ... Bring it. We're the infantry. War's a [expletive], wear a helmet."

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

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