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December 20, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Yemeni deceit
Yemen's government was caught in a lie about the shipment of 15 North Korean Scud missiles that was tracked by U.S. intelligence to the Arabian Sea earlier this month, defense officials told us.

After The Washington Times disclosed Dec. 2 that the missiles were on their way to Yemen, the State Department questioned Yemeni officials in San'a, the capital, about the delivery.

The report in The Times quoted a Yemeni Embassy spokesman who denied the ship was carrying missiles and claimed that Yemen only received one missile shipment of Scuds earlier this year.

The official lie that appeared in The Times was compounded by Yemeni officials in San'a several days later when they denied the North Korean ship was carrying their missiles.

That denial set off alarm bells throughout the U.S. defense and intelligence communities. If the missiles were not destined for Yemen, then where were they headed?

National security officials then began to suspect the Scuds were bound for Iraq and that led to the seizing of the ship Dec. 9.

A total of two Spanish warships and six U.S. Navy vessels stopped the ship about 600 miles east of the Horn of Africa.

Once word of the seizure became public, the Yemenis quickly reversed course and realized they were about to lose millions of dollars worth of surface-to-surface missiles, warheads and fuel components. They conceded that the missiles were theirs and the Bush administration, after some heated internal debate, then made a decision to allow the shipment to proceed.

Some administration officials opposed the move, which was made in an effort to avoid upsetting the Yemeni government, which has provided limited support to U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.

U.S. officials said the Yemenis also told the State Department earlier this year there would be no further shipments. The statement proved to be untrue.

The new Navy
The Navy is circulating a slide presentation on transformation that shows a 10-year shift in focus: In 1992, the Navy moved from global threats to "regional challenges."

The war on terrorism has brought the service full circle. "Enhancing security in today's dynamic environment requires us to expand our strategic focus to include both evolving regional challenges and transnational threats," the new presentation states.

The briefing says the Navy's three themes are Sea Shield, Sea Strike and Sea Basing.

Sea Strike: "Seize the initiative, disrupt enemy timelines, pre-empt adversary options."

Sea Shield: "Protect joint forces and allies ashore. Extend defensive umbrella deep inland. Strengthen strategic stability. Provide operational security."

Sea Basing: "Using 70 percent of the Earth's surface as joint maneuver space."

The Navy envisions a fleet of 375 ships, a 70-ship increase. The fleet will include 12 aircraft carriers, 37 amphibious ships, 160 surface combatants and 73 submarines.

The whole concept will be tested under a program called Sea Trial. Other components are Sea Warrior (innovative manning concepts, skill portability) and Sea Enterprise (targeting efficiencies, asset reallocation).

Chief commando
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's search for a civilian leader of special operations may come full circle.

Insiders say Marshall Billingslea, a former Senate aide who serves as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, is the favorite to be promoted to assistant secretary.

Sources say Mr. Rumsfeld's aides have interviewed a handful of candidates, but that for one reason or another the vetting never materialized into a job offer.

Back at square one, the aides are now looking at Mr. Billingslea as a candidate.

Half and half
Gen. John M. Keane, Army vice chief of staff, has authorized uniformed personnel to take half-day holidays from Dec. 19 to Jan. 2.

"Over the past year, all of you have made great sacrifices to ensure the soldiers of today and tomorrow have all they need to defend our nation," Gen. Keane, who is tapped to be the next chief of staff, said in a Dec. 13 memo. "I expect leaders and supervisors at each level to respect the half-day schedule and get your folks our of the building promptly. I am well aware that the Joint Staff or OSD [Office of Secretary of Defense] may cause us to make exceptions, but beyond that I want your support to make this holiday a time of recovery for our people."

Fire from above
Circulating among the military is a seven-minute gun-camera film of an AC-130 gunship attacking a Taliban compound in Afghanistan. The withering nighttime attack shows why American special-operations troops came to fondly call the flying battleship their "warm blanket" for the way it kept the enemy at bay.

The AC-130 begins the attack with air controllers and gunners discussing the compound and how it matches up with premission intelligence report. What ensues is a barrage of side-mounted 40 mm and 105 mm cannon fire at cars, buildings and Taliban on the run.

"Do you see the rectangular building next to it, correct? It's a mosque. Do not engage the mosque."

"Lets go. Rolling in."

"We've got a vehicle moving out."

"You are clear to engage it and any personnel around you see."

"Moving people. Clear to engage all those."

"Get back on those folks. People coming out of the mosque right now."

"We are going to town, man."

"Get that person," a controller shouts as a Taliban runs up a road.

Another man scurries back toward the compound. "Watch that mosque. He's running to the mosque."

"You're clear on the big square building. You can go ahead and level that. You are clear to level the building."

The AC-130 now shifts to a heat source — the entrance to a cave detected on infrared sensors. A howitzer scores a direct hit, igniting a series of secondary explosions.

Men run from a back exit. "I've got three that guy's still moving."

"I know there were two guys. I saw them flying apart."

With the building leveled and no other moving bodies, the pilot asks, "Permission to go back to compound."

Holiday help
The Pentagon has circulated a list of ways that Americans can support U.S. troops overseas during the holidays. Here are some:

•Donate a calling card allowing service personnel to keep in touch with their families at Operation Uplink (

•Send a greeting by e-mail through Operation Dear Abby, or (

•Sign an electronic thank you card at Defend America: (

•Make a donation to one of the military relief societies: Army: (; Navy/Marine Corps: (; Air Force: (; Coast Guard: (

  • 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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