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January 3, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

Iraqi railroad labs
Defense officials tell us Iraq is suspected of converting railroad cars into mobile weapons laboratories as a way to circumvent U.N. arms inspections.

The intelligence reports were distributed within the U.S. government by a Pentagon intelligence service, but the CIA was skeptical.

U.N. inspectors have not conducted any searches of Iraqi rail facilities for such labs, which could be disguised as mobile medical facilities.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters in July that Iraq had deployed biological weapons labs in trailers. U.N. arms inspectors have not reported finding any of those mobile labs.

Hamas, Hezbollah threat
U.S. intelligence agencies have received reports that terrorists associated with the Palestinian group Hamas and the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah are planning attacks in the United States.

The reports indicate the two groups will strike targets in America if U.S. military forces carry out attacks on Iraq, according to U.S. officials.

Officials said they could not gauge the reliability of the reports.

Hezbollah, or Party of God, is based in Lebanon and receives support from the Iranian and Syrian governments, specifically Iran's intelligence service and its Revolutionary Guard forces. It has carried out attacks as far away as Argentina.

An intelligence report in November also said Hamas, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, was expanding outside Israel and targeting the United States. Hamas has not carried out attacks outside Israel, but raises funds abroad.

Belly up to the 'Talibar'
The CIA and other nonmilitary government agencies have played major roles in the military operations in Afghanistan and continue to play an active role in mop-up.

CIA field officers in particular are known to have a taste for adult beverages. But where can one find a drink in Afghanistan?

We have learned the agency runs a secret bar in the Afghan capital of Kabul. There, weary CIA and other undercover spies and counterterrorism operatives, including FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents, are known to imbibe a much-deserved whiskey or beer.

Journalists in the country are not allowed into the watering hole, called the "Talibar," punning on the name of the ousted Muslim Taliban regime. To reach the bar, one must be invited. Only a select group of U.S. government officials are extended the courtesy.

The tradition in the bar is for those who have finished their tours of duty to sign their names on the wall, along with a few comments about their experience in Afghanistan. The comments are wide-ranging, and of course, classified as secret.

Summer camp
It was once Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's spacious lair on the outskirts of Kandahar. Immense rooms. Courtyards. And his own personal cave a hundred yards away, complete with indoor plumbing.

But after coalition forces toppled the Taliban and sent Mullah Omar into the hills, the much-bombed compound became the nerve center of special-operations troops and CIA officers.

This summer, on any given day, there were Special Forces (Green Berets) and Delta Force (officially known as Combat Action Group) in one area, foreign special-operations troops in another, and CIA officers, their suitcases stuffed with cash, in another part of the sprawling compound.

It is where missions are planned, detainees interrogated and alfresco parties held for returning A-teams. Mullah Omar's home eventually gained the nickname "Camp Gecko," in honor of the ubiquitous lizards that keep everyone company.

The New Zealand Special Air Service troops were especially good. They marched into the mountains for weeks at a time, and always seemed to return fatter, cheerier and with tales of ambushes and enemy dead.

But commando sources tell us the mood at Camp Gecko turned sour in late summer, after an AC-130 gunship fired June 30 on what it believed to be anti-aircraft fire. Afghan civilians were killed.

Since then, our sources say, Task Force 180, the U.S. headquarters at Bagram air base, repeatedly turned down proposed missions (called concept of operations) that called for attacking the enemy. The message from Bagram was, they said, that Afghanistan no longer required a lot of special-operations troops. That the 82nd Airborne soldiers could do the job of hunting down hard-core Taliban and al Qaeda was the attitude at Bagram.

Navy vision
Top Pentagon leaders have signed off on a five-page document, "Naval Power 21 A Naval Vision" that sets out nine transformation goals.

They are:

Acquire mobile targets more quickly and "deliver an increasing persistent and decisive volume of timely fire."

Integrate Navy and Marine Corps strike fighter units for "the optimum balance of efficiency and warfighting effectiveness."

Develop unmanned platforms for combat and reconnaissance in the air, on the sea and under the sea.

Develop new tactics for operating near coastlines, including better anti-mine warfare and better defenses against small boats.

Extend the reach and mobility of expeditionary land combat forces, such as the Marine Corps forces in Afghanistan, who went hundreds of miles inland to set up air bases in southern Afghanistan.

Develop defenses against ballistic and cruise missiles.

"Extend the persistence and staying power of our forward deployed naval force."

Put intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems into one network that can be shared by forward deployed naval commanders.

Improve sharing of information in missions planning.

The document was signed by Navy Secretary Gordon England; Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations; and Gen. James Jones, Marine commandant.

New budget
The fiscal 2003 defense budget is only three months old and already there is talk in the Pentagon of asking Congress for a new emergency-spending bill, better known as a supplemental.

The reasons: the call-up of more troops for the Persian Gulf, increasing training in the region and likely extending tours for Navy ships.

One Army source said his service alone may need $10 billion more. Salaries, weapons, fuel and food will surely drive the bill higher.

  • 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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