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February 18, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

QDR soft on China
The Pentagon deleted language expressing concerns about a future conflict with China and dropped references to Beijing's missiles and anti-satellite threats from its major four-year strategy review release earlier this month.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell defended the softening of language that was contained in an unofficial Dec. 3 draft of the Quadrennial Defense Review, known as the QDR.

Mr. Morrell said that any previous versions of the QDR were "staff-level documents" that lacked "senior leader input or approval."

The offensive language that was cut in the final QDR was pulled from the section on how and why U.S. forces will "deter and defeat aggression in anti-access environment." The reference to "anti-access" is terminology often used by the Pentagon to describe key weapons systems in China's arsenal, such as its anti-satellite weapons and the maneuvering warheads on ballistic missiles designed to kill U.S. aircraft carriers that would be called on to defend Taiwan from a mainland strike.

"Chinese military doctrine calls for pre-emptive strikes against an intervening power early in a conflict and places special emphasis on crippling the adversary's [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance], command and control, and information systems," the draft stated. It noted that in January 2007 China carried out a anti-satellite missile test that "demonstrated its ability to destroy satellites in low-Earth orbit."

"Accordingly, prudence demands that we anticipate that future conflicts could involve kinetic and non-kinetic (e.g. jamming, laser 'dazzling') attacks on space-based surveillance, communications, and other assets," the report said.

Those references were omitted from the final report, dated Jan. 26 and made public Feb. 1.

Another key omission from the Obama administration QDR was any reference to China being a major competitor of the United States. The 2006 report stated that China "has the greatest potential to compete militarily" with the U.S.

Both the December draft and the final version contained references to excessive Chinese secrecy about the "pace, scope, and ultimate aims of its military modernization programs."

The softening of language on China followed another significant policy shift: The White House National Security Council staff directive ordering U.S. intelligence agencies to downgrade their spy targeting of China from a category known as Priority 1, the highest priority, to the lesser category of Priority 2. The change was ordered despite objections from both Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta who view China as a target that should be among the highest intelligence priorities.

Mr. Morrell, the Pentagon spokesman, defended the QDR's treatment of China, noting that "the QDR provides a clear-eyed assessment of both the challenges and the opportunities that China presents for the United States and the international community in the twenty-first century."

Mr. Morrell then said, quoting President Obama, that U.S.-China relations involved both cooperation and competition. "And we are under no illusions about the potential challenges presented by China's growing military capabilities," he said. "That is precisely why the QDR identifies trends that we believe may be potentially destabilizing and why we have repeatedly pushed China for greater strategic transparency and openness." The QDR, along with the forthcoming annual report on China's military power, due out next month, "provide a fair, unbiased, and comprehensive assessment."

A defense official familiar with the QDR deliberations said the deletion was due to pressure from Obama administration officials who fear angering Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in Beijing Feb. 2 that the QDR made "irresponsible" statements about China's military buildup. However, a military commentator, Li Shuisheng, from the Academy of Military Science, stated Feb. 12 that the QDR downgraded the Pentagon's view of the threat posed by China from that of a global rival to a regional problem more akin to North Korea and Iran.

John J. Tkacik, a former State Department China specialist, said the changes were probably ordered by the White House.

"By removing references to the breathtaking advances in China's weaponry and technologies, the White House is basically ordering the Pentagon not to consider them in the planning or budgeting stages," Mr. Tkacik said.

It is a mistake, Mr. Tkacik said, to leave out references on the need for prudence in dealing with China, and instead focus on welcoming China's increasing role in world affairs.

"By doing so, the White House national security staff enjoins the military from either planning for, or budgeting for, a future confrontation with China," he said.

"That places foolhardy trust in China's future goodwill, especially given Beijing's cynical support of Iran, North Korea and other American adversaries, and its territorial clashes with Japan, India, Taiwan and other American friends," he said.

Chalabi responds
Iraqi official Ahmad Chalabi fired back this week against U.S. officials who said he is heavily influenced by Iran.

Mr. Chalabi, who is the chairman of a commission that has banned some 350 politicians from running in parliamentary elections set for March 7, said in an interview with Washington Times reporter Eli Lake that the U.S. embassy and military command was "believing their own propaganda."

"They think that de-Ba'athification is dead and that I have no influence and no one will listen to me," he said.

But Mr. Chalabi added that politicians who in public had opposed the decisions of his committee have privately encouraged him to do what he is doing.

On Tuesday, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said Mr. Chalabi was in close contact with an Iraqi, Jamal Jaffar al-Ibrahimi, who is the top adviser to the commander of Iran's Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani.

Mr. Chalabi shrugged off the accusation. Mr. al-Ibrahimi is an Iraqi who goes by the nickname of Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, or father of Mahdi, the engineer. Mr. Chalabi said Mr. al-Ibrahimi serves in Iraq's legislature.

"He is an Iraqi member of parliament. He is entitled to have discourse with Iraqi politicians and the Iraqi government," Mr. Chalabi said. "This man has parliamentary immunity and is a member of the parliament. Just because the United States does not like him, doesn't mean we can't have a dialogue with him."

Last July the Treasury Department sanctioned Mr. al-Ibrahimi as a leader of the Iraqi insurgency and accused him of providing Iranian explosives and weaponry to Shi'ite extremists.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, who was in Washington on Wednesday, was asked about Gen. Odierno's comments on Mr. Chalabi and said during a speech that he agreed with the general about Iran's "malevolence" in Iraq.

Kamdesh report
The final investigative report on the deadly battle at Kamdesh in Afghanistan faulted Army commanders for not properly defending the remote base known as Combat Outpost Keating, where eight U.S. soldiers died during a fierce battle Oct. 3 against some 300 Taliban insurgents, half of whom were killed.

The Taliban also sought to avoid alerting U.S. intelligence by keeping a low profile in attack preparations.

The report, a copy of which was obtained by Inside the Ring, said the base in a Taliban stronghold near the town of Kamdesh was initially set up by a Provincial Reconstruction Team. By 2009, the mission for the soldiers at the base was "unclear" yet they understand "counterinsurgency doctrine and the need to engage with and protect the local population."

"But owing to limited manpower and tactical reach off of the compound, the mission devolved into one of base defense and by mid-2009 there was no tactical or strategic value to holding the ground occupied by COP Keating," the report said, noting that commanders decided to close the base by August 2009.

However, resources needed for the pullout were diverted to supporting Afghan troops near Barg-e Matal, impeding efforts to protect the remaining forces.

"There were inadequate measures taken by the chain of command, resulting in an attractive target for enemy fighters," the report said. "Over time, and without raising undue concern within the U.S. intelligence system, the enemy conducted numerous probing attacks, learning the tactics, techniques and procedures of B Troop, and pinpointing location of weapons systems and key infrastructure and material, such as generators and barracks."

Those targets were struck during the first minutes of the Oct. 3 attack.

On intelligence, the report stated that "intelligence assessments became desensitized to enemy actions over several months."

"On several occasions intelligence reports in advance of an attack indicated there was a large enemy force that would strike, but the attack that followed generally consisted of a few number of fighters who used indirect and small arms fire for an engagement that averaged five to ten minutes in duration," the report said.

"Owing to this experience with the enemy in vicinity of COP Keating, the perception prevailed that reports of massing enemy forces were exaggerated and improbable. The focus became the enemy's most likely, rather than his most dangerous course of action."

The Washington Times first reported that there were several intelligence reports circulated before Oct. 3, but U.S. military officials dismissed them as unconfirmed. U.S. Air Force jets and Apache AH-64 attack helicopters provided close air support that allowed U.S. forces to defeat the Taliban attack, including their use of a local Afghan police station and a mosque at the nearby village of Urmol and the surrounding hills.

"The soldiers of B Troop demonstrated courage, bravery, and heroism as they inflicted over 150 casualties on enemy forces and reestablished their perimeter," the report said.

"In the process, the soldiers embodied the warrior ethos and recovered all friendly casualties. As evening fell on the night of 3 October 2009, COP Keating remained solidly under U.S. control and enemy forces had suffered a severe tactical defeat. Eight American soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice defending their outpost and their fellow soldiers."

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