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February 28, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

Iraqi soldiers defecting
Morale is low in the Iraqi army and many soldiers are preparing white flags of surrender, we are told by someone in northern Iraq who recently interviewed two defectors from Saddam Hussein's army.

One was a captain who defected from the 5th Mechanized Division of the 1st Corps, based near the northern city of Kirkuk. The captain told our informant that the heavy division was only 35 percent combat-effective. The captain said morale was so low that younger soldiers are speaking openly about surrendering before the first shot has been fired.

A second soldier, a senior noncommissioned officer, defected from the same division's 34th Brigade, based south of the northern city of Mosul.

This soldier said that of the 28 tanks in his care, only six were working. The others were broken down or otherwise in need of repair.

"He said the whole division was at about 25 percent effectiveness and most soldiers were hiding their white flags," said our source, who spoke recently to both defectors.

Intelligence sources in northern Iraq, where both CIA Special Operations Group officers and Army Special Forces are active, said there have been dozens of defectors in the past several weeks. There also are reports that Saddam's henchmen have issued orders to commanders to shoot any deserters they can catch.

The poor state of Saddam's regular army recalls that of some units in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, when Iraqi soldiers were so eager to surrender that some gave up to an Italian film crew that was covering the war.

Special ops
We hear that Thomas W. O'Connell is the pick to become the Pentagon's assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict (SOIC). Now an employee of defense contractor Raytheon Co., Mr. O'Connell is a former special operations commando and CIA analyst. He declined to comment yesterday through a Raytheon spokesman.

The Pentagon last year tried to get rid of the SOIC post, but the move was rejected by lawmakers who want special operations to have an advocate in the Pentagon. Our sources say the Pentagon now plans to ask Congress to give it more flexibility in deciding what duties the assistant secretary performs.

It's official. The law of the land. CINC is no more.

A message went out of the Pentagon on Feb. 20 from Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs chairman, telling the commands to stop using "commander in chief" or CINC, to describe four-star regional military commanders.

From now on, commanders such as Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, will be known as "commander." They will appear in acronyms as CDR. The deputy commander will appear as DCDR.

The message accomplishes Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's goal of ending any confusion between the president, who constitutionally is the commander in chief, and regional commanders.

"The secretary of defense signed a memorandum stating that the title 'commander in chief' shall be used only to connote or indicate the president of the United States of America," the Myers message states. "The memorandum also discontinued use of the acronym 'CINC' for military commanders and provided a list of new titles to be used."

Gen. Myers offers further instruction:

"The abbreviation 'CDR' will be used to replace the acronym 'CINC' and DCDR will replace 'DCINC.' To avoid confusion and associate 'CDR' with the appropriate echelon, the following writing conventions will be adopted in all joint publications, messages and general correspondence. When referring to the commander of a combatant command, 'CDR' will be used in conjunction with the organizational name. Example, commander, U.S. European Command, will be referred to as CDRUSEUCOM. When referring to the collective group formerly known as 'CINCS,' the term 'Combatant Commanders' will be used ... All organizational messaging addresses must be updated not later than 28 February 2003."

Secret fight
The pretrial hearing for Air Force Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umbach may be over, but that has not stopped the defense attorneys and prosecutors from continuing the fight.

Air Force Col. John Odom, the lead government attorney, has accused Charles Gittins, Maj. Schmidt's defense attorney, of submitting a final written argument to the judge that contains classified information. The two pilots are charged with manslaughter for mistakenly bombing Canadians in Afghanistan in April, killing four soldiers.

Mr. Gittins vehemently denies his brief contains any secret data. He says Col. Odom went so far as to have authorities search the laptops of attorneys for Air Force defendants. He said one defense counsel is now under investigation.

"It's intimidation because we were more effective in our brief than they expected," Mr. Gittins tells us.

Col. Odom sent an e-mail to military lawyers that said, in part, "If you have a printed-out version of the briefs, they should be appropriately secured, since they contain classified information (classified 'Secret') which has been distributed in an inappropriate manner. Obviously, any release of the briefs to news media for any purpose by any counsel would constitute a federal offense."

Keeping command
Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon, in a daily message report, told officers Monday that commanders are the key to the military criminal-justice system.

"Taking the commander out of the system is a formula for battlefield defeat," the "Aim Points" message says.

"Commanders have unique insight into their people and what is needed to maintain high morale and effectiveness; this unique insight makes the UCMJ different from the civilian criminal-justice system by vesting commanders with broad authority over disciplinary matters."

Rummy's press party
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld often delights in poking his finger in the eyes of news reporters, challenging the premises of their questions or correcting their English.

The defense secretary buried the hatchet, at least for one night Saturday. He hosted an exclusive, off-the-record gathering of his favorite Pentagon reporters at his home in Washington for cocktails and snacks.

His perceived enemies were not invited, including us and Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks. Most of the other regular Pentagon scribes attended the soiree, along with Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, who set the invite list.

Mrs. Clarke could not be reached for comment.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked on PBS Feb. 20 whether U.S. forces are now ready to carry out a presidential order to invade Iraq. He responded by saying: "Yes, we are at a point where, if the president makes that decision, the Department of Defense is prepared and has the capabilities and the strategy to do that."

Four days later, Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of any U.S. invasion of Iraq, told the Associated Press' Robert Burns: "There may come a day when [Mr. Rumsfeld] asks me: 'Are you satisfied that you have enough?' And I will tell you truthfully he has not asked me that question."

  • 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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