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April 9, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

World War X
Retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is calling for greater efforts to counter Islamist extremists using ideas as well as military and other power.

"We need to harness all the elements of national power to deal with what I call the global insurgency," Gen. Myers said in an interview.

The four-star general said that after the Sept. 11 attacks, he tried to promote waging a war of ideas, but "tactical problems just bogged us down." Also, getting defense and other policymakers to implement ideas-based counterterrorism efforts was a "hard sell," he said.

Gen. Myers provides his assessment of the terrorist war in his new book, "Eyes on the Horizon: Serving on the Front Lines of National Security," noting that violent extremists are waging "World War X," with the X meaning unknown, as in a mathematical equation.

One problem, he stated in the book, is that the military and U.S. government have not properly identified the nature of the enemy - al Qaeda and its Islamist supporters.

During his time as chairman, Gen. Myers wrote, he set up a small team of military specialists that identified the current war on terrorism as a "global insurgency" led by al Qaeda. The goal of the Islamists is to limit American power through the insurgency, which sought to create "an Islam-based global caliphate," he stated.

To defeat the insurgency, Gen. Myers recommends a three-pronged approach of attacking terrorists, breaking links between al Qaeda and local insurgents, and accommodating Islamic solutions to problems, within limits.

"Ultimately, the only conclusive way to prevent the ignition of a wider, inter-civilization conflict is to bring Muslim society to an accommodation with the modern world," he wrote.

U.S. counterterrorism strategy should attack the al Qaeda strategy of linking local grievances to global aims, he said.

Gen. Myers also stated that "the darkest days" in the White House took place in October 2001 when reports surfaced that al Qaeda had obtained nuclear material for a bomb.

China ship incident
A U.S. defense official said the recent confrontation between five Chinese military vessels and the USNS Impeccable, an ocean survey ship, in the South China Sea resulted in the setting of a bad legal precedent for the Navy's freedom of navigation in international waters.

According to the official, who spoke on condition that he not be named because of the political sensitivity of the issue, the Impeccable's captain withdrew from the area rather than hold fast and assert the ship's freedom-of-navigation rights. Worse, the captain also radioed one of the five Chinese naval vessels to ask permission of the Chinese navy to exit the area.

Both steps were viewed as weakening U.S. Navy efforts to assert the right to transit international waters freely and to counter Chinese claims to a 200-mile economic exclusion zone claimed by Beijing as sovereign territory.

Beijing claims the entire South China Sea as its territorial waters.

The U.S. defense official said the Chinese harassment was part of what has been termed legal warfare, or "lawfare," the use of international laws to try to deny access to areas near coasts by foreign ships and aircraft.

The official said it is important for the Navy not to give in to such harassment because of the risks of limiting freedom of navigation, which is a vital interest for both the United States and its allies in Asia.

The Chinese ships closed to within 50 feet of the ship, blocked its path and threw wood and debris in its path. The U.S. protested the harassment.

The Impeccable is one of five U.S. Navy ocean surveillance ships that are under the Military Sealift Command's special mission ships program.

The ship was conducting operations near Hainan island, where China has a submarine base and where new Chinese ballistic missile submarines will be deployed.

At the time of the incident, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stated that U.S. vessels would "continue to operate in those international waters, and we expect the Chinese to observe international law around that."

However, the defense official said doing so will be more difficult because of the Impeccable's response.

Capt. Jeff Breslau, a Pacific Command spokesman, denied that the Impeccable's response to the harassment was harmful.

"USNS ships are noncombatants," Capt. Breslau said. "All the actions Impeccable took that day were both prudent and correct, which does not set a bad precedent."

Syria intelligence failure
Former United Nations Ambassador John R. Bolton is faulting U.S. intelligence agencies for missing early signs of a covert Syrian nuclear program when he first raised the issue in 2003.

The secret Syrian nuclear plant was confirmed by a defecting Iranian scientist and led to a daring Israeli air strike on the al Kibar plant in September 2007.

"Key elements of our intelligence community (IC) fought against the idea of a Syrian nuclear program for years," Mr. Bolton stated in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Mr. Bolton said that in mid-2003 he waged a "a bitter struggle" with members of several intelligence agencies over the Syrian nuclear program.

U.S. intelligence had argued - incorrectly, in retrospect - that Syria could not develop nuclear weapons because its military lacked the scientific capabilities and resources to fund the program, said Mr. Bolton, now with the American Enterprise Institute.

"The intelligence that did exist - which I thought warranted close observation of Syria, at a minimum - the [intelligence community] discounted as inconsistent with its fixed opinions," he wrote. "In short, theirs was not an intelligence conclusion, but a policy view presented under the guise of intelligence. How wrong they were."

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano rejected Mr. Bolton's claim that the Syrian nuclear program was an intelligence failure. "The discovery and identification of the reactor was, as others have noted, a true intelligence success," he said. "With patience and rigor, information from multiple sources was tested and pieced together, forming a convincing picture. The Intelligence Community went where the information led, just as the mission requires."

Taliban weakness
A senior U.S. military officer based in Afghanistan tells Inside the Ring that press reports from Afghanistan in recent weeks exaggerated the strength of the Taliban militia and its control of Afghan territory.

According to the official, the Taliban claim to control some rural areas, but the official said the areas are not important, "and we are killing them there."

Most of the major population centers are controlled by Afghan security forces.

"The press and media are greatly overstating the Taliban threat and claiming things are in dire circumstances," said the official, who asked not to be named because he was speaking without authorization. "While they can engage in terrorism and cause mayhem, they do not control much territory. They do have some influence.

"The Taliban strategy of using [improvised explosive devices] is targeting American public will and opinion, not the soldiers; it is not affecting progress on the ground. What is affecting progress on the ground is money and the coalition resourcing and problem solving needed to advance this country - their basic necessities of power, water and roads."

Afghan security forces responded very well to recent Taliban attacks on the capital of Kabul, acting rapidly and controlling the situation within hours, killing the attackers and pre-empting others. "This was an important missed story in the media," the official said.

Taliban Commander Mohammed Daud Amin recently bragged in an interview with CNN that his Islamist militia forces are poised to attack at the gates of Kabul.

"The reality is the 10th Mountain Division is at the gates of Kabul, and if the Taliban wants a fight, all they have to do is stand up and ask for it," the military officer said. "But they won't because they are cowards, children and women abusers who use indoctrinated, weak-minded people to conduct suicide attacks while shooting and murdering innocent civilians working at office desks. This is not the warriors of old. These are criminals. They lie about their achievements. These bums aren't warriors. They hide behind wired IEDs and scurry away like rats."

Petraeus says 'No'
With Republicans starving for leadership, calls for Gen. David H. Petraeus to run for office are going unanswered by the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and the architect of the successful counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq.

Asked by Fox News' Bret Baier if he had any interest in running for political office, Gen. Petraeus not only responded with a no but went on to paraphrase the song by country music diva Lorrie Morgan, "What about no don't you understand?"

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at

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