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April 15, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Chinese arms for Iraq?
The U.S. Army is considering buying a large number of AK-47 assault rifles and other small arms from, of all places, China. The guns would be used to equip the new Iraqi army, we are told.

The planned arms purchase is meeting some resistance within the Pentagon from officials who say Beijing should not be rewarded with an arms contract. China opposed the liberation of Iraq, and tried to arm Saddam Hussein's regime.

China was caught in 2002 illegally selling Saddam a fiber-optic communications system that was used to network its nationwide air defenses, which tried for years to shoot down patrolling U.S. jets.

The Army's only reason for buying Chinese is that the price is lower than those of other makers, including Romania, a NATO ally, said people familiar with the planned purchase. The AK-47 also has been made in Poland and Bulgaria, also NATO allies.

As one analyst familiar with the deal told us: "Does this make policy sense? Not just picking China over an ally, but opening the door even a little to a relationship between China and Iraq on arms is dangerous for the future evolution of Iraq. Doesn't anybody think strategically anymore?"

The Army decided not to supply Iraq with American rifles because Iraqi officials prefer and are more familiar with Russian-design arms.

Army legal officials apparently don't care who supplies the weapons, and have determined that there are no restrictions on buying Chinese AK-47s.

One Pentagon official said buying Chinese rifles for the Iraqis is "just stupid" for a number of reasons. One is that Iraq remains awash in weapons,

including thousands of new AK-47s, many of which are brand-new and packed in boxes.

An Army spokeswoman had no comment.

Pentagon China report
Pentagon policy-makers and intelligence officials are close to finishing the latest annual report to Congress on the military power of communist China.

Officials tell us the report's most stark conclusion is this: The military balance across the Taiwan Strait will soon be in China's favor, increasing the danger of war. Beijing has 725 missiles pointed at Taiwan and could conduct a crippling surprise attack on the island, the report, due out next month, will state.

The shifting military balance creates instability and increases the possibility that a military miscalculation by China would draw the United States into a conflict.

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence officials are investigating a Hong Kong press report published earlier this week that said China is set to buy up to 210 French jet fighter-bombers, should the European Union lift its arms embargo.

The Chinese-language Hong Kong Commercial Daily, quoting reliable sources, stated that talks on the sale of Mirage 2000 top-of-the-line fighters has been under way since late 2004, and the deal will include 1,200 Mica missiles. China also wants to buy 20 Atlantic ALF-3 maritime patrol aircraft from France's Dassault Aviation, which also makes the Mirage.

The report said Paris is so confident that the embargo will be lifted that it has scheduled pilot training for 40 Chinese pilots to begin in June. But yesterday, U.S. and EU officials said the embargo on China will not be lifted until Beijing improves its human rights record and eases tensions with Taiwan.

The EU arms embargo was imposed on China for its brutal military crackdown on unarmed Chinese pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

The United States remains opposed to lifting the embargo because of concerns it will further shift the military balance in China's favor.

Chatty Air Force
The Air Force is cracking down on airmen who misuse the service's instant-message chat rooms by making inappropriate comments.

An Air Force message referred to "recent inappropriate comments" but gave no examples.

It did say, "Inappropriate use of AFIM includes sexual harassment, or sexually explicit, or racist dialogue. ... The Air Force military rank structure establishes expectations for leadership responsibility and accountability."

Because of the raw language, the Air Force has put new controls in place. "A self-monitoring system allows users to report misuse, but other forms of monitoring will take place," the Air Force said.

It reminded airmen that chat rooms are not for "sexually explicit or oriented material [or] business, fund-raising, lobbying or political activities."

Defend the tank
The heavy M-1 Abrams tank has experienced a renaissance in Iraq. Thought to be somewhat of a relic in the post-Soviet era, the 68-ton chassis and gun proved instrumental to Army soldiers and Marines capturing towns in Iraq against well-hidden terrorists.

If a sniper appeared, the tank's gun would simply take out the floor. No need to risk a clearing operation and fall into a trap.

But the M-1A1 and A2 have proved vulnerable to large bombs and well-placed rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Producer General Dynamics says 28 were destroyed and scores have been disabled in Iraq.

The company has proposed a package of fixes called TUSK (tank urban survival kit). The kit includes a shield for the turret-top machine gun and a way to fire it remotely so the tanker does not have to expose his body to enemy fire; reactive armor for more protection against bombs; and a grill to protect the engine from RPGs.

There is also a retro accouterment: a telephone portal at the tank's rear. An infantryman can pick up the phone to tell the commander what he sees, rather than worrying about being on the same radio frequency.

Israelis and Muslims
The staff of the House International Relations Committee thought the State Department had given up on the idea of buying 25-year-old Israeli helicopters for $2 million apiece and giving them to Afghanistan for the drug war.

But staffers have learned that State is still pushing the deal over in the Senate. It is seeking to reprogram money in the current budget and take additional funds from the pending war appropriation.

Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, has put a "hold" on reprogramming. But State apparently has adopted a strategy of getting the job done in the Senate and then winning in a House-Senate conference.

Mr. Hyde's staff opposes the purchase on several grounds. In effect, the United States will be paying twice for the 14 Bell 212 helicopters because Israel bought them with American taxpayer funds via the Foreign Military Sales program. No. 2, it doesn't look good politically to have Israeli-refurbished aircraft used against Muslim farmers. And, the committee staff believes, American-built Huey IIs would do a better job.

The State Department's public affairs office did not return a call seeking comment.

Mr. Hyde has pushed the Bush administration to rev up the war against the poppy crop and heroin production in Afghanistan.

"We urge you to immediately provide to the [Drug Enforcement Administration and Afghan counterdrug forces] 10 International Narcotics and Law Enforcement-funded Huey II helicopters, seven of which are now ready for shipment and three others that will be ready in three months," Mr. Hyde said in a Feb. 16 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"We have to begin an aggressive drug interdiction mission now, without delay, to immediately put drug lords and traffickers on notice that they will not easily take control of the burgeoning Afghan democracy."

Congressional sources have told The Washington Times that drug profits have become Osama bin Laden's main source of money to fund al Qaeda and his life on the run.

  • 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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