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May 2, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

White's departure
Friends of ousted Army Secretary Thomas White are outraged at what they consider the final insult from the staff of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Mr. Rumsfeld asked for and received Mr. White's resignation one week ago. According to one senior Army official, the two talked of a June exit. The date coincides with the retirement of the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki.

But this week, a senior Rumsfeld staffer called to say his retirement date is now May 9 next Friday.

"The Army staff is in a state of belligerence over this final insult," said the Army official. "The issue now is when does this attack on the Army stop? When does President Bush put a stop to this? Us Republicans did not come into the building to experience a Stalin siege."

A spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld said it was up to Mr. White to comment on his exit date.

Charles Krohn, Mr. White's spokesman, said, "Secretary White is accustomed to following orders. Additional comment would not be helpful."

The perceived Army siege by Mr. Rumsfeld's staff began almost immediately after Mr. White took office less than two years ago. Pentagon civilians believe the Army is too slow and heavy. They pushed for cuts in Army troop strength, accused the service of being too slow to reform, and eyed canceling major weapons systems.

In the end, Mr. White beat back the troop-cut bid. But the Pentagon canceled the Army's prized Crusader artillery piece without consulting with Mr. White, and then forced the firing of an Army civilian who tried to save the weapon on Capitol Hill.

It has been a rough ride for a person who seemed uniquely suited to run the Army in a Republican administration. A self-described military traditionalist, Mr. White is a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran who retired as a one-star Army general. His last billet was as an assistant to a Bush favorite, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, then Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.

A friend of Mr. White's said the Enron ex-executive is deeply disappointed by his firing. The friend said Mr. White believes he was a good soldier, defending the administration to the public and to Congress.

A number of names are circulating in the Pentagon as a possible replacement. One frequently mentioned candidate is Air Force Secretary James Roche.

Aziz on Speicher
Tariq Aziz, the ousted Iraqi deputy prime minister who was taken into custody last month by U.S. forces, has told American interrogators that he believes Navy pilot Capt. Michael Scott Speicher is dead.

The information on Capt. Speicher was among the questions Mr. Aziz answered in initial debriefings. He also claimed he attended a meeting with Saddam Hussein the weekend before the April 7 air strike on a building in the Mansur neighborhood thought to hold the dictator. If true, it means Saddam survived the March 20 first strike against him.

A senior U.S. official said comments by Mr. Aziz, a Saddam loyalist and spokesman for decades, have been given low credibility.

"Most of the other things he told us don't seem to be true," the senior official, noting that Mr. Aziz claimed that Iraq also does not possess chemical, biological and nuclear weapons or materials.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked about Capt. Speicher during a town hall meeting with U.S. troops at Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. He assured one soldier that efforts were being made to resolve the fate of Capt. Speicher, who was first classified as killed in action after his F-18 was shot down in January 1991.

"From the beginning of the conflict, teams of people were assigned to pursue every single lead that could be found," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Prisons where we heard reports he might have been have been examined and investigated. Every day that goes by there is the hope that something additional will be learned. But regrettably, we have not at this stage developed any active leads that I would be able to report that would be considered hopeful. But we intend to keep pursuing it and I know that the teams that are working on that are aggressive and serious in attempting to do so."

Afghan angst
The persistent resistance from hard-core Taliban in Afghanistan has some planners worried. The worry is not who is winning the United States is. The issue is how long will guerrillas tie up thousands of allied troops in one country.

The angst reached a high point this winter, when guerrillas assassinated a Red Cross worker. The fear is that Taliban have decided the best way to rid the country of Americans is to kill international relief workers. This will force humanitarian groups to abandon the country, so goes this scenario, and leave America unable to meet the needs of average Afghan citizens.

So, far the attack on the Red Cross has been an isolated incident, but there are other troubling signs.

For example, some nongovernmental organizations do not communicate well with the American task force running the show. One representative refused to attend any meeting at which U.S. military representatives are present.

"I suspect this sort of monkey business is why DoD is taking charge of the relief effort in Iraq," a military official told us.

Missile threats
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said this week that one consequence of the ouster of Saddam Hussein is that Iraq's growing threat of long-range missiles has been stopped.

"It doesn't look like Iraq will be back in the missile business and that's a big step forward," Mr. Wolfowitz told us.

A recent CIA report on foreign missile threats stated that Iraq under Saddam was bent on building both medium- and long-range missiles.

The report said "Iraq would be likely to test an ICBM probably masked as an [space-launch vehicle] before 2015, possibly before 2010." It noted that Baghdad could have purchased long-range missile components or entire systems from North Korea.

Mr. Wolfowitz said the growing threat of missiles "is a real one."

"Missiles remain one of the key ways that countries, that in most other respects would be militarily weaker than we are, will try to get at us if they want to do bad things," he said.

Mr. Wolfowitz also said the Patriot anti-missile systems used against Iraqi missiles, while not perfect, have improved considerably.

"We may not be be able to prove it, but I suspect a lot of casualties were prevented because of the success of our shorter-range defenses," he said. "We're making remarkable progress in the ability to hit a bullet with a bullet. If we keep at it, I think we can have a capability to keep up with that emerging threat."

Commando advocate
As we reported in this space in February, Thomas W. O'Connell is President Bush's pick to be the next assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict (SOLIC). The White House this week sent the nomination to the Senate.

Special operations is a high priority with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in the war on terrorism, but the SOLIC post has been vacant since the Bush team took office.

It withdrew its first nominee, then proposed eliminating the assistant secretary post and folding the SOLIC office into another organization. Some senators balked at that proposal and it was dropped.

Mr. O'Connell is a senior manager at defense contractor Raytheon Corp. A former special-operations commando, he worked at the CIA and was a deputy director at U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla.

The SOLIC office is a key budget advocate inside the Pentagon for covert warriors. The community has taken on new importance in the Rumsfeld era and played a large role in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

  • 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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