Return to

June 16, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Haditha stories
As more reporters travel to Haditha, some of them Iraqi stringers hired by Western newspapers, the stories about what U.S. Marines did in the town Nov. 19 get more and more gruesome.

Defense attorneys deny assertions by some residents that Marines lined up unarmed civilians and executed them. They say the Marines of Kilo Company, after being fired upon, did three house-clearing operations in which civilians, and suspected insurgents, some armed, some not, were killed. Some of the 24 were women and children.

More troubling to defense attorneys is an account from one resident that the Marines killed an elderly man in a wheelchair. Marines have told lawyers they saw no man in a wheelchair during the operations in what is one of the most dangerous towns in Anbar province.

Marine Corps defenders also are questioning the authenticity of a video, purportedly of the victims and made by a Sunni man. They question why the images did not surface until months afterward.

Still, sources close to the case expect Marines to face criminal charges once an investigation is complete.

Fat terrorist
For a man constantly on the run planning new ways to murder innocents, Abu Musab Zarqawi didn't miss many meals.

Among the findings of an autopsy, which found he died June 7 of bomb-damaged lungs, was that the al Qaeda in Iraq leader was a bit hefty.

"He was fit, but I think he was on the heavyweight side," an unidentified forensic pathologist, who conducted the postmortem, told reporters in Baghdad.

The U.S. military previously had captured and shown a homemade video of a plump Zarqawi unable to operate a machine gun and calling for help from fellow terrorists.

The Air Force has sent a memo to airmen explaining why the service is cutting the force by 40,000 in the coming years. The bottom line: The Air Force wants to free up money to pay for expensive weapons systems, such as the F-22 Raptor.

"We are reducing end strength and becoming more efficient," the memo states. "It is important to maintain our technological edge to fight the wars of today and tomorrow."

Warning that pink slips are coming, the memo adds, "We understand this could be a difficult time for some airmen and their families. We will use every authority available to minimize the impact for those transitioning to civilian life."

The active-duty Air Force is slated to shrink from 351,800 this year to 334,200 in 2007.

Prison break
Not much was known about one of Delta Forces' biggest successes, that is until Kurt Muse decided to tell his story of survival, which is closely linked to the secretive special operations unit.

In 1989, as U.S. forces prepared to invade Panama from within (from American bases protecting the canal) and from without, Delta commandos first used Little Bird helicopters to scale the walls of Panama's main prison and free Mr. Muse.

Years later, Mr. Muse writes about the rescue in his book, "Six Minutes to Freedom: How a Band of Heroes Defied a Dictator and Helped Free a Nation."

Mr. Muse, now a Northern Virginia resident, lived and worked in Panama, seeing the brutality of Manuel Noriega up close. He decided to work against the dictator by building an underground radio station, the Voice of Liberty, to broadcast the truth. Noriega imported Cuban agents to hunt down the station's location. They did, capturing Mr. Muse and imprisoning him for nine months, with orders to execute him if he tried to escape.

Mr. Muse, whose research included interviewing former President George Bush in his Houston office, tells us he thinks he is the only American civilian ever rescued by Delta Force. He plans a reunion with some of his rescuers at a book launch party this month.

An excerpt: "Total elapsed time from touch-down to dust-off was six minutes. But the night was about to get a lot longer. .. Three feet past the edge of the roof, the chopper pilot dropped the bird into a nose-down dive that first nearly had them smashing into the prison yard dirt and then again into the prison yard wall. .. On the far side of the wall, the chopper landed in the middle of the street. .. This was about to get ugly."

Army ammo
The Army recently concluded a $3 million, three-year study to find out what it was told by a group of specialists years ago: The killing power of the M-16/M-4 carbine is good for close combat.

The Army study started after some soldiers in Afghanistan claimed that the 62-grain, 5.56 mm round did not have enough stopping power to kill terrorists in close combat. The complaints appeared aimed at trying to get the Army to adopt bigger caliber guns and ammo, something the service opposes.

According to defense officials close to the study, a group of assembled specialists on the matter, including both ballistics specialists and medical doctors familiar with bullet wounds, told the Army before it started the study that the problem is not the size of the bullet but the person pulling the trigger.

The specialists concluded that disabling an enemy combatant with an M-16 is more dependent on where a shot is placed, the number of hits that are placed on target, and the level of marksmanship training of the solider. The size of the bullet and its design are less important and the standard M855 ammunition, known as "green tip" ammo is fine.

The Army study concluded almost the same thing but failed to identify one fault of its own soldiers: They need more training to be better shots.

The study proved that the complaints from some units in Afghanistan were unwarranted. "There are some special operations units that never complained because they could shoot," one official told us. For those lacking marksmanship training, "they could shoot at someone 10 times but only hit him once or twice."

"The Army is very willing to spend a lot of money on guns and ammunition, but very little on marksmanship training," the official said.

China-Hamas links
A Chinese intelligence officer is engaged in covertly aiding the ruling Palestinian Hamas terrorist group, according to a Paris-based intelligence newsletter.

Gong Xiaosheng was identified as a Ministry of State Security (MSS) official who has worked out of Ramallah since November 2002, Intelligence Online reported in its June 9 edition.

The report said Mr. Gong is a "strategic agent" who was trained in Division 8 of the ministry and also at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), an MSS think tank whose Middle East section is headed by Jin Ruikun, a specialist on Palestine and Jordan, and Chen Shuanqing, a specialist on Israeli-Palestinian relations and Israel's Likud Party.

The institute produces in-house studies for Chinese communist and military leaders and predicted in January that Hamas would win the Palestinian elections.

According to the report, Mr. Gong in the past was constantly seen in the company of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat but has since begun helping Hamas.

Mr. Gong arranged an invitation to China for Mahmud al-Zahar, the Hamas foreign minister to take part in a China-Arab Cooperation Forum in Beijing last month.

Unlike the United States and other Western governments who rightly view Hamas as a terrorist organization, China was quick to recognize the new Palestinian government ruled by Hamas.

  • 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

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns

    2002 Columns
    2003 Columns
    2004 Columns
    2005 Columns
    2006 Columns
    Return to