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June 25, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Kilos to Taiwan
A delegation of Taiwanese legislators met with Pentagon officials this week, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. A key topic discussed was a novel way to build submarines for the Taiwanese, we are told.

Under a plan percolating in the Pentagon, Russia would sell the United States eight very quiet Kilo-class submarines outfitted with Russian weapons but equipped with U.S. electronics and propulsion systems, defense officials said.

One official said Russian President Vladimir Putin quietly has signed off on the deal as long as the submarines are sold to the United States. "If the Americans resell them [to Taiwan], it's none of Russia's business," the official quoted Mr. Putin as telling U.S. officials.

Other options call for using another European design or building the submarines from the U.S. Barbell-class diesel submarine design.

The submarine deal, however, is still being held up over cost estimates.

Of course, China, which currently has several Kilo submarines in its navy, is expected to object vehemently, as it has to all U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. The submarines were high on the agenda of the 15 visiting Taiwanese legislators, along with the island's plans to buy P-3C antisubmarine-warfare aircraft and Patriot antimissile batteries, the officials said.

The delegation visited a Patriot PAC-3 antimissile unit at Foot Hood, Texas, and a P-3C base in Hawaii. They also visited an Aegis battle-management-equipped warship in Pearl Harbor.

According to defense officials, Mr. Wolfowitz urged the Taiwanese to move ahead with the acquisition of $8 billion worth of U.S. arms that the Pentagon has offered Taipei since 2001.

The Pentagon is worried that the military balance across the Taiwan Strait has already shifted in favor of Beijing, which now has 550 missiles aimed at the island. Additionally, China has purchased Kilos with advanced torpedos; Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyers and Su-27 and Su-30 warplanes outfitted with advanced missiles.

Professional Army
The 1st Armored Division, which last week completed the vanquishing of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's renegade militia, put on display the complete soldier: warrior, politician, media strategist and rebuilder.

In the future, Army training centers will likely study Operation Iron Saber to learn how to take down an insurgency with brawn and with brains.

"The Army as an organization has set up over the last 20 years a system of education and training that has made our soldiers very agile and able to adapt to different scenarios," Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, a division assistant commander, told us.

The warriors: Based on intelligence detailing the fighters' exact locations, commanders put 70-ton Abrams tanks right into the city square.

Karbala proved a crucial battle. In early May, 18 tanks under Lt. Col. Garry Bishop's command entered the heart of the city. Their cannon fire hit buildings holding hundreds of al-Sadr fighters. The pre-dawn raid was backed by AH-64 Apache gunships firing cannons and rockets. What followed was two weeks of on-again, off-again firefights. On May 23, Col. Bishop woke up to learn that what was left of his enemy had fled the city.

"Anybody who thinks you can only fight counterinsurgency with special operations does not understand the nature of conflict," Gen. Hertling said. "When tanks are on the ground, the forces mean business."

The rebuilders: In Kut, soldiers began rebuilding a government building that will house the town's elders. Gen. Hertling has hired about 50 former members of Sheik al-Sadr's Mahdi's Army to reopen an amusement park.

"When they were part of the militia, all they were doing is looking for a job," Gen. Hertling said.

Media: The division realized it had to counter Sheik's al-Sadr's calls for rebellion. One way was to expose him as a thug.

In one instance, soldiers discovered and freed four Iraqi policemen who had been kidnapped, gagged and beaten. One agreed to go on Arab TV and tell Iraqis what Sheik al-Sadr's men did to him.

Gen. Hertling recalls an Iraqi coming to him, with a little girl in his arms, and saying, "Thanks for getting rid of these thugs."

Politicians: Soldiers met with moderate clerics who, while not publicly endorsing the battle against the radical sheik, provided information on his operation.

Zarqawi's movements
Although the United States believes Abu Musab Zarqawi has centered his terror network in Fallujah, officials say he is on the move constantly and has set up other cells throughout Iraq.

"He moves in and out of Fallujah," a senior military officer told us this week.

Members of his Tawhid organization are popping up all over Iraq. The military has gotten good intelligence on where Zarqawi has been, but not where he is at a given moment so they can launch a raid to kill him.

"That's why he's still alive," said the officer. "There is a Darwinian nature to the terror business. Those guys that are very good know how to stay alive."

Relying on foreign jihadists, the Jordanian-born Zarqawi is believed to be the mastermind of suicide car and truck bombings that have killed scores of Iraqis, including some of their new leaders.

A second military source said Zarqawi set up one such cell in a desert area south of Baghdad, where its members were supposed to aid radical Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr in his unsuccessful bid to violently take over the Shi'ite cities of Karbala, Najaf and Kufa.

"We think of him as a franchise trying to get more outlets," said the officer. "He is clearly trying to recruit."

Two U.S. air strikes this week hit safe houses thought to hold Zarqawi lieutenants in Fallujah. Military sources say there was no specific intelligence that the master terrorist was at home.

"There is always that hope," the senior officer said.

Asked by Brit Hume on Fox News Channel yesterday about the success of air strikes on two Zarqawi safe houses, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, "It's hard to know how many people are in that network, in that city. He has a network that's bigger than that city.

"But, with respect to the people in the city, my guess is that probably something in the neighborhood of 30 to 50 people are not operating at the present time."

  • 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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