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August 19, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Cheney's China hand
Vice President Dick Cheney is considering replacing his current China specialist, Stephen Yates, with National Defense University Asia specialist James J. Przystup, who is opposed by conservatives.

Mr. Yates is regarded as one of the Bush administration's most solid conservatives who favors tough policies on China's human rights abuses and its military buildup.

Word is Mr. Yates, who is fluent in Chinese, plans to leave the White House and may get a post at the Pentagon.

Mr. Przystup, who has discussed the appointment with Mr. Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, is viewed by administration conservatives as more conciliatory toward China than Mr. Yates, and his appointment would be part of backdoor efforts by pro-China officials to soften the administration's policy toward Beijing.

Mr. Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld are seen as key officials who are skeptical of China and view Beijing's military buildup with concern.

Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the vice president, declined to comment on the possible personnel shuffle. "I have no announcements to make, and I'm not going to speculate on personnel matters," she told us.

Mr. Przystup could not be reached for comment.

Land rover
One factor making it very difficult for the U.S. military to solve the improvised explosive device (IED) problem in Iraq is the current highway system. It isn't big enough.

That means there are only so many roads U.S. troops can travel, making it easier for terrorists to place deadly roadside IEDs with the assurance that at some point a U.S. convoy or patrol will pass.

Some outside experts say the way to outfox the enemy is to develop air-cushioned vehicles that can travel off-road. The vehicles could take one of thousands of different routes from point A to point B with the entire Iraqi desert as their highway. With so many travel route options, it would make IEDs useless, the experts tell us. They further say that developing a new family of air-cushioned vehicles would be a good way to transform the military for future battles against terrorists. What better way for special operations troops to get around, they ask.

In limbo
Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace is a rarity, a four-star officer without a portfolio.

He watched last week as his successor, Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., was sworn in as Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman. Gen. Pace has been confirmed by the Senate as the next Joint Chiefs chairman, succeeding Air Force Gen. Richard Myers. But Gen. Myers' four-year term does not end until Oct. 1, leaving Gen. Pace temporarily with no place to go. "He's a four-star general without a job," a Pentagon official said. "Not a common occurrence."

The official said Gen. Pace plans to keep a low profile so as not to overshadow Gen. Myers' waning weeks in office. Gen. Pace plans to travel to get a feel for the state of America's stretched armed forces and to do some advising behind the scenes.

Costly POW search
The Pentagon recently suspended efforts to recover the remains of U.S. service personnel from North Korea, but not before spending millions that critics say fueled Pyongyang's military.

The U.S. Pacific Command stated in May that it halted the search in the communist state for remains of those killed in the Korean War until "after they have created an appropriate environment."

The program was stopped after U.S. military personnel sent their gear to North Korea for the next search effort, and now there are no signs it will be returned.

According to military officials, U.S. military commanders opposed the search operations because they were contrary to U.S. strategy toward North Korea. Costs of the operations have been several million dollars a year since 2003, including $2.1 million spent on joint recovery operations that year.

"Look at the amount of money we're paying," one official told us. "Are we feeding and caring for the very same troops that we could potentially fight in a future conflict?"

China's western woes
Former Australian air force officer Martin Andrew, who specializes in China's military, says Beijing is facing the prospect of more armed insurgency in two western provinces, Xinjiang and Tibet.

Xinjiang is home to the ethnic Uighur movement that is seeking independence from Beijing. Tibet was once an independent state led by the Dalai Lama, who fled the country in 1959.

Mr. Andrew, who lives in Brisbane, stated in his latest newsletter, Gi Zhou, that China is using both provinces for military testing and needs oil and other resources from the region to fuel its economy.

"Many Uighurs [who live in Xinjiang] and Tibetans view the Chinese as colonizers, and this is bound to lead to further armed insurgency in Xinjiang, and there are many Tibetans who believe in armed attacks flowing from the CIA's aiding of Tibetan freedom fighters in the 1950s and 60s," Mr. Andrew said.

He noted that Central Asia is "awash" in infantry arms, including rocket-propelled grenades, explosives and mortars that are likely to find their way into western China.

In addition, China's military is using Xinjiang as an information warfare test center.

"The Chinese have conducted an information warfare campaign against the Uighurs in international forums, labeling them terrorists and producing a white paper and briefings outlining their crimes against China," he said.

The spread of democracy in Central Asia could lead to new governments in the region that are sympathetic to those seeking freedom in Xinjiang and Tibet.

"As any insurgent force requires secure base areas to train and regroup from, a sympathetic Central Asian government could provide these covertly," Mr. Andrew said.

Anticipating future attacks in the region, Chinese security forces have invested heavily in modern weaponry and communications, including increased use of special forces, he said.

"Active resistance by Uighur and Tibetan independence fighters would be a nightmare for China," he said.

  • 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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