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September 8, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Afghan habit
House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde is warning the White House that Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a "failed narcotics state." He is calling for another overhaul of the administration's counterdrug policies in that country: less eradication and more attacks on drug kingpins, warlord allies, production labs and supply routes.

We obtained a letter the Illinois Republican sent yesterday to President Bush. "We have to revisit our counterdrug and counterterrorism policies in Afghanistan or we risk creation of a failed narcotics state," Mr. Hyde wrote.

Mr. Hyde, who is retiring this year, has led the House's effort to get the Bush administration, and particularly the Pentagon, to focus more on Afghanistan's burgeoning poppy crop used to make opium and heroin. He has also hammered home the point that millions of dollars in drug proceeds are aiding the enemy. With a resurgent Taliban wreaking havoc in poppy-rich southern Afghanistan, new thinking on the drug problem is needed, congressional sources say.

Mr. Hyde also arranged for Colombian police officers to tour Afghanistan and offer pointers last month.

The Pentagon this year announced an entirely new strategy to support Afghan police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in combating drug traffickers. But the Pentagon pointedly said it would not become directly involved in drug raids and arrests.

Mr. Hyde is not impressed. "To succeed in Afghanistan, we need to change our failing strategies," he told the president. "We must build on and learn from our experiences in Colombia. There, we mistakenly focused on drugs to the exclusion of terrorism. In Afghanistan, we are focusing primarily on terrorism. In Colombia, we have jointly made great progress by conducting a unified campaign against both. In Afghanistan, we must do the same."

He said the U.S. military only supported three DEA operations last year. It should do three a month, he said.

Why is Mr. Hyde sounding the alarm? Check out the latest survey by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

It reported this week that opium cultivation in Afghanistan rose 59 percent this year and production reached 6,100 tons.

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa urged the government of President Hamid Karzai to start using police powers. "We trained police and prosecutors, we constructed court houses and detention centers," Mr. Costa said. "Now the government has the responsibility to use the judicial system to impose the rule of law and re-establish confidence in Kabul. Significant arrests and convictions will set an example and serve as a deterrent."

Top Gun
Retired Navy Capt. Frank W. Ault, a key player in modern naval aviation as the father of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, died at his home in Arlington on Aug. 25 at age 84. A memorial service is planned today at the Fort Myer Chapel, where his former flying mates will gather to honor a man who served in three wars and ran four public corporations after his military retirement in 1971. Capt. Ault, a 1942 Naval Academy graduate, was a good friend of The Washington Times, always taking time to explain the culture of carrier aviation, which he helped transform.

Vietnam-era pilots might remember the "Ault Report." The Navy tapped Capt. Ault to examine the state of aviation during the war. His report held nothing back, blasting commanders for inferior combat tactics and training.

The Navy accepted the criticism and in 1969 ordered Capt. Ault to create the Navy Fighter Weapons School, the Top Gun academy where pilots go to hone skills before deploying at sea. He had the experience to get the job done, having served as a squadron and air wing commander before commanding the carrier USS Coral Sea.

Capt. Ault's Silver Wings chapter will hold a "celebration and remembrance" of the pilot's life on Sept. 28 at Fort Myer's Spates Hall. The remembrance will be lead by an old friend, retired Adm. Whitey Feightner.

Supporting a spy
A senior U.S. intelligence official publicly defended Ron Montaperto, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who in June pleaded guilty to mishandling classified documents but was not charged for what U.S. officials say were more serious spying charges because of lack of evidence.

Lonnie Henley, currently the deputy national intelligence officer for East Asia, stated in a sentencing memorandum in support of a light sentence that Montaperto is "conscientious, concerned and above all dedicated to the best interests of the United States."

"I learned from him the importance of careful objective intelligence analysis, grounded in solid evidence and carefully free of personal opinion," Mr. Henley said. "He was a mentor and role model, admired by all who worked with him as a professional intelligence analyst." Mr. Henley also was investigated by the office of Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte for sending an e-mail supporting Montaperto and criticizing the FBI.

Montaperto is set to be sentenced today. He pleaded guilty June 21 to one count of mishandling classified documents. He was not charged for passing secret and top-secret information to two Chinese military intelligence officers but the activities were outlined in court papers.

Montaperto, according to the sentencing memorandum written by his lawyers, passed the classified data to China in order to help U.S.-China relations, which contradicts Mr. Henley's description of him as an unbiased analyst.

The memorandum said Montaperto did not pass secrets to China out of "ideological alignment or sympathy with the People's Republic of China." Instead, he gave the classified data because he thought "the U.S. and the PRC needed to learn to get along and better understand each other, a belief that was and is consistent with United States foreign policy," it said.

Welcome mat
Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris, who runs the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, told reporters yesterday how his newest prisoners -- 14 high-value al Qaeda terrorists, including September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- will be treated.

"They are afforded the opportunity to worship, and will have access to the Koran in their native language and other prayer accessories," he said. "They will be allowed to send and receive mail. Their medical and dental care is comparable to that received by any service member deployed here at Guantanamo. They will be given access to reading material. They will have the opportunity to exercise. And they get three culturally sensitive meals a day and, if appropriate, blessed by an imam."

Helo hero
We received an amazing photograph from Afghanistan that shows some of the courageous and skillful work of our troops.

The photo reveals a CH-47 helicopter being flown by a Pennsylvania National Guard pilot who in civilian life flies emergency medical evacuation helicopters.

In the picture, the helicopter is shown landing the back portion of the giant, twin-rotor chopper on a shack in a mountainous and tree-covered region of Afghanistan during the transfer of detainees by U.S. soldiers.

As our correspondent put it: "If this does not impress you, nothing ever will. Gives me the chills and a serious case of vertigo. I can't even imagine having the nerve much less the talent and ability. God Bless our military."

  • 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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