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September 9, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Afghan connection
The Pentagon has never publicly asserted that drug profits from Afghanistan's bustling opium and heroin production find their way to al Qaeda.

Officials with a different opinion say that if the Defense Department made that link, it would get unwanted pressure to play a direct role in counternarcotics missions, such as raiding labs.

Maj. Gen. Douglas Lute, top operations officer at U.S. Central Command, followed the company line in a recent talk at the U.S. Embassy in London. "We don't have hard intelligence or hard factual evidence that there's a clear link between the narcotics business and Afghanistan and extremists," he said.

This conflicts with the assessment of other officials, including Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican. Mr. Kirk, who has made fact-finding trips to the region and talked with intelligence officials, has said al Qaeda is reaping millions of dollars from the drug trade. The money is funding Osama bin Laden's life on the run, he said.

Robert Charles, until recently the State Department's top counternarcotics official, has a similar view. He says Afghanistan's poppy crop went from 152,000 acres in 2003 to 515,000 acres in 2004, producing $7 billion in drug money.

Mr. Charles told us, "We are seeing a substantial amount of anecdotal evidence that bad guys of every stripe are getting this money."

China missile threat
Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, said the new U.S. strategic missile defense system is not capable of stopping Chinese long-range missiles. But he said other systems can be used if needed against China's growing arsenal of short-range missiles.

Gen. Obering said in a recent meeting with reporters that Japan and other nations in Asia are becoming more interested in developing missile defenses because of China's growing arsenal.

A Pentagon report in July stated that China now can reach almost all of the United States with its small arsenal of nuclear missiles. Additionally, the Chinese also are building new mobile missiles, including road-mobile DF-31 and DF-31A systems and a new submarine-launched missile called JL-2.

The U.S. long-range missile defense is not prepared to stop an intercontinental ballistic missile attack from China. Gen. Obering, however, hinted that future missile defenses could.

"We are not designed to go against a Chinese threat, ... but what we make sure we have to do is in our development program be able to address Chinese capabilities because that is prudent," Gen. Obering said.

"So while we're not developing a missile defense strictly for the Chinese, so to speak, we have to maintain cognizance of that and make sure that we keep track of their development program," Gen. Obering said, He noted that the Pentagon is watching Beijing's long-range and short-range missile programs.

Bunker buster update
The Pentagon and Energy Department will resume research on a new earth-penetrating nuclear bomb, if Congress approves funds for it contained in the fiscal 2006 budget.

According to a Congressional Research Service report, the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) will be based on a modified B-83 high-yield nuclear warhead that is needed for U.S. military forces to be able to bomb deeply buried targets, such as underground nuclear facilities or leadership bunkers.

The penetrator could be used if President Bush decides to knock out the nuclear programs of North Korea or Iran. Both countries use rock-hardened and underground facilities for their militaries.

The new warhead is needed to replace the current warhead in the U.S. arsenal that is capable of burrowing before detonating, the B-61-11.

The CRS reported Aug. 2 that the B-61-11 "cannot penetrate certain types of terrain in which hardened underground facilities may be located."

Critics of the warhead in Congress, spurred by anti-nuclear activists, succeeded in cutting off funds for the new penetrator for 2005. The Bush administration is seeking $8.5 million for fiscal 2006 to continue studying the RNEP.

The CRS quotes Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the need for the bomb. "Our combatant commander [who] is charged by this nation to worry about countering the kind of targets, deeply buried targets, certainly thinks there's a need for this study," Gen. Myers said, referring to Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command.

Euro missile defense
Seventy-one percent of Europeans said in a recent poll that they favor deploying missile defenses to protect against attack from weapons of mass destruction.

By contrast, 16 percent of those surveyed said NATO should not have the capability to shoot down incoming missiles. The poll was sponsored jointly by the George C. Marshall Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany, and Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.

The Novatris/Harris survey was conducted in France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Denmark.

The results were welcome news for the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency. "The poll results show that Europeans feel the same as Americans they are concerned about missile attack and want protection against this very real threat," agency spokesman Rick Lehner told us.

Iraq progress
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, deputy chief of staff for coalition forces in Iraq, has listed a number of accomplishments in the southern, Shi'ite town of Najaf. The United States this week handed over control of the once-volatile Najaf to Iraqi forces.

"Among the accomplishments in this city," said Gen. Lynch, "are a successful transition to a freely elected government; the opening of the Najaf Teaching Hospital, treating over 600 patients daily; the reconstruction of the Najaf Police Academy, which recently graduated 230 Iraqi police candidates; the establishment of Najaf TV, and in the very near future, the opening of a local radio station, which will continue to raise the standard for free press in Iraq."

  • 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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