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September 23, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

Commandant on gays
In Washington politics, timing is everything and Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos was in the right place and time to influence the outcome of the Senate debate on the controversial legislation to repeal the law banning open gays in the military.

Hours before the full Senate on Tuesday failed to garner the 60 votes needed cut off debate on the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill that contained a provision to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Gen. Amos, assistant commandant and nominee for the top post, made clear he opposes allowing open homosexuals in the military.

"In my personal view, the current law and associated policy have supported the unique requirements of the Marine Corps, and thus I do not recommend its repeal," Gen. Amos stated in written answers to questions made public by the Senate Armed Services Committee for the hearing Tuesday.

"My primary concern with proposed repeal is the potential disruption to cohesion that may be caused by significant change during a period of extended combat operations."

Additionally, the policy change would be a "distraction" for Marines that "are tightly focused at this point on combat operations in Afghanistan," he stated.

Gen. Amos said the current review of the policy on open gays in the ranks is under way and "that review should tell us a lot about whether such a change will be disruptive to unit cohesion."

The Pentagon's survey of military personnel on the proposed change has produced results indicating that at least most Marines are opposing the change, the four-star general said during Senate testimony. "Sir, I've heard, at the Marine bases and the Marine input for the online survey, it has been predominantly negative. But I don't know that for a fact. I have not seen that."

Gen. Amos also said there are parts of the proposed policy changes that "we've not peeled back yet."

"And by that, I'm talking some policy issues, some standards-of-conduct issues, the issue of unit cohesion," Gen. Amos said. "I'm not quite sure what the impact will be on an all-volunteer force, especially a young force like the Marine Corps, predominantly young -- 60-plus percent of our Marines are 21 years or younger and so we're not quite sure what the impact's going to be."

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee who led the opposition to lifting the ban, expressed anger that the Pentagon's ongoing survey on the issue fails to address the impact it would have on morale and military effectiveness.

"What it does is ask questions as to how the military would adjust to repeal of the law," Mr. McCain said. "So therefore, we are now basing a decision by the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, based on a study that does not get to the fundamental question, which is: What is the effect of repeal on morale and battle effectiveness?"

Conducting a study that assumes the law will be repealed is "an incredible act of disingenuous behavior on their part," Mr. McCain said.

Growing IED threat
The Pentagon unit in charge of countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs) recently published its annual report for 2009 showing that IED bombings in Afghanistan grew sharply, but declined in Iraq.

The report, made public last month, stated that terrorists are networking and sharing the techniques and technology for both stationary, vehicle and personal IEDS around the world.

"Elsewhere in the world, violent extremists employed on average more than 250 IEDs per month," wrote Army Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) in a forward to the report.

More recent Pentagon statistics show that between January and the end of August there were 9,094 IED incidents in Afghanistan, an increase of 21 percent since August 2009. For 2010, 292 U.S. and allied soldiers were killed by the homemade bombs and 2,178 were wounded in 1,062 "effective" IED strikes. A total of 3,202 were ineffective and 4,650 bombs were found and cleared.

The report said IEDs remain "the weapon of choice" for terrorists and insurgents as lethality and effectiveness improved with wireless communications and homemade explosives. Regions where IED use is increasing include Pakistan, North and East Africa, and South America, notably Colombia.

"No other widely available terror weapon garners such potential for mass media attention and strategic influence as does the IED," the report said.

The report stated that in addition to terrorists, "rogue states such as North Korea are assessed to have the capability to implement state-sponsored IED campaigns in the event of hostilities in the region."

The JIEDDO was set up in 2006 as a high-priority program and has a budget of $3.1 billion, including $1.1 billion to support the 20,000-troop surge in Afghanistan.

The key element of defeating IEDs has been the Weapons Tactical Intelligence unit that uses military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to collect fingerprints from exploded bombs. In Iraq, more than 5,000 fingerprints were found on bombs, leading to the capture of hundreds of bomb makers. The program is currently being stepped up in Afghanistan to identify Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists using the devices.

Despite its importance in the war on terrorism, the Pentagon is considering cuts in the office as part of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' budget-cutting initiatives, The Washington Times reported earlier this month.

Combat pay
The Pentagon declared last month that Operation Iraqi Freedom had ended with the withdrawal of the last designated combat troops.

But the 50,000 troops remaining in the country, many for training Iraqi forces, will not be losing combat pay, according to military spokesman Col. Barry Johnson.

"All troops here do receive Hardship Duty Pay (HDP), as well as Hostile Fire Pay/Imminent Danger Pay (HFP/IDP), as they are properly called," Col. Johnson told Inside the Ring, noting that combat pay is a euphemism and not a pay category.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service has designated hardship duty pay for officers and enlisted personnel in Iraq who are there for more than 30 days and it ends when they depart the area.

The designation is made by the president and is paid at a rate of $225 per month regardless of pay grade.

"Advising and assisting Iraqi forces, along with our partnered Counter-Terror Operations and the force protection being provided to both civil agencies and our own military activities, fully constitutes conditions to receive this pay," Col. Johnson said. "Our mission has clearly changed in our advise and assist role, even though hazardous duties remain inherent to Iraq."

Iraqi security forces remain very engaged in fighting "terrorism and extremism, and our troops are often with them in advisory roles as we continue to develop their full capabilities," he said.

Concerns have been raised by some soldiers and defense officials that the Obama administration has changed the name of the operation in Iraq to Operation New Dawn to make it appear the war was over.

One solider in Iraq said in an e-mail: "We were originally called a HBCT (Heavy Brigade Combat Team). Well, since Obama said he would pull all of the 'combat' troops out by August, all they did before we left was change our name from a HBCT to a AAB Advise and Assist Brigade. We have the same personnel/equipment layout as before and are doing the same missions."

Pentagon searches
Recently, the Pentagon began conducting random searches of employees leaving the five-sided building as part of what the Pentagon Force Protection Agency police call random anti-terrorism measures.

A defense official critical of the searches pointed out that throughout the Pentagon's history there has not been a single case when a Pentagon employee was involved in terrorism or a violent attack on the facility.

The few incidents that have involved police shootings of intruders all involved people who did not work at the Pentagon.

Pentagon police spokesman Terry Sutherland told Inside the Ring, "We frequently use random anti-terrorism measures as people enter the building."

Mr. Sutherland confirmed that there is no record of a Pentagon employee being involved in a shooting or attempted unauthorized intrusion of the building.

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