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October 20, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Casey's tenure
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is said to be fully satisfied with the performance of Army Gen. George Casey in Iraq. The four-star general is trying to defeat an amalgam of enemies al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein loyalists, rejectionists, criminal gangs, Shi'ite death squads and militias that may be America's toughest foe in history.

The question asked in Pentagon corridors is what's next for Gen. Casey? Defense sources say the door is open if he wants another four-star post.

Three three-star Army generals are often mentioned inside the Pentagon's E-ring as replacements: Peter Chiarelli, the top tactical commander in Iraq; Martin Dempsey, who heads the critical task of training and equipping the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF); and David Petraeus, Gen. Dempsey's predecessor who commands the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Gen. Petraeus would be a likely front-runner. Mr. Rumsfeld admired his work getting the ISF on its feet. He has overseen the writing of a new counterinsurgency field manual, so he knows the Iraq mission, cover to cover.

A military officer says don't look for Gen. Casey to transfer any time soon.

Military votes
Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, has had to bust up the Pentagon furniture to persuade it to fully adopt the integrated voting alternative site, or IVAS. It is a secure connection whereby a deployed person can download an absentee ballot from his or her county election board and mail it in. It greatly cuts the time to complete and mail in a ballot, meaning more service members should be able to beat their local election board's deadline to vote.

Mr. Burns blocked several Defense Department nominations until he thought the bureaucrats were finally adopting IVAS, as called for in Congress' 2004 defense budget.

There is an independent report that backs Mr. Burns' stance. "Successful outcomes from either the current [Federal Voter Assistance Program] or the continued IVAS effort are questionable at this point," said the August report by a military officer.

It said that after the 2004 election, the Pentagon dropped IVAS altogether. It did not restart it until the 2006 defense bill authorized it and then Mr. Burns raised concerns.

Citing "significant friction," the report also said the Pentagon's voter assistance office and the IVAS developer did not get along.

Deterring North Korea
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned North Korea this week not to transfer nuclear weapons to any "non-state" entity and suggested that doing so would lead to an attack on the Pyongyang regime.

Asked after a speech at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., about nuclear deterrence against rogue states, Mr. Rumsfeld noted that "the world is different" today than during the Cold War.

"If you have countries that are nuclear countries and one of two things happens: They transfer those capabilities, their illegal capabilities, to non-state entities, terrorist organizations of one type or another, or they're led by somebody who has a martyr complex and believes that it's OK to have great catastrophic events occur in the world, in those cases, standard deterrents don't work," he said Wednesday.

Mr. Rumsfeld said that since North Korea's nuclear test Oct. 9, the president has said "that were a nuclear country to transfer nuclear capabilities to a non-state entity, that they would be held fully accountable for that."

He did not elaborate, but the phrase "held fully accountable" has been used in the past by U.S. leaders to threaten massive retaliation.

A CIA report to Congress last year stated that "we remain concerned about North Korea's potential for exporting nuclear materials or technology," noting that in 2003 a North Korean official threatened privately to export nuclear weapons.

Casualty count
One of the military services has seen a reduction in deaths, but it has little to do with battlefields in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The Air Force has been on a campaign to cut down on accidents during what it calls the "101 Critical Days of Summer" between Memorial Day and Labor Day. In a message to the force, it reports that 18 airmen lost their lives in accidents during that span, most of them in automobile accidents.

"Due to increased participation in outdoor activities, many of which are inherently risky, this period has historically been one of the most costly in terms of fatal mishaps," the message said.

But the total was 11 fewer than a year ago and 40 percent below the five-year average.

"This is a big step toward achieving our goal of zero mishaps, but the work toward keeping ourselves and our fellow airmen safe is never done," the message says.

Mobile coms
General Dynamics Corp. has come up with the perfect communications network to fit the lighter, faster Army that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wants.

The system is called WIN-T. If installed, it would give Army combat brigades unprecedented access to satellite communications and intelligence information while on the move. Currently, such advanced communications can be set up only by stationary troops, according to documents on the program.

But an industry official says the Army, while pleased with the tests, has not reached a decision on buying WIN-Ts with its $10 billion price tag.

An example of how WIN-T (Warfighter Information Network-Tactical) would work: An intelligence analyst in the United States might send information to an individual Stryker armored vehicle patrolling the streets of Mosul, Iraq, and link the two to a soldier on foot.

  • 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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