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December 16, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Abizaid on war
Gen. John Abizaid spoke recently at the U.S. Naval War College and said the war on terrorism will continue for the foreseeable future, and that the real enemy is not insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan but the Islamist ideology of al Qaeda.

The remarks were made to an audience of officers Nov. 10 that included combat veterans from Iraq.

The comments were supposed to be off the record. However, one student made notes, and they have been circulating on the Internet, most recently in an e-mail to the entire U.S. Army from Gen. Pete Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff.

"This is as clear as it can be stated," Gen. Schoomaker said. "Please get these words out to all of the men and women in your organizations. I encourage you to personally carry this message to the American people. As soldiers, we have the most credible voices in America. We need to lead the way."

Gen. Abizaid, U.S. Central Command chief, said he is surprised at how little is known about what is really going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that there is a widespread misperception that U.S. forces are about to be pushed out.

Gen. Abizaid predicted that the insurgencies in four Sunni-dominated provinces in north and central Iraq and in southwestern Afghanistan will continue for the foreseeable future, but will be stabilized and eventually be controlled by moderate governments.

The coming year will be a transition year that will see Iraqi forces taking more of the mission from U.S. forces, which need to be fewer in number and less visible to the Iraqi people for the moderate government to succeed.

The main enemy is the "al Qaeda ideology," which must not be allowed to take hold in any country, he said.

Preventing al Qaeda ideology from spreading will require a long-term commitment, he said.

One of the problems is that there is too much focus on what the United States and its allies have done wrong and not enough discussion of al Qaeda, a global enemy that seeks to rule the world, Gen. Abizaid said.

"The battle against al Qaeda will not be primarily military," he is quoted as saying in the notes. "It will be political, economic and ideological. It will require the international community to fight, too. We must not let al Qaeda get hold in any country. It will result in our worst nightmare."

A Naval War College spokeswoman said the notes accurately reflect Gen. Abizaid's remarks.

Letter home
A retired Army officer shared with us a letter he recently received from a commander whose unit patrols the Tarmiya suburb of Baghdad, a hotbed of Sunni Muslim insurgents. The neighborhood houses some of the most loyal political and military followers of Saddam Hussein.

The letter tells of a political shift in this Ba'athist stronghold: Sunnis eagerly set up polling places and expressed a desire to vote in yesterday's election, in contrast to the boycott of the January elections to select a temporary government.

"By April of this year, these Sunni leaders admitted that they made a mistake by abdicating their right to vote," the Army officer writes. "By May they were strongly vowing to participate in the next election ... by 15 Oct., they put in place an election plan that resulted in nearly 90 percent participation throughout the area."

All the preparations came, he said, despite continued attacks mostly from foreign terrorists led by Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi. He told of one bomber, a woman, who blew herself up trying to kill schoolchildren. Luckily, she did not get close enough.

"We are making progress," he writes. "My 'Sunni friends' are running in this next election. They frankly are also still trying to kill me and my soldiers as they have not completely changed their entire culture nor those that would finance evil. But we are making progress."

War document
The Washington Times acquired a copy of U.S. Central Command's secret plan for postwar Iraq. It was sent to the Pentagon from Centcom headquarters in Tampa, Fla., a few months before the March 2003 invasion.

The Times reported on the document, but we thought it was a good time to look again at the plan, in light of the Pentagon's announcement this week that postwar stability operations, or nation-building, are now a core military mission, comparable to major combat.

A military officer told us that in all honesty, what was then called "Phase IV" planning got relatively little attention compared with the invasion plan.

A look at the secret document, called "Phase IV OPLan: Reconstruction of Iraq," shows the military had nine major objectives for post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. One read, "Reform Iraqi military and security institutions capable of performing legitimate defense and public security missions."

The goal seemed in line with a Pentagon directive issued this week on nation-building. But there was never a thorough follow-up plan on how to meet the objective. Iraq's military was disbanded, rather than immediately reformed, and the country's police forces were so corrupt that they had to be rebuilt from the ground up.

But the document shows that Centcom did realize the stakes. "Phase IV is the strategically decisive phase," the plan states. "Working with the Iraqis to develop their country will determine success."

The briefing predicted an Iraqi "end state" within four years of the invasion. After all the bad planning for postwar Iraq, it just may come true that by March 2007, Iraq has a functioning democratic government.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, has worked an amendment into the pending USA Patriot Act that makes it a federal crime to engage in drug trafficking that benefits terrorists.

Mr. Hyde thinks the law is needed because of reports that al Qaeda is reaping money from opium and heroin sales in Afghanistan. In Colombia, terrorist groups are deeply involved in the cocaine trade.

In a Dec. 14 letter to lawmakers, Mr. Hyde said, "Numerous congressional hearings have illuminated a strong connection between narcotics traffickers and terrorists. It has long been recognized that the Taliban and other extremist Islamic groups have financed a wide variety of operations and material needs through opium and heroin production in Afghanistan. The same is true in Colombia, where Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and other terrorist networks thrive on the illicit drug trade. The Drug Enforcement Administration, in fact, links 18 of the 40 foreign terrorist organizations to illicit drug profits."

  • 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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