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Decebmer 24, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Mullen warning
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued annual guidance to the military this week, warning against allowing an already "tired" U.S. military to degrade into a worn-out "hollow" force.

Adm. Mullen devoted a significant part of the six-page guidance - after first addressing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran's nuclear arms program - to emphasizing the care and maintenance of U.S. military forces.

"The country faces mounting deficits and growing debt," Adm. Mullen stated. "That will require difficult budget decisions for our government. As we carry out our assigned missions and reset a tired force, we must guard against growing hollow. The quality of the force remains paramount."

The comments echoed an earlier debate over the Clinton administration's use of the military for peacekeeping and nontraditional missions, a role critics in the 1990s said had led to military forces becoming "hollow."

Adm. Mullen stated that he is concerned "that the pace of operations prevents us from training for the entire range of war and erodes our ability to counter future threats."

"Current operations place at risk our ability to generate additional ground forces for another contingency, should one arise," he said.

The comments suggest the chairman may not agree completely with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who in the latest defense budget sought to refocus U.S. forces on counterinsurgency warfare rather than on potential future conflicts against states such as North Korea, China or Iran.

Adm. Mullen said the military needs to properly balance global strategic risks and not focus too much on the current wars. "Geographically that means understanding the criticality of the Pacific Rim, of Africa and our own hemisphere," he said, noting that it included monitoring the spread of technology that could "empower new threats."

The guidance, dated Monday, outlines Adm. Mullen's priorities and strategic objectives in 2010 and is intended to direct the efforts of the Joint Staff.

Echoing the Obama administration's focus on climate change, Adm. Mullen also stated that tensions are growing among nations over energy, water and other resources, and he noted that "climate change and environmental degradation increase these tensions, putting pressure on vulnerable populations while changing our operating space, in the Arctic and elsewhere."

Adm. Mullen said the military implications of the changing global environment are not understood and must be studied closely "to be ready."

Christmas meals
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the Pentagon's supplier of beans, bullets and bandages, is providing 855,000 pounds of food to U.S. forces and government workers in Afghanistan and Iraq for the Christmas holiday.

Troops in Afghanistan will feast on 42,360 pounds of dark-meat turkey (just 2,832 pounds of white meat), 22,950 pounds of ham, 113,462 pounds of beef and 21,168 pounds of shrimp. Trimmings will include 12,348 pounds of stuffing mix along with 23,814 pounds of potatoes, 3,529 cans of sweet potatoes, 1,764 cans of cranberry sauce and 45,706 pounds of vegetables. For dessert, there will be 24,720 pies and 2,824 cakes. The total weight of the food is 366,281 pounds.

Troops in Iraq will get 66,960 pounds of white-meat turkey along with 67,440 pounds of dark meat, 60,780 pounds of ham, 23,954 pounds of beef and 35,280 pounds of shrimp. Side dishes include 20,580 pounds of stuffing mix, 38,200 pounds of potatoes, 8,814 cans of sweet potatoes, 58,931 pounds of vegetables and 4,410 cans of cranberry sauce. Christmas dessert will come from 24,906 pies and 15,464 cakes. Total weight is 488,747 pounds.

A DLA spokeswoman said the food will be supplied from contractors in the United States, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

"It is important that we continue to provide outstanding meals to our troops every single day," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Scott D. Chambers, commander of the DLA Philadelphia field activity, in a statement outlining this year's holiday food totals. The Philadelphia office is responsible for providing food to U.S. military personnel stationed throughout the world. "When it comes to the holidays, DLA personnel take special pride to make sure every deployed service member will dine on a traditional meal, bringing a bit of home to warfighters," he said.

The agency has been preparing for the Christmas meals since April.

Taliban video update
The commander of an Army unit involved in combat operations in eastern Afghanistan is challenging a recent report by the Open Source Center, first reported in this space last week, that analyzed a Taliban propaganda video supposedly about the pitched Oct. 3 battle between U.S. forces and the Taliban at a remote combat outpost (COP) near Kamdesh in eastern Afghanistan.

The battle led to the deaths of eight U.S. soldiers and came days before U.S. forces abandoned the outpost in a planned redeployment.

"The video in question does not contain one second of film footage from the actual attack on COP Keating," said Army Lt. Col. Robert B. "Brad" Brown, commander of the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, based in Forward Operating Base Bostick in Kunar province.

The Nov. 30 report by the Open Source Center, part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, stated that the Taliban video purported to show combat video of the capture by the insurgents of a U.S. military base "in the Kamdesh district" of Nuristan province. The narrator of the video mentions "Kamdesh" but does not give a date for the purported attack.

The center's report, Col. Brown stated in an e-mail to Inside the Ring, was "based on grossly flawed reports."

Col. Brown said the attack sequences apparently were spliced together from video of an earlier Taliban attack on another base, COP Lowell in Kamu, Nuristan province. Based on the flow of the river shown in the video, the time frame probably was July, he said, adding that unlike the COP Keating attack, there were no U.S. casualties requiring medical evacuation.

"The sequences of insurgent leaders 'touring' a U.S. COP were taken more than a year ago on COP Lybert near Gowerdesh, Nuristan," Col. Brown said.

Col. Brown said an Army unit that his group relieved in June - the 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division - withdrew from that outpost as part of a repositioning of forces to within a brigade area. "It was not in any way 'taken,' " Col. Brown said. "The large box with 'Lybert' spray-painted on it should have been a clue."

Col. Brown, who has been to both COP Keating and COP Lowell, said he reviewed the Taliban video and feels certain that none of the footage came from the actual Oct. 3 attack on Keating.

"The COP Lybert footage has been 'released' [by the Taliban] several times under different titles - in each case, analysts have reported the details through appropriate channels," he said, noting that "appropriate channels" were informed about the center's analysis of the propaganda video and were expected to inform the center.

Col. Brown said he contacted Inside the Ring not to criticize the Open Source Center but to correct the record.

Spokesmen for the DNI, which is responsible for the center, declined to comment.

Col. Brown said even a cursory analysis of the video by someone familiar with the combat positions would have revealed the Taliban lies. He noted that if the center had done a basic study of the propaganda video, the agency would have recognized it as "ham-fisted propaganda."

An Army spokeswoman in Afghanistan, Maj. Virginia A. McCabe, deputy public affairs officer with the Combined Joint Task Force-82 and Regional Command East, said of the Taliban video that it "was inconclusive regarding where or when insurgents got the items" they claimed to have captured, including a U.S. automatic assault rifle shown in the video.

"Before departing the location, the units removed all sensitive items and accounted for them," she said.

Maj. McCabe said the Army incorporates "communication actions and concerns into all our operations."

"The Taliban uses communication tied with brutality to intimidate and control people and doesn't worry about facts when distributing its messages," she said.

Green F-18
A Navy spokeswoman called to clarify comments last week by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who said in an interview that "we've already tested alternative fuels on an F-18, and it worked fine."

The test was not a flight test of a bio-fueled F-18, but a ground engine test, said Navy Lt. Laura Stegherr.

"In October, a team at the Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River successfully powered a static F414 engine, which is the engine for the F/A-18, with a jet fuel derived from the camelina plant," she said. "Essentially, this engine test was a large step forward in determining that the Navy could fly an F/A-18 jet with fuel derived from renewable sources.

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