Return to

Aug. 27, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Looming showdown over Gitmo
The Obama administration and Congress are heading for a showdown over the president’s plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its remaining terrorists abroad or to U.S. prisons.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced last week that Pentagon assessment teams are looking at creating prisons for the terrorists at Leavenworth, Kansas, and Charleston, South Carolina, as well as other locations. Mr. Carter said he is dealing with two groups of Gitmo prisoners: those who can be transferred to other nations and a group of hard-core terrorists who must remain in detention as enemy combatants.

Releasing the terrorists to other nations is said by defense officials to be problematic and a cause of friction between the White House and Pentagon. Differences between the president’s advisers and former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ultimately led to Mr. Hagel’s ouster in February, according to defense officials.

Mr. Carter is facing similar pressure to release dangerous terrorists to the Middle East, many of whom have shown a determination to return to jihadi terrorism and even to lead terrorist groups.

“He doesn’t want his signature on the release of someone who is going to go out and kill Americans,” one official said of Mr. Carter.

The defense secretary hinted as much in a press conference Aug. 20.

“My responsibility to assess that the risk of any transfer has been mitigated is not only the law but common sense,” Mr. Carter said. “We do this carefully, we do it deliberately. I’ve approved the transfer of several detainees and will continue to do so when appropriate.”

The White House, led by National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice, is pushing to release Guantanamo prisoners as quickly as possible with less concern for what happens to them once they are put under the control of Middle East states.

Asked about the high-level pressure, Mr. Carter said: “I see it exactly the way the president does” — that the prison in Cuba is a rallying point for jihadis and is expensive to operate. [President] Obama does not want to leave the prison to his successor, and “I think that is a very, very correct position. I support it entirely.”

On releasing terrorists, “I’m going to do that very carefully,” Mr. Carter said. “The public would expect that. That’s what the law says.”

Peter Cook, Mr. Carter’s spokesman, said this week that the costs of keeping Gitmo terrorists in the United States has not been calculated. The prison still holds 116 terrorists, and it costs about $3.4 million annually to hold each one.

The House version of the fiscal defense authorization bill, now in House-Senate conference, contains language that prohibits transferring any Guantanamo detainees abroad or to the United States.

The bill does so by barring the Pentagon from spending any funds on the transfers or constructing or modifying prison facilities in the United States. It also bans putting the detainees in any Pentagon facilities worldwide or to combat zones.

Lastly, the House bill prohibits using any defense funds to send terrorists from Guantanamo to any foreign country unless the defense secretary provides a certification that past transferees haven’t returned to terrorist activities.

Although the bill fully funds the president’s budget request, Mr. Obama has threatened a veto on the grounds that it misuses the Overseas Contingency Operations to fund other defense programs. His real rationale for a veto, however, may be the House’s Guantanamo restrictions.

No similar restrictions are in the Senate version of the bill. However, the House bill notes that the White House ignored previous legal restrictions on Guantanamo prisoners, thus bolstering the argument for keeping the more restrictive House language.

China’s military forces are getting ready for a show of new weapons, including one of Beijing’s newest missile systems, the intermediate-range DF-26 missile.

Reports from China and Asia this week detailed the planned Sept. 3 military parade in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II — an event that occurred before the People’s Republic of China was formed — that will include seven types of missiles, including the new DF-26 intermediate-range missile. The designator DF stands for Dong Feng, or “East Wind” in Chinese.

It will be the first major ceremony by the communist government marking the war anniversary. Past anniversaries were low-key, primarily because rival Kuomintang nationalists were in power when the war ended.

Beijing, in a major historical revision, has dubbed its celebration the victory of the “Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggressions and the World Anti-Fascist War.”

It’s part of Beijing’s propaganda push aimed at demonizing Japan as returning to World War II-era militarism. China is vying for control over Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that are said to contain large undersea energy deposits.

Ballistic and cruise missiles will be on display, as well as several of the People’s Liberation Army’s growing force of armed and unarmed drones.

The missiles shown will include the DF-10 ground-launched land attack cruise missiles; short-range DF-15 ballistic missiles; the medium-range DF-21 and DF-16 missiles; and the DF-31 and DF-5 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

One of the more controversial missiles to be shown for the first time will be what U.S. officials have called the DF-26C intermediate-range missile, which, like other Chinese weapons, was developed in secret. Photos of the missile were revealed last year on Chinese military enthusiast blogs and later confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies.

American spy agencies first reported the DF-26C in the spring of 2014 in internal reports. Defense officials have said the missile has an estimated range of at least 2,200 miles and will be Beijing’s primary weapon for conducting attacks on U.S. military facilities in Asia, such as the Pacific island of Guam.

The DF-26C is considered one of Beijing’s most potent “anti-access, area-denial” weapons, and can be equipped with conventional and nuclear warheads. The solid-fueled missile is deployed on a road-mobile transporter erector launcher.

The Xinhua News Agency said the parade will feature six missile formations, including long-range, intermediate-range and short-range missiles, as well as conventional and nuclear missiles. A military source told the news agency that “the scale and number of the missiles will surpass any previous outing.”

“Our missile weaponry has seen great advances in terms of firing range, strike methods, accuracy and mobility,” the official was quoted as saying.

A senior military official added that the parade will be the first public showing of 84 percent of the armaments.

Air Force officials announced this week that they will soon issue a contract for one of the service’s highest-priority programs — a new long-range bomber.

The contractors vying to build the stealth bomber that will replace aging B-52 and B-1 bombers are Northrop Grumman and a team of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin.

The jet does not have a name yet and is being called the long-range strike bomber.

Some research work on the bomber has been underway, although details about the aircraft remain secret. It is expected to be developed in both piloted and remotely piloted variants. The bombers will incorporate intelligence gathering, nuclear strike and conventional strike features, or combinations.

The bomber is considered an urgent priority for the military’s nuclear deterrent forces.

“The long-range strike bomber contract will be awarded soon,” Air Force Secretary Deborah James said at the Pentagon. “We will do it when we are ready. The key thing is to make sure that we are doing it correctly, and so that is what we’re doing.”

Ms. James was obliquely referring to the major “error” in estimating the cost of the bomber.

Bloomberg and Time magazine reported that the 10-year bomber program cost increased by $25.3 billion, from $33.1 billion last year to $58.4 billion this year. The higher figure was then revised downward to $41.7 billion over 10 years.

The fluctuating billions “occurred in part because of human error and in part because of process error, meaning a couple of our people got the figures wrong and the process of coordination was not fully carried out in this case,” Ms. James said.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said the bomber should be deployed in the mid-2020s and will continue for 25 years. Gen. Welsh joked that the B-52 fleet is “going to try to make 100 years, but we really should question that.”

The Air Force bomber fleet is the oldest it has been since the separate service was created after World War II.

“We’re at the point today where we have trouble having enough functioning aircraft to keep our air crews trained,” he said. “This is not a new problem. We have four fleets of airplanes that are over 50 years old.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

  • Return to