Inside the Ring

By Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough
December 8, 2006

U.S. forces are bedeviled, not to mention killed and wounded, by roadside bombs called improvised explosive devices. But soldiers have become better at finding the buried bombs or conducting sweep detonations before convoys pass.

This denies the enemy the opportunity to remotely detonate the IEDs using cell phones, garage door openers, ignition wires and other off-the-shelf electronics.

But commanders often say this is a "thinking enemy."

Realizing the Americans were getting better at detecting or detonating their IEDs, the insurgents changed tactics. They started attaching the IEDs to utility poles.

Soon, the word went out from commanders: Convoys must look up as well as down for roadside bombs.

There were few light moments inside the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing room as Defense Secretary-designate Robert M. Gates took confirmation questions from senators.

But the back-and-forth with Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, did bring a chuckle when discussing the hunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Nelson asked about increasing the $25 million reward for bin Laden's capture or killing.

"That obviously hasn't been enough money to get somebody to turn him in, as you say, one of his own forces to turn him in," the senator said. "What would you think about increasing the amount of that reward or that bounty by $1 million a week?

"It's certainly a small number compared to the costs of our conflict — until it reaches a breaking point where somebody says that's enough, and I'll give him up for $35 million or $40 million — just keep adding it. Because the costs of the war are so significant, and yet the symbolism of this individual is still significant in that part of the world. What are your thoughts about that?"

Mr. Gates: "Sort of 'Terrorist Powerball.' "

Mr. Nelson: "Yes. Somebody wins — somebody always wins the lottery. It's just a question of when and how much it is at the time."

Rumsfeld departure
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been all but invisible since his resignation was announced Nov. 8. Although he leaves this month with a reputation as a tough taskmaster who ruffled feathers and broke china, many who worked closely with him say he will be sorely missed.

"He brought a clear strategic purpose in making sure U.S. forces are at the top of their war-fighting capabilities and that our adversaries understood that," said a veteran official who did not always agree with Mr. Rumsfeld but says he will miss him.

Pentagon officials, however, are breathing a sigh of relief that two key Rumsfeld aides are going: Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy.

"I think everyone in the building is breathing a sigh of relief that they'll be gone," said the veteran official, who criticized the two officials for undermining Mr. Rumsfeld's policies. "They did serious harm to national security."

One State Department official noted that Mr. Henry, who never revealed his past work on Capitol Hill for a Democrat when he was hired at the Pentagon, was the architect of a major policy shop reorganization that was so badly done it placed responsibility for nuclear weapons and missile defense policies under the assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

Mr. Cambone failed to complete any major upgrades and reforms of intelligence sought by Mr. Rumsfeld, who had made beefing up defense-related intelligence capabilities a major priority, the officials said. The only minor successes within the newly created intelligence office were accomplished by Army Lt. Gen. Gerald Boykin.
Comments earlier this week by Mr. Gates that he does not like "off-line intelligence organizations or analytical groups" are seen by Pentagon officials as a sign he likely will dismantle the undersecretary for intelligence post and give more authority to CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

SOFs vs. regulars
Several military officers tell us the Army is slowing down its war-fighting tempo in Iraq and now is engaged in "just a deployment," albeit one that is still deadly.

Military commanders are focused mainly on not losing lives to deadly improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers or snipers and "have gone risk-averse," we are told, with many troops holed up in compounds.

By contrast, special-operations forces are waging war against insurgents and foreign terrorists behind the scenes, and they are producing valuable "actionable" intelligence.

The dangers continue. "If you want a combat infantryman's badge, walk out of any compound in Ramadi and you can earn it in five minutes," one officer noted.

Whether the 139,000 U.S. troops are drawn down, embedded or pulled out, the military officials said, special-operations forces will be in Iraq for a long time.

Study this
We have tapped the special-operations community and found some sour words for the Iraq Study Group's 79 recommendations for getting out of Iraq.

An Army Green Beret told us:

"The Iraq Study Group has taken a chapter out of our old playbook in Vietnam known as "Vietnamization." It predictably failed then, as this will now. The Democrats and Republicans now have a policy which will protect their candidates in future elections. As a bipartisan document, it is a politically marvelous way of abandoning Iraq without paying the political price at home as the party that lost the war.

"Iraq will not be capable of fielding a national army capable of providing security in three years, regardless of how many advisers we provide. The supposedly secret 'three courses of action' to 'go big, go long, or go home' have been discussed for years at all levels. The only politically viable solution to stabilizing Iraq has always been to 'go long' and dig in for a decade of nation building. That course of action is contingent upon the will of the American people, however, and the report represents the belief that we have already lost our will.

"The report proposes a politically palatable method of disengaging and going home without paying the full political price at home. The tragedy is that we chose to destroy that country and are now choosing to leave it in ashes. It is shameful. When the jihadis arise from this debacle and once again bring terror to American soil, as they rose from the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan and delivered us 9/11, we will have only ourselves to blame."

• Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters.

Mr. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Mr. Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at