Monday, August 18, 2003

Target: Air Force One

THE target was Air Force One, the US President's plane, and the planned date for the attack was Sept 11, to mark the strikes on the World Trade Center in New York.

This scenario emerged as a possible terror plot that a London dealer had in mind when he sold a missile to a man he believed was a Muslim terrorist.

BBC correspondent Tom Mangold, who broke the story of the sting operation which nabbed the arms dealer, reported: 'The man behind the operation was looking for terrorists who would fire the missile at Air Force One - the President's plane.'

The suspect, a British citizen, was arrested in Newark, New Jersey, for trying to smuggle a Russian-made surface-to-air missile (SAM) into the United States.

A law enforcement source told the Sydney Morning Herald: 'The guy was trying to sell shoulder-fired SAMs to people that he thought were terrorists interested in shooting down commercial American airliners.'

Western intelligence said he believed he was selling the Igla missile to a Muslim extremist.

But his 'contact' turned out to be a man from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the missile was inert. It had been supplied by the FBI as well as the British and Russian authorities in a global sting operation to nab the man.

An actual Igla 18 could bring down Air Force One, the B74 the US President uses as his personal jet, defence analysts told the BBC.

It is a state-of-the-art weapon belonging to a group of surface-to-air missiles known as SAM Sevens.

Security analyst Chris Yates of Jane's Aviation told BBC News 24: 'We have the potential for a missile strike reportedly on Air Force One or another aircraft carrying US or UK citizens. It is a worrying development.'

It could destroy anything flying up to 3km, he said.

But the FBI has dismissed reports of a plot to kill President George W. Bush.

FBI spokesman Bill Evanina said: 'There was no danger or suggestion that Air Force One was being targeted or even thought of as a target.'

But Mr Mangold said: 'If you can get the missile into the US, you have a reasonable chance of hitting Air Force One in its vulnerable take-off or landing mode.'

Mr John Pike, director of, a non-profit defence policy group, told Reuters that the Igla was a 'Russian version of the Stinger'. He was referring to the small US shoulder-launched missile designed for attacking aircraft at low altitudes - possibly during take-off or landing. 'It has a longer range and a more sophisticated heat-seeking sensor,' he said.

Defence analyst Paul Beaver also told the BBC that a missile like the one the dealer was trying to sell could bring down Air Force One, but it would more likely be damaged.

'They are difficult to counter-measure unless you have the right equipment, because they are very good at locking on to the heat signature of an aeroplane,' he said.

'We don't know what counter-measures Air Force One might have on it because obviously they're secret, but this is a really coherent threat.'

International sting leads to arms dealer's missile arrest

A suspected arms dealer who thought he was selling a shoulder-fired missile to a Muslim terrorist bent on shooting down an airliner was actually the target of an international sting operation that resulted in three arrests, officials say.

All three are expected to appear Wednesday at 10 a.m. in federal court in Newark, officials said. Their names have not been released because the arrests and charges are under court-ordered seal.

However, CNN identified the suspect as Hekmat Lakhani.

Lakhani, a British citizen of Indian descent, is an independent arms dealer who has sold weapons to terrorist cells, Muslim extremists, and "rogue nations," a source close to the investigation told CNN.

Authorities in the USA, Britain and Russia cooperated in the investigation, which began months ago with a tip that the dealer was seeking weapons to buy in St. Petersburg, Russia, said several U.S. law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

The probe culminated Tuesday in the arrest of a British arms dealer at a hotel in Newark, N.J., where, officials said, he had flown from London to close the deal on a sophisticated Russian SA-18 Igla missile capable of bringing down commercial airliners. (Related story:'Threat is no longer theoretical')

The terrorist buyer turned out to be an undercover FBI agent and the weapon was an inoperable copy brought from Russia to the United States aboard a ship to make the deal seem real, officials said.

Defense expert John Pike, quoted by Reuters, said the Igla missile is an improved version of earlier Russian-made shoulder-fired rockets. "It has a longer range and a more sophisticated heat-seeking sensor," said Pike, director of, a defense policy organization.

The British suspect, who is of Indian descent, did not appear to be connected to al-Qaeda or any other known terrorist group. Authorities also stressed that there was no specific, credible threat to shoot down an airliner in the United States. But one official said the understanding between the Briton and the undercover FBI agent who agreed to purchase the weapon was that the missile needed to be capable of bringing down a commercial airliner.

Two other men, believed to be involved in money laundering, were apprehended about the same time at a gem dealership on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Two New Jersey newspapers, The Star-Ledger of Newark and The Record of Bergen County, said the British suspect would be charged with material support of terrorism and weapons smuggling.

Justice Department officials had no immediate comment on the case. The Star-Ledger, citing a law enforcement source, reported that evidence against the Briton was expected to include audio and videotapes in which he speaks favorably of Osama bin Laden and refers to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as "a good thing."

The Russians passed on their tip about the reputed arms dealer's activities to the FBI, which was permitted to work inside Russia, U.S. officials said. British officials, including the MI5 domestic intelligence agency, helped track the man's whereabouts.

The investigation also involved the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Secret Service.

The chief spokesman for Russia's Federal Security Service or FSB, the main successor of the KGB, said the operation was a result of close cooperation among the secret services of the United States, Russia and Britain, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

"This action marks a new stage in the development of cooperation between the special services of these countries," ITAR-Tass quoted FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko as saying in Washington. He said it was the first such operation since the Cold War.

Concerns about terrorists using shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down commercial airliners increased in November when two SA-7 missiles narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya. Officials concluded that al-Qaeda probably was behind the attack, which coincided with a bomb blast at a nearby hotel.

Hundreds and perhaps thousands of shoulder-fired missiles — heat-seeking rockets that can hit low-flying aircraft within three miles — are said to be available on the worldwide arms market. Older missile launchers can be bought for as little as several thousand dollars.

Chechen rebels have used Igla shoulder-fired missiles against Russian military aircraft. Last week they used a missile to shoot down a Russian helicopter, killing three of the crew. And last year the rebels shot down a Russian troop-carrying helicopter, killing more than 100 people.

The Homeland Security Department has asked U.S. high-tech companies to look into developing anti-missile technology for commercial planes.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said Wednesday the technology is available to provide a defensive system "at a fairly reasonably cost and we have moved that program forward."

"We don't have to put it on every plane, but we should have a system that's converted to commercial use," he said on CBS' The Early Show, noting that a single piece of baggage screening equipment can cost almost $1 million "and we're talking about $800,000 to $1 million" per plane for a defense system.

"It should be on all new aircraft and some select other planes that carry large numbers of people, just like we do (with) air marshals," said Mica. "Unfortunately, that's the kind of world we live in today. ... We have to look at all the risks."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is backing a bill introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that calls for outfitting all of the roughly 6,800 planes in the U.S. commercial fleet with anti-missile defenses. The cost is estimated at $10 billion.

"The danger of an airliner being shot down by one of these missiles is now staring the Homeland Security Department in the face," Schumer said. "The fact that DHS is planning to take at least two years to develop a missile defense prototype to outfit the U.S. commercial fleet verges on the dangerous."

The United States has sent experts to domestic airports as well as to airports in Iraq and major capitals in Europe and Asia to assess security. The investigators are trying to determine whether the airports can be defended against shoulder-fired missiles.

World leaders meeting in Evian, France, in June acknowledged the threat posed by shoulder-fired missiles and adopted a plan to restrict sales of the weapons.

Plot to smuggle missile into U.S. to shoot jet foiled: International sting operation nabs British arms dealer

British arms dealer has been arrested in the United States for trying to sell a surface-to-air missile capable of bringing down a passenger plane to a person he thought was a Muslim extremist.

British and Russian law enforcement agencies worked with the FBI for months, tracking the man's movements and snaring him in a sting operation.

U.S. authorities said the Briton believed he was selling missiles to would-be terrorists but the buyer was an undercover FBI agent. The arms dealer's voice is heard on tape saying he wanted the missile to be used to shoot down a large passenger plane. One report said the purported target for the shoulder-fired missile was the U.S. President's Air Force One, but the FBI denied this.

The British Broadcasting Corporation, which first reported the story with ABC News, said the suspect successfully imported a Russian Igla missile into the U.S. and believed he was selling it to a Muslim extremist.

The Igla missile has a four-kilometre range and infrared capability and is believed to have been responsible for the downing last year in Chechnya of a Russian troop-carrying helicopter.

The Briton was arrested in Newark, N.J., and two others were later arrested in New York, officials in Washington said.

The arms dealer, believed to be a middle-aged man of Indian descent, was first spotted five months ago in St. Petersburg and Moscow. He bought one missile for $85,000 from corrupt middle management at a Russian factory and had been promised another 50, a source told a BBC correspondent.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, authorized the FBI to have an undercover agent sent to Russia to work with the Russian secret service, FSB.

On Sunday, the arms dealer flew to New York with his wife on a British Airways flight from London but was arrested after he collected a package marked "medical supplies," the BBC said.

The FBI said it knew the missile, disguised as medical equipment, was shipped from Russia to Baltimore, Md., the BBC reported.

However, a law enforcement source told CNN the missile was successfully smuggled in on a ship that went from Russia to New Jersey. The source said the man was in the United States to complete the transaction and pick up his payment.

Defence expert John Pike called the Igla a "Russian version of the Stinger," referring to the small U.S. shoulder-launched missile designed for attacking aircraft at low altitude -- possibly during take-off or landing. Mr. Pike said the Igla is an improved version of earlier Russian-made surface-to-air missiles and would have a better chance of bringing down a passenger jet than its predecessors.

"It has a longer range and a more sophisticated heat-seeking sensor on it," said Mr. Pike, the director of, a non-profit defence policy group.

Concerns about terrorists using shoulder-fired missiles to take down commercial airlines intensified in November after an unsuccessful attack on a chartered Israeli jet in Mombasa, Kenya. The incident coincided with a suicide bombing at a nearby hotel. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for that attack.

A spokeswoman for the FBI's national press office refused to give details about the case yesterday, saying the court records were sealed.

Arms dealer of Indian origin held in US missile smuggling plot

U.S. authorities arrested three people on Tuesday in a sting operation that foiled a plot to smuggle a missile into the United States that could be used to shoot down a commercial airliner, officials said.

One suspect, a British citizen, was arrested in Newark, New Jersey, trying to smuggle the Russian-made surface-to-air missile into the country. Two others were arrested in New York, officials in Washington said.

The Briton believed he was selling missiles to would-be terrorists, but he was nabbed in the international sting by the FBI, British and Russian authorities, officials said.

The man is an established arms dealer, thought to be a middle-aged man of Indian origin, who lives in London, it said.

The British Broadcasting Corporation, which first reported the story with ABC News, said the suspect was a British arms dealer who successfully imported a Russian Igla missile into the United States and believed he was selling it to a Muslim extremist.

The buyer was in fact an undercover FBI agent and the arms dealer's voice is heard on tape saying he wanted the missile to be used to shoot down a large passenger plane. The FBI said it knew the missile, disguised as medical equipment, was shipped from Russia to Baltimore, Maryland, the BBC reported.

Officials at the FBI in New York and in Newark did not return calls seeking comment on the report.

The arms dealer, first spotted five months ago in St. Petersburg and Moscow, flew to New York with his wife on Sunday on a British Airways flight from London. He was followed by an FBI agent and arrested in New Jersey after he collected a package marked "medical supplies," the BBC said.

In November 2002 two shoulder-launched missiles were fired at an Israeli passenger plane taking off from Mombasa, Kenya, but did not hit the aircraft.

Defense expert John Pike called the Igla a "Russian version of the Stinger," referring to the small U.S. shoulder-launched missile designed for attacking aircraft at low altitude -- possibly during take-off or landing.

Pike said the Igla was an improved version of earlier Russian-made surface-to-air missiles and would have a better chance of bringing down a passenger jet than its predecessors.

"It has a longer range and a more sophisticated heat-seeking sensor on it," said Pike, the director of, a non-profit defense policy group based in suburban Washington.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer said the incident illustrated the need for the U.S. Homeland Security Department to speed up its two-year plan to develop a missile defense prototype for commercial airplanes.

"The threat facing commercial airliners from shoulder-fired missiles here in the United States is no longer theoretical," Schumer said in a statement.

"The White House ought to be providing homeland security with the money it needs to begin protecting civilian aircraft with jamming devices immediately, before it's too late."

Floating a Spy in the Sky

Military Develops High-Tech Spy Blimp

Think of a blimp and what comes to mind is that slow-moving billboard in the sky, floating overhead at a sporting event. But soon these airborne dinosaurs could be transformed from lowly airship to high-tech floating surveillance system.

That's the aim of military researchers at the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research in Arlington, Va., which is now working with engineers at Honolulu-based Science and Technology International, or STI, on a blimp known as the Skyship 600.

The Skyship 600, built by Global Skyship Industries, is outwardly no different from the airships seen at sporting events or large public venues. But what sets the 200-foot-long craft apart is the suite of sophisticated electronics called the Littoral Airborne Sensor Hyperspectral, or LASH.

The equipment, installed in the craft's gondola, is a set of sophisticated digital cameras with highly sensitive color detectors connected to a computer with specially developed software algorithms.

The cameras are designed to capture a wide variety of the light spectrum — ranging from the invisible infrared and ultraviolet to colors visible to the human eye — all reflected from objects below.

Sophisticated Eye: LASH
Greg Plumb, an STI researcher working on the project, says LASH works on the principle that all objects reflect light differently, creating unique light patterns — especially in the invisible infrared and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum.

The LASH cameras capture those signals and sends them to the computer for analyzing.The visual patterns from all the sensors are compared so that abnormal signals stand out.

"Camouflage netting might looks like the green leaves of the nearby forest to the naked eye," explains Plumb. "But there are minute spectral differences that make it stick out from the natural foliage. It just doesn't reflect light in the same way."

Once the computer has determined such a spectral anomaly exists in the images it's capturing, the system alerts an on-board operator to take a closer look. The information could also be instantly shared with command centers on land using a wireless data network.

Slow and Steady
Originally developed to detect submarines hidden in the littoral or coastal areas, the LASH system has already been tested and approved for use in other aircraft such as Navy helicopters and planes.

But by adding a LASH system to a blimp, Plumb and other researchers say the military would have an ideal tool for a variety of surveillance duties, such as hunting for terrorist divers, underwater mines in harbors, or even search-and-rescue.

Steve Huett, a program manager of the project with Office of Naval Research, says the blimps themselves haven't changed much from those used by the Navy during World War II. But they have their advantages.

"Helicopters shakes and planes have to keep moving in forward motion," explains Huett. "But the advantages of a blimp are that the g-loadings [on the electronic equipment] are not harsh and it goes slow."

In other words, airships provide a steady platform for spying. And unlike planes or even unmanned spy planes, can loiter and provide an uninterrupted view of an area for up to 12 hours a flight.

Blimp Busting
Some are skeptical military surveillance blimps will take off in a really big way.

Patrick Garrett, a defense analyst with in Alexandria, Va., admits having an around-the-clock aerial surveillance platform would be a great asset to homeland defense. But he wonders if such airship platforms would run afoul of legal constrains on domestic spying.

And blimps aren't exactly hardened for combat roles, either.

"They're not durable and it's not like you can hide it while it's in the sky," says Garrett. "All you have to do is point and shoot and that's all she wrote."

Still, ONR's Huett says the LASH blimp has already been put to good use. Earlier this year, it was used to help track migrating right whales. The information was sent in real-time to biologists and oceanographers keeping tabs on the endangered species.

And researchers with the program say that they hope to tweak the LASH blimp a bit further this year. With roughly $3.7 million in further funding for the rest of the year, STI says the blimp is currently on its way to San Diego. Once there,

STI and ONR will work with U.S. Navy SEALs to see if LASH is powerful enough to detect underwater mines such as ones that would be planted in shipping harbors by enemy divers.

CIA warned administration of postwar guerrilla peril

In February, the CIA gave a formal briefing to the National Security Council, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President Bush himself: ''A quick military victory in Iraq will likely be followed by armed resistance from remnants of the Ba'ath Party and Fedayeen Saddam irregulars.''

The administration seemed unmoved. In the weeks leading up to the Iraq war, top Bush administration officials made glowing predictions that Iraqis would welcome US troops with open arms, while behind the scenes they did little to prepare for a guerrilla war.

''My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators,'' Cheney said on NBC's ''Meet the Press'' on March 16. ''I've talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House.''

''I imagine they will be welcomed,'' Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, a key architect of the White House's Iraq strategy, said in an interview April 3, two weeks into the war, with CBS's ''60 Minutes II.''

''I think there's every reason to think that huge numbers of the Iraqi population are going to welcome these people ... provided we don't overstay our welcome, provided we mean what we say about handing things back over to the Iraqis,'' Wolfowitz said.

The February report was not the only warning Bush received that a guerrilla war was in the offing. According to US intelligence officials who compiled or contributed to the reports, and provided excerpts to the Globe, on multiple occasions in the months before the war the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency warned that fighting would probably continue after the formal war. The assessments went so far as to suggest that guerrilla tactics could frustrate reconstruction efforts.

But intelligence officials, former military officers, and national security specialists say the administration instead clung to the optimistic predictions of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group headed by Ahmed Chalabi, who left Iraq in 1958. Chalabi, who is now a member of Iraq's US-backed Governing Council, is a close Rumsfeld and Cheney ally who had the ears of top administration officials in the months before the war.

''I think there was a general sense of how the postconflict phase would go, and it didn't work out that way,'' said a former deputy defense secretary, John J. Hamre, who recently returned from a Pentagon fact-finding mission to Iraq. ''That general sense probably caused them to pass over intelligence assessments that differed from expectations.''

''The obvious critique is that they ignored this beforehand because it didn't fit their expectations,'' Hamre said. But he cautioned against definitive conclusions about the warnings. ''The great problem I see these days is a tendency to take a single report or document and use it as proof to make a point,'' he said. ''When it comes to the world of intelligence, you have to take a much wider sampling of many inputs and make a reasoned judgment.''

The National Security Council did not respond to a request for a comment.

Last month, Wolfowitz defended the administration's planning for the aftermath of the war. ''There's been a lot of talk that there was no plan,'' he said. ''There was a plan, but as any military officer can tell you, no plan survives first contact with reality. Inevitably, some of our assumptions turned out to be wrong.''

Wolfowitz acknowledged that the administration had expected Iraqi military units to defect. ''No army units, at least none of any significant size, came over to our side so that we could use them as Iraqi forces with us today,'' he said. ''Second, the police turned out to require a massive overhaul. Third, and worst of all, it was difficult to imagine before the war that the criminal gang of sadists and gangsters who have run Iraq for 35 years would continue fighting.''

Yet the CIA in particular forewarned policymakers of some of the problems likely to arise, according to one intelligence official who asked not to be identified. The reports, for example, predicted that armed insurgents would attack coalition forces. One prewar report, he said, forecast that after the war ''things would get worse before they get better'' and that there would be a high likelihood of ''backsliding'' - progress followed by setbacks.

In the early days of the war, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's internal spy agency, warned that Ba'ath Party loyalists - many of whom escaped the major invasion - were showing signs of regrouping, said an intelligence official who asked not to be identified. ''We wrote in early April that we were picking up hints of guerrilla forces gearing up,'' the official said.

Since President Bush declared an end to major hostilities on May 1, at least 118 US soldiers have been killed, nearly half of them in ambushes, sniper and rocket attacks, and by improvised explosives. Nearly half of the 256 US soldiers who have died since the war began on March 20 have been killed since major hostilities ended.

Still, many Iraqis have expressed relief to see the brutal dictatorship of Hussein recede into history. News dispatches from Iraq focus on US troop casualties, and therefore do not always reflect the progress and milestones reached, according to a government consultant who returned recently from Iraq. The consultant pointed to the local city councils that are up and running in many parts of the country and the relative stability in the Shi'ite Muslim regions of southern Iraq.

But the precarious security situation in the so-called Sunni Triangle - which has been a drag on efforts to restore water, electricity, and other basic services - raises questions about whether the Bush administration could have been better prepared to address what its own spies said American forces might have to contend with, according to specialists.

''I think that what you might have done differently would have been to put more civil affairs units, more military police, and the training of the Iraqi police forces in place much faster,'' said John Pike of, a think tank based in Alexandria, Va. He said US officials had a model: the NATO war against Serbia in 1999, which placed early emphasis on deploying civil affairs and police units into the province of Kosovo to fill the void.

''I would have thought that they would have had every military police unit in the Guard and Reserve just sitting and waiting to go in'' to Iraq, Pike said.

Hamre, who as president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies last month completed a report for the Pentagon on postwar challenges, said that his assessment was that the troops in Iraq feel they were not sufficiently prepared to tackle the postwar problems. ''The reaction over there from folks closer to the ground was that they were not given very good preparation for what they encountered,'' he said.

A senior Pentagon official, who asked not to be identified, bristled at the suggestion that Bush administration leaders had ignored the intelligence about postwar challenges, noting that they had bigger things on their minds. ''We worried about the catastrophic stuff,'' he said, including the fear of massive oil fires, the use of weapons of mass destruction by Iraqi forces, and a widespread humanitarian disaster. ''None of those things happened.''

Four months after the US invaded Iraq, the guerrilla attacks, amid growing concerns that terrorists are going on the offensive, have tempered the views of administration officials, who are now describing the US commitment to Iraq as requiring many years of work.

The national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice, on Thursday likened the rebuilding of Iraq and the Middle East region to the postwar efforts in Europe after World War II.

''The historical analogy is important,'' she said in a speech to the National Association of Black Journalists in Dallas. ''We must have the patience and perseverance to see it through.''

This story ran on page A25 of the Boston Globe on 8/10/2003.

US admits it used napalm bombs in Iraq

American pilots dropped the controversial incendiary agent napalm on Iraqi troops during the advance on Baghdad. The attacks caused massive fireballs that obliterated several Iraqi positions.

The Pentagon denied using napalm at the time, but Marine pilots and their commanders have confirmed that they used an upgraded version of the weapon against dug-in positions. They said napalm, which has a distinctive smell, was used because of its psychological effect on an enemy.

A 1980 UN convention banned the use against civilian targets of napalm, a terrifying mixture of jet fuel and polystyrene that sticks to skin as it burns. The US, which did not sign the treaty, is one of the few countries that makes use of the weapon. It was employed notoriously against both civilian and military targets in the Vietnam war.

The upgraded weapon, which uses kerosene rather than petrol, was used in March and April, when dozens of napalm bombs were dropped near bridges over the Saddam Canal and the Tigris river, south of Baghdad.

"We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches," said Colonel James Alles, commander of Marine Air Group 11. "Unfortunately there were people there ... you could see them in the [cockpit] video. They were Iraqi soldiers. It's no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect."

A reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald who witnessed another napalm attack on 21 March on an Iraqi observation post at Safwan Hill, close to the Kuwaiti border, wrote the following day: "Safwan Hill went up in a huge fireball and the observation post was obliterated. 'I pity anyone who is in there,' a Marine sergeant said. 'We told them to surrender.'"

At the time, the Pentagon insisted the report was untrue. "We completed destruction of our last batch of napalm on 4 April, 2001," it said.

The revelation that napalm was used in the war against Iraq, while the Pentagon denied it, has outraged opponents of the war.

"Most of the world understands that napalm and incendiaries are a horrible, horrible weapon," said Robert Musil, director of the organisation Physicians for Social Responsibility. "It takes up an awful lot of medical resources. It creates horrible wounds." Mr Musil said denial of its use "fits a pattern of deception [by the US administration]".

The Pentagon said it had not tried to deceive. It drew a distinction between traditional napalm, first invented in 1942, and the weapons dropped in Iraq, which it calls Mark 77 firebombs. They weigh 510lbs, and consist of 44lbs of polystyrene-like gel and 63 gallons of jet fuel.

Officials said that if journalists had asked about the firebombs their use would have been confirmed. A spokesman admitted they were "remarkably similar" to napalm but said they caused less environmental damage.

But John Pike, director of the military studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, said: "You can call it something other than napalm but it is still napalm. It has been reformulated in the sense that they now use a different petroleum distillate, but that is it. The US is the only country that has used napalm for a long time. I am not aware of any other country that uses it." Marines returning from Iraq chose to call the firebombs "napalm".

Mr Musil said the Pentagon's effort to draw a distinction between the weapons was outrageous. He said: "It's Orwellian. They do not want the public to know. It's a lie."

In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Marine Corps Maj-Gen Jim Amos confirmed that napalm was used on several occasions in the war.

Navy Shortage?

The United States might have scored an overwhelming victory in Iraq, but some people think it still needs more aircraft carriers.

Five of these massive cities on the waves were called to duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom — but that left only three others deployable elsewhere.

The worry is that as the sole remaining superpower, the United States might not have enough carriers if too many of the world's simmering hotspots boiled over.

Policymakers feared a conflict in North Korea could have erupted at the same time as the Iraq War, but crises surrounding Taiwan, Pakistan or Israel might have also called for an American presence. The United States military is increasingly being drawn into smaller conflicts as well, like the one currently unfolding in Liberia.

The United States has more carriers by far than anyone else in the world. Britain has three, and Russia, France, Spain, India, Italy, Brazil and Thailand have one.

But John Birkler, a military analyst for Santa Monica think tank RAND, says the current United States carrier fleet may not be enough. There's a saying in the Navy, he said: "In national security matters having too much capability is a misdemeanor, but too little is a felony."

However, retired U.S. Gen. William Nash, said the American military always needs more of everything, since it's so small relative to its duties around the globe.

"The problem in all of this is when you discuss these issues it's seldom an either/or issue," said Nash. "It's how much of each, how do you find the right mix."

"You're looking for balances that give you a maximum capability at a reasonable cost."

Power Projection Problem
The United States' involvement in global affairs is only one reason for the increased interest in carriers.

Several of America's most recent conflicts have taught Washington it may have problems projecting power in the future — in part, due to rising anti-American sentiment.

NATO's assault on the Balkans in the late 1990s was at times stifled by native anti-war protesters approaching air bases in Greece.

Turkey frustrated Washington's desire for a northern front in the most recent Iraq war by refusing coalition ground troops or use of Incirlik air base.

Before the war, peace activists even sabotaged several U.S. aircraft at Ireland's Shannon Airport, which was being used as a stopover point by the Air Force.

Saudi Arabia also refused to let the United States use long-standing Prince Sultan Air Base to launch air strikes during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After the war, U.S. forces abandoned the base.

The United States used to have more than 100 land bases on foreign soil, Birkler said. "Now it's something like 20-plus and will probably continue to decline." Plus, he added, much of the areas where the United States is focusing now hardly have the infrastructure to support land-based aircraft.

With the cost of a carrier coming to around $6 billion each though, American lawmakers are hard-pressed to give any more money to shipbuilders.

"It's a big ticket item," said Nash. "And by the way, you have to buy aircraft for them." Each carrier also comes as part of a battle group, which means up to a dozen additional ships, he said.

Washington may find itself with more responsibilities nowadays — but advances in technology also give it more options.

Military planners have long considered using mobile platforms — fixed constructs that look like oil rigs, placed in international waters — to take the place of aircraft carriers.

The advent of long-range bombers, which can launch from bases in the United States or one of its allies and strike anywhere in the world also raises questions over the need for more carriers.

Paul Bracken, a Yale professor who has studied management aspects of the military, said the idea of mobile platforms has "comes up every once in awhile," but has attracted very little attention.

Birkler said that's because deploying the mobile platforms would take months. "Plus there are concerns about this technology. We have not built these structures before and, I suspect, there will be lots of technical surprises," he said.

The aircraft carrier also has a special role that few other manners of projecting power can beat, Bracken said. "Washington likes the signaling effect of putting aircraft carriers forward because you don't have to pull the trigger," he said.

Technological Loopholes
While technology won't negate the need for carriers, it does suggest alternatives. Carriers and their jets were once considered obsolete, until improvements in technology allowed each jet to strike three or four targets instead of just one, Bracken said. It's possible that one carrier-based aircraft might even be able to tackle more targets in the future.

Military designers are also already dreaming up blueprints for carriers for UAVs — unmanned aerial vehicles, like the Global Hawk and Predator. With a reduced need for manpower, such carriers could be much cheaper and smaller than aircraft carriers.

The United States' central position in a multi-polar world will also affect the kind of ships it needs. Most of the conflicts going on in the modern world are small-scale, and largely internal.

"All the ships we've got now are designed to defeat Japan or defeat the Soviets," said John Pike, director of Washington thinktank "Modern security requirements are different."

Amphibious assault ships and maritime preposition ships, used by the Marines, might be higher priorities, he said. These ships are smaller and can move forces more quickly, can house strike units, provide reconnaissance, put soldiers in the area, and serve as a base for special operations forces.

They provide an "integrated power projection solution," he said.

Crystal (Cannon)ball
One way to bridge the carrier shortage may be to change the schedules by which carriers operate.

The United States actually has 12 deployable carriers, but at the time of Operation Iraqi Freedom, only eight were deployable because of the way they're scheduled.

A new deployment schedule "will get you one to two more carriers," Bracken said. "Maybe three depending on condition."

"We have to change the mindset from peacetime to war time. Lots of things are possible in wartime than in peacetime," said Pike.

The new geopolitical climate calls for a "surge" deployment rather than a "rotation" deployment, Bracken said — keeping crews at home and well-rested until they are called upon, and moving them en masse when they are.

Military planners are also moving to capabilities-based planning as opposed to threat-based planning, he said — which means an emphasis on flexibility, rather than programming against a defined enemy, as the United States did during the Cold War.

Another consideration is that although the United States faces a number of hotspots today, few of them will last long enough for military manufacturers to respond to, said Pike.

The war after the Cold War "is a come as you are party. It will be a short war," he said. "It'll be over before we build anything new."

Arms Plan for Iraqi Forces Is Questioned

In a nation awash with hundreds of thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, the U.S.-led occupation authority is planning to buy and import 34,000 more of the ubiquitous weapons to equip a new Iraqi army.

The plan has baffled some observers, not only because U.S. forces in Iraq have already seized and stockpiled thousands of the rifles since April, but because defense analysts have strongly recommended that the new Iraqi army be equipped with more modern, U.S.-made weapons.

The AK-47, designed by Russians shortly after World War II, is manufactured almost exclusively in former Soviet Bloc countries and China. Among the possible beneficiaries of such an unlikely U.S. order: Poland, where the assault rifles are made and support for the war in Iraq has been strong.

With a bidding deadline today, the Coalition Provisional Authority now running Iraq is quietly seeking the best deal on the arsenal from U.S.-licensed arms dealers, asking that they deliver the assault weapons to the Taji military base north of Baghdad by Sept. 3. The plans were spelled out on its official Web site this week.

A spokesman for the Coalition Joint Task Force, which commands the military occupation in Iraq, was unaware of the request for bids and questioned it.

"That's surprising," said Army Capt. Jeff Fitzgibbons, a task force spokesman in Baghdad. "It would seem to me odd that we're out there looking to buy more weapons for a place where we've already captured and set aside so many of them. It would raise a red flag for me, that's for sure."

But an official with the occupation authority in Baghdad, who asked not to be named, confirmed the plans and said the AK-47s would be used to equip a new Iraqi army being formed to replace the 400,000-strong military that was formally disbanded in May.

The U.S. Army and private American defense contractors, led by Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman, have begun to train the first Iraqi army recruits in Kirkuk under a $48-million Pentagon contract, and the Taji base is the supply point for that northern Iraqi city. The new force is expected to number 12,000 at the end of this year and 40,000 in three years.

In its Internet solicitation for the 34,000 weapons and accessories, technically called a request for proposals, the occupation authority specified that it wanted to buy "brand-new, never-fired, fixed-stock AK-47 assault rifles with certified manufacture dates not earlier than 1987."

The authority wants a new shipment of the weapons from a single source "so that they're all of the same standard, and they're all new and ready to use," the official said. He declined to speculate on the cost of the weapons or the source of the funds that will be used to buy them, adding, "We're looking for a product that works, and we're looking for value."

Individual AK-47s are advertised on the Internet for several hundred dollars apiece. Although it was unclear what the per-rifle cost would be under such a large purchase, the total order would presumably exceed $1 million.

But the U.S. forces who seized control of Iraq in April have since discovered vast stockpiles of new, never-fired AK-47s, which U.S. military officials said have been deliberately warehoused for a future Iraqi army.

At one compound of eight concrete warehouses that a company of the 10th Engineer Battalion found in central Baghdad in mid-April, Times reporters watched soldiers form a human chain to fill a truck bed with AK-47s so new the soldiers' hands turned orange from the packing grease.

One officer on the scene at the time called the arms cache a "mother lode." Another said there were so many weapons he'd lost count. First Lt. Matt Miletich, who was in charge of the company, said then that the weapons would be held and guarded until a new Iraqi government and army were ready to receive them.

The following day, U.S. Marines who were securing the city of Tikrit north of Baghdad announced that they had found 100,000 AK-47s there, 80,000 of them in a hospital. And in the months that have followed, there have been almost daily reports of U.S. military units seizing quantities of AK-47s both large and small, new and used.

"We've been designating a lot of these captured weapons specifically for the new Iraqi army and police organizations we're setting up," Fitzgibbons said, although he acknowledged that many of the weapons were old.

The civil authority official, however, asserted that the makes and models of the new weapons seized have "slight differences" depending on the nation where they were made, and that the goal of the agency's AK-47 purchase is to standardize the arms.

He added that the agency decided to order AK-47s rather than another weapon made in the U.S. or another Western country not only because the Iraqi recruits are familiar with it but because "the AK-47 is the easiest weapon to teach, and it's the easiest to use."

Designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947, the AK-47 is manufactured largely in former Soviet Bloc nations. It was standard issue for the Iraqi army and security services under the Saddam Hussein regime, which handed out well over a million of them to soldiers and civilians and warehoused tens of thousands more.

To some U.S. defense analysts, that is scant justification.

"Basically, they would be equipping the new and improved Iraqi military with un-American weapons. If you've decided to start all over again from the beginning, it would make sense to equip the new Iraqi military with American equipment," said John Pike, who heads the Virginia-based, nonprofit defense policy group.

"It raises a lot of interesting questions that will continue to be raised as they rebuild the Iraqi military ... If played right, this could be a real bonanza for American armament companies."

Pike and his group say that the purchase, presumably the first of many for the new Iraqi army, potentially has multibillion-dollar implications.

"What about tanks? How many tanks does Iraq need?" Pike asked. "Does Iraq need fighter planes? Are they going to buy Swedish fighter planes?"

A recent study by on rebuilding the Iraqi military said: "It is important for the United States to monitor and supervise Iraq's military reconstruction, as the U.S. has an interest in reequipping Iraq with U.S. military equipment. The use of U.S. systems would require significant training and allow the U.S. to have continued military influence in the country long after significant U.S. units had departed.

"Likewise, if left to its own accord, Iraq would likely turn to other available systems on the open arms sales market, most likely Russian or Russian- derivative arms that the Iraqi military already has experience in using."

The coalition authority's request for the rifles does specify that its supplier have "required licenses and credentials" that include an official registration with the State Department as a "broker" of defense products and a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Class III "license for U.S. companies," which permits the manufacture or sale of fully automatic assault weapons.

Such a license permits a U.S. company to sell the weapons only to U.S. law enforcement agencies. But if the company also is registered with the State Department's Defense Trade Controls Office, it can broker the sale of those weapons from a foreign manufacturer to another foreign buyer.

Independent analysts added that, given those specifications, the coalition's winning bidder probably would be a licensed U.S. arms broker or dealer who arranges the shipment to Iraq from a former Soviet Bloc country that makes AK-47s.

Washington's Pax Americana smacks of Roman power game

The US emphatically denies it has worldwide imperial ambitions, but the global spread of its military commitments suggests otherwise, writes Paul Kennedy

THERE is a cunning after-dinner board game called SPQR which involves the defence of the Roman Empire at its height. The board is a map of Europe and the Mediterranean, showing Roman cities and ports and the military roads and the sea lanes between them. The game involves the "senators and populace" moving selected Roman legions (there were 27 of them in, say, 80AD) along those internal lines in response to new threats, whether they come from Syria, Scotland or the Danube.

There were few places along the borders of the empire where one legion could not reinforce another within 10 days' march -- which was just as well, since Rome's expansion had given it many enemies, and a legion that was based in Sicily one year might find itself in the north of England the next, guarding Hadrian's Wall.

I thought of SPQR while reading Where Are the Legions? Global Deployments of US Forces, published by Global Security, the nonprofit and nonpartisan policy research group based outside Washington ( The message is clear, and very disturbing: there may not be many US troops coming home soon, perhaps not for a long time.

Washington now has military forces in about 130 countries, fighting in some of them, peacekeeping and training foreign military units in others. You can hear George Washington turning in his grave.

To be sure, the US has had standing military commitments abroad since the end of the World War II -- the occupations of Germany and Japan, the Korean War and the global rivalry with the Soviet Union made sure of that.

But when the Warsaw Pact collapsed, it was generally assumed things would be different. Alas, that simply is not so. The fight against al-Qa'ida, the war and guerrilla resistance in Iraq, the implosion of Liberia, the continued unrest in Afghanistan, instability on the Korean peninsula and the need to reassure Japan of a strong US presence in the western Pacific have all conspired against a draw-down of US forces in the far corners of the globe. On the contrary, they have very much been drawn up.

Using official statistics, the editors at Global Security report there are 155 combat battalions in the US army. Before October 2001, only 17 of those were deployed on active combat service, in Kosovo and a few other hotspots (garrison deployment in Germany and Japan is not regarded as "active combat" service). Today, that figure stands at 98 combat battalions deployed in active areas.

Even a non-military expert can see this is an impossibly high number to sustain over the longer term, which is why, in addition to the 255,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard forces deployed in combat and peacekeeping missions abroad, the US has sent another 136,000 troops from the National Guard and Reserves.

Most of the US carrier fleet are now back in their bases, being refitted after the defeat of Saddam Hussein, but Washington still has 40,000 sailors afloat and on mission. Meanwhile, the US generals are asking for more troop deployments in Iraq, and the Pentagon has just diverted three warships to the coast of Liberia. The US Defence Department now has to play a real-life game of SPQR.

These are not comfortable facts, and they should surely be giving US congressional representatives cause for thought. It is true the Pentagon is putting immense pressure on any country that counts itself a friend of Washington to send forces to Iraq, Afghanistan and Liberia, but the results so far are unspectacular.

Really, the only ground troops with heft and logistical capacity are the British, and, given all their other peacekeeping commitments -- from the Balkans to Sierra Leone -- they are probably more overstretched than the US is. Poland has assumed responsibility for running a relatively quiet (so far) zone in Iraq. But as the Wall Street Journal reported, Washington had to go to 22 countries to drum up the 9000 troops for that zone, and they will rely heavily on US technical support to function at all.

You wonder what utility Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz really accord a battalion of Latvian grenadiers in central Iraq. And what happens when they become the targets of grenade attacks?

Militarily -- and let's forget for a moment the debate about whether the US should have gone into these countries in the first place -- these awkward facts point to two equally awkward conclusions:

First, given the military overstretch, the US needs a few more heavy hitters, along with the British. It needs armies with substantial punch that could send 25,000 troops to southwest Asia. But of the 190 national armies of the world, you can count substantial ones on the fingers of one hand. Israel can't play, China and Taiwan won't play. South Korea is pinned down at home and remains a drain on US troop deployments. Japan is too psychologically and constitutionally restricted. A Pakistani presence alongside the US in Iraq might cause massive internal convulsions. A large Turkish contingent would cause a retaliatory Kurdish uprising.

This leaves India, Russia, France and Germany, and perhaps Italy, but four of those five opposed the war on Iraq in the first place, and if the US needs them now, there will be a price to pay. This is as obvious today as it should have been last September. Of course, the US can always "go it alone", but it does so at some cost.

Second, the US miliary services, and the army in particular, must come up with some long-term rotation scheme. They may have to move to a sort of Cardwell System, which was devised in the late 19th century by the then British secretary for war, Edward Cardwell, to deal with the constant calls on troops to serve abroad. One battalion of the British regiment was rotated out, perhaps to Afghanistan or Mesopotamia, for two or three years, the second battalion stayed home in the regimental barracks, recruiting fresh volunteers until its turn came to go abroad.

The system worked, just as the SPQR system worked, because both combined regular rotation (helping troop morale) and strategic flexibility. Occasionally, there were horrible reverses: for the Romans in the German forests or the British in the Khyber Pass. But the structure was strong enough to allow for recovery, often for further advances. These were empires that were in it for the long haul.

Is this the US future -- to have its troops stationed for an undefined time on the Northwest Frontier or in a disease-ridden port in West Africa or some other outpost?

Washington frantically denies it has imperial ambitions, and I believe those denials to be sincere. But if the US increasingly looks like an empire, walks like an empire and quacks like an empire, perhaps it is becoming one just the same.

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