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The Pentagon is closely watching southern China for any signs the
People’s Liberation Army will conduct threatening military exercises in
the next few weeks. The big concern is that the PLA will use the
exercises to threaten Taiwan in the period before presidential elections
now set for March 18.

One recent Chinese news report said the PLA planned to conduct
air-defense exercises later this month, but so far there are no signs.

“We’re just not seeing any movement right now that would portend this
exercise,” a military official told us. “They have a lot of ‘paper’
exercises — saying they are doing things without actually moving stuff
around. But that’s not to say they aren’t spring-loaded to do
something.”

During 1996 military exercises the PLA fired test missiles north and
south of Taiwan in what U.S. officials said was an effort to intimidate
the Taiwanese before the vote. The United States responded by sending
two aircraft carriers to waters near the island.

Flights by both Chinese and Taiwanese jets along the demarcation line
running through the Taiwan Strait are continuing at low levels, the
official said.

More Marines say no

Gen. James Jones, the Marine Corps commandant, has sent a message to
the fleet naming replacements for seven colonels who turned down command
assignments.

Some Marine officers say the high number shows the Corps is losing
its allure among some senior officers.

But Maj. Patrick Gibbons, a spokesman for Gen. Jones, maintains that
the number of turn-downs went up from two last year because the
commandant changed the assignment system. He explained the change:

When Gen. Jones became the top Marine last summer, one of his reforms
was to
open up the yearly command selection process.

In the past, the board of nine generals would select some 50
commanders, then manpower personnel would talk to the selectees about
assignments. If anyone declined, an alternate was picked.

But the private contacts created the appearance of favoritism. So
Gen. Jones ordered the board to make both the selections and assignments
in one motion. Those who declined were replaced in the commandant’s
message.

“There was a possible perception of favoritism,” Maj. Gibbons said.
“We always had confidence in it but I think Gen. Jones wanted to be as
straight up as he could.”

One Marine officer with whom we spoke was skeptical.

“There’s a lot of good guys who didn’t get a command who’d kill for a
chance to command a battalion, squadron or Marine barracks,” he said.
“They’d never dream of saying ‘no’ because their wife had a good job or
the kids like their school. I must be missing something, but it must
mean to some of these officers that the relative value of command has
declined.”

Arming Africa

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen completed a visit to Africa this
week that was nearly invisible to the U.S. news media. Mr. Cohen cut
short his trip to Morocco and South Africa after a sandstorm prevented
him from flying to Nigeria.

In preparation for the visit, the Defense Intelligence Agency
recently wrote up a classified report on the arms flow to the Democratic
Republic of Congo. According to DIA, Congolese President Laurent Kabila
concluded a secret agreement with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in
October.

The deal involves several companies that have formed a joint venture
and will allow Zimbabwe, Namibia and Congo to pool their military and
other resources against Jonas Savimbi’s rebel forces in Angola.

The companies are enriching those nations’ leaders with gold and
diamonds and also purchasing arms and weapons from a former Rhodesian
arms dealer based in Belgium named John Bredenkamp, who has been granted
an “arms monopoly” by Mr. Mugabe.

Here’s your chance

“You know, if we could just find one. … I don’t want to prosecute
anybody. I want to fire somebody. That will send the right signal to
people.” So said CIA Director George Tenet during a Senate hearing in
1998 in expressing his anger at leaks.

Now the government’s top official who is charged with protecting
secret information has a chance to act on the threat. The Washington
Times revealed on Monday
that the Justice
Department not only didn’t prosecute its top intelligence official,
Richard Scruggs, for disclosing secret intelligence information but he
still holds a “top secret” clearance as a federal prosecutor in Miami.

A CIA spokesman said Mr. Tenet has no plans to revoke Mr. Scruggs’
“top secret” security clearance because the information involved –
plans for electronic surveillance of the Japanese terrorist group Aum
Shin Rikyo under the 1979 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — is
not CIA data.

Short takes

* Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, has spoken by telephone
with some captains to find out firsthand why they are leaving the
service.

The Army has become alarmed by an increasing quit rate for midlevel
officers
and commissioned a study at Fort Benning, Ga., its infantry
headquarters. The
study, first reported by The Washington Times, found that of those who
are resigning most cite the boredom of peacekeeping operations and a
too-bureaucratic Army.

  • Gen. James Jones, Marine Corps commandant, may have an “in”
    if Sen. John McCain is elected president. When Mr. McCain was a Navy
    captain in charge of congressional liaison in the early 1980s, Gen.
    Jones was a young major working under him. Gen. Jones is being mentioned
    in defense circles as a possible candidate next year for chairman of the
    Joint Chiefs of Staff. No Marine has held the job as the nation’s
    highest military officer.

  • Speaking of Gen. Jones, the four-star officer has penned a
    foreword to a new book by a former Marine who takes the
    against-the-grain position that U.S. forces defeated the Viet Cong and
    North Vietnamese Army.

The book, “Unheralded Victory,” argues that American troops
actually achieved battlefield superiority before they began withdrawing
in the early 1970s. Author Mark Woodruff served with Gen. Jones in 1968
with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Gen. Jones writes that the press and Hollywood frequently depict the
war as a bungled operation, from the White House all the way down to
platoon leader, and fought without regard to civilian casualties.

“The difficulty for many veterans of the war is that these criticisms
do not ring entirely true. … In the end, the principal lesson of
‘Unheralded Victory’ may be that in war you can do almost everything
correctly in the field and still not end up on the winning side.”

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