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[] SAEN 15.01.03: Military To Attach Journalists To Front-Line Units If War Breaks Out,

San Antonio Express-News
January 15, 2003

Military To Attach Journalists To Front-Line Units If War Breaks Out

By Sig Christenson, Express-News Military Writer

The Pentagon will put hundreds of reporters from the United States and 
abroad into front-line military units if conflict comes to Iraq, giving the 
American people the best view of war since Vietnam.

Some details of the "embedding" plan remained classified today as 
Washington media chiefs met with Pentagon officials to discuss the matter. 
It isn't known how many reporters would be assigned to cover Army, Navy, 
Air Force and Marine Corps units that likely will be involved in an 
invasion of Iraq, though Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the number 
would be in the hundreds.

The Defense Department also would not identify units the reporters would be 

But Whitman, the plan's Pentagon architect, vowed it would be "very 
aggressive," in part because of requests from reporters and bureau chiefs 
who have argued for more access to the military, as well as concerns over 
Iraqi propaganda ploys.

"We truly believe that having a reporter on the ground will demonstrate the 
professionalism and dedication to which the U.S. service member executes 
his duties," he told the San Antonio Express-News.

"We know our potential adversary here is Saddam Hussein. We know that 
Saddam Hussein is a practiced liar and skilled in the art of 
disinformation. What better way to deal with something like that than to 
have an objective press corps on the ground reporting on events as they occur?"

The embed plan comes as thousands of American troops are heading into the 
region along with an array of lethal hardware. The policy appears to mark a 
dramatic U-turn in the Pentagon's rocky relationship with journalists who 
have complained of being kept far from the troops in conflicts spanning the 
past 20 years.

But the plan, which would place journalists with television and radio 
networks, newspaper chains and smaller print outlets close to installations 
with troops deploying to the Persian Gulf, falls short of the access 
reporters had in Vietnam, the Korean conflict and World War II. Journalists 
in those wars roamed the battlefield, but retired Gen. Wesley Clark said 
those days are over.

"You have to be linked up to a unit, otherwise you'll get stranded," Clark, 
who led the Kosovo air war as NATO's supreme allied commander, said today. 
"You're liable to get out in front of the forces and be put in place of 
danger, so the embedding plan is the right way to go at least initially."

Whitman stressed that President Bush had made no decision about going to 
war with Iraq and compared his efforts to develop an embed plan to the 
Pentagon's massing of forces, calling it "prudent planning."

Most of the reporters embedded with military units would be from U.S.-based 
media organizations, Whitman said, though some will come from overseas.

Larger media organizations, particularly television networks, are likely to 
get more slots because of the variety of programs they offer, Whitman said, 
adding, "It's going to be largely up to the various news organizations on 
how they want to use their embed opportunities." Local television stations, 
newspapers in areas where no troops are deploying and freelance reporters 
likely would be given low priority, he said.

Americans who watched gun-camera video from jets and missiles during the 
Persian Gulf War might get a much closer, and human, look at aerial 
conflict this time around. While reporters won't fly on fighter missions, 
they'll almost certainly follow cargo, refueling and humanitarian flights, 
and possibly chronicle the work of bomber crews.

A pair of potentially contentious issues - how journalists will file and 
what battlefield gear will be supplied by the military - apparently have 
been settled.

Journalists will file stories using laptop computers, satellite phones and 
other electronic equipment, though commanders may restrict their use in 
certain tactical situations. Troops could be threatened because satellite 
phones contain GPS signatures that an enemy might use to pinpoint locations 
if the electronic signal is intercepted.

The Pentagon also has decided to outfit reporters with 
nuclear-chemical-biological protective gear but asks that they purchase 
other items, such as combat helmets and flak jackets.

Two twists to the plan are the possible embedding of American reporters 
with coalition units and the creation of pools that could take journalists 
into battle areas. Whitman said he met last week with officials from 
"coalition partners" he did not identify to discuss embedding reporters 
with their troops.

Clark and three former Pentagon officials agreed that the embedding plan is 
a departure from past practice.

Tensions have run high between journalists and the Pentagon since the start 
of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, where photographers in a press pool 
were locked in a warehouse by Marines to stop them from covering injured 
U.S. troops.

The incident sparked the ire of journalists who had long bristled over 
their lack of access to the troops during the Persian Gulf War, Panama 
incursion and the 1983 invasion of Grenada.

Whitman conceded the matter "could have been handled in a better way" and 
said measures were taken to prevent it from happening again. But, he said, 
"that's not to say there won't be mistakes in the future, and that there 
won't be hiccups in the embedding process necessarily, either, but we're 
going to do everything we can to work though all of those as they occur."

Still, Whitman said the Pentagon wanted to accommodate reporters' requests 
to cover future military conflicts from a "front-line, from an 
on-the-ground, with-a-unit perspective."

"We want to try to accommodate that request," Whitman said, "and that's why 
we went to the extent of doing the military-media training, to give 
reporters confidence in their ability to be with U.S. military units as 
well as develop confidence within our own commanders that reporters have 
the basic skills to not compromise their mission or the safety of their 
troops on the ground."

Today's antagonism is rooted in Vietnam, Clark said, "because the military 
was stuck with the implementation of a very unpopular policy of war and the 
journalists ripped at the policy by ripping into the military." Since then, 
"the military hasn't trusted the journalists," he said.

Clinton-era Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters said the biggest obstacle 
facing journalists this time might be host countries such as Saudi Arabia, 
which has long sought to keep reporters out of the country because of fears 
of how other Arab states might react, as well as "their own internal 
political issues."

He said if the Pentagon follows through on its embed effort, Americans will 
get the best view of its troops since Vietnam. "I think if people are going 
to be in front-line units that's substantially more than has been done in a 
long time," Peters said.

Ex-Reagan administration Assistant Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb 
concurred. He said one reason for a media-friendly Pentagon is high 
confidence in the troops in a new war.

"I think they're much more confident this time than they were the last 
time. Nobody thought that war would be that easy," Korb said.

"If this is a war that's going to liberate the Iraqi people, if it's a war 
that's going to seize and protect the oil fields that'll be the engine of 
Iraqi recovery, if in fact in that some places American troops are going to 
be welcomed as liberators, I'd like to have the press around to report it," 
said Andrew Krepinevich Jr., a former aide to three defense secretaries who 
now heads the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

"I think there's a sense that this is a righteous war, this is a just war, 
that we're going to have a good effect on the conditions of the Iraqi 
people," he said.

Whitman said he's worked with his boss, Assistant Secretary of Defense for 
Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, in developing the plan, and will refine it 
until it is finally implemented.

Clarke has "had lots of discussions" about it with Defense Secretary Donald 
Rumsfeld, and "I think he is of like mind," Whitman said.

"We're all working toward the same goal," he said. "I think in the end 
you'll have to judge us by our actions, not our intentions."

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