By Alan W. Dowd


With the possibility of a biological terror attack rising—smallpox is the most likely bio-weapon—federal health officials are pondering whom to vaccinate, when to vaccinate them, and how to begin the process.

Some officials advocate mass vaccinations to prevent mass deaths in the event of an attack. Even this group is divided, however, between those who advocate mandatory vaccinations and those who want to make the smallpox shots voluntary. Concerned about triggering a panic or causing unnecessary death and injury, others are calling for targeted vaccinations of health workers and first-responders, starting with the nation’s 500,000 emergency-room workers and ultimately including some ten million emergency personnel.

Their concerns are well-founded. Virologists estimate that 15 out of every one million Americans vaccinated will become seriously ill; and two of those 15 will probably die. Moreover, the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics has warned that available vaccines have not been tested on children.

The irony is that until 1972, most Americans were vaccinated against smallpox. But since routine smallpox vaccinations ended with the eradication of the disease, about half the US population is unprotected from the virus, which can be spread through the air and has a 30-percent mortality rate.

Special Role for Special Ops

In what military officials are calling an unprecedented move, the Pentagon is quietly preparing to shift most of the authority for prosecuting the war on terror to the Special Operations Command. The idea behind the switch, which was reportedly endorsed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself, is to improve the speed and lethality of the global anti-terror campaign.

Based out of MacDill AFB in Florida, the SOC is headed by Gen. Charles Holland. The command oversees Navy SEALs, the Army Delta Force, and sometimes CIA paramilitary assets. Since US military campaigns are generally handled by one of the regional combat commands (depending upon where the war is being fought), Special Operations troops have almost always worked under that regional commander—until now.

With SOC forces deployed in one form another in Djibouti, Yemen, Jordan, Georgia, Pakistan, and the Philippines, Gen. Holland is keeping busy. Indeed, covert operations reportedly began in Iraq last fall, and Washington is hammering out bilateral agreements that would grant SOC troops authority to roam freely in search of terror cells in foreign countries. Pentagon officials hope that Holland’s expanded authority will enable him to move forces into position in a matter of hours rather than days. This change was foreshadowed in Afghanistan, where Holland had a direct link to the White House and was given broad authority over key operations.

Another likely reason for the shift of responsibility is the fact that much of the anti-terror campaign is being waged in Southwest Asia, which falls within the Pentagon’s Central Command. With war in Iraq looming, the SOC’s expanded authority could enable it to continue the fight against al Queda, while Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads Central Command, focuses on Iraq.

Tehran’s Kuwait Connection

If, as the old military maxim goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” then is the friend of my friend necessarily a friend? That’s the question US officials are asking themselves in the wake of Kuwait’s decision to sign a military cooperation pact with Iran. Thousands of US troops have been stationed in Kuwait since American-led forces liberated the tiny oil-rich country in 1991. With Iran intimately involved in the global terror trade—and cited by President George W. Bush as comprising one-third of the “Axis of Evil”—US-Iranian relations are certainly not improving. 

The Kuwait-Iran accord calls for high-level exchanges, consultation and cooperation on training matters. According to Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, the agreement could be the first step toward “an exchange of hardware.” It’s hard to tell if Tehran plans on using its new Kuwait connection to reach out to America or to weaken America’s already-shaky system of alliances in the Middle East.

Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.