WASHINGTON—U.S. military operations in Iraq have been so different from past operations that they amount to "a new American way of war," Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday.
"We now conduct conflict much different than we did in the past, including Operation Desert Storm," the 1991 Gulf War, Myers said in a speech to the Navy League.
Myers, the nation's top military officer, revealed that for perhaps the first time, a whole brigade of several thousand soldiers had been under the command of small teams of U.S. Special Forces in this war.
Until the arrival of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the second week of the war, the American strength in northern Iraq had consisted of about 50 Special Forces teams, each with about a dozen men, Myers said. He said the teams were made to "look 10 feet tall" with the heavy backing of air power.
Special Forces, armed with laser-targeting devices to "light up" bomb targets for aircraft, played a huge role in routing the Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Myers and others in the military have made it clear that this partnership grew in Iraq.
Small but undisclosed numbers of Special Forces teams also effectively took control of the western Iraqi desert in the early days of the battle. Myers said it was amazing how "few troops on the ground" appeared "so large" to the Iraqi military leaders in Baghdad.
The title of Myers' speech was "The New American Way of War." He said he had taken the title from a 1973 book by Temple University history professor Russell F. Weigley, "The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy."
American military strategists have always aimed at annihilating the capacity of an enemy to make war, Myers said.
The Iraq war, he said, "has been a clear departure from the devastating approach that Weigley described as our prior way of warfare. ... I don't believe there has ever been a war in history where one side went to such painstaking length to protect civilian lives."
Thousands of Iraqis, both soldiers and civilians, have been killed or injured, Myers said.
The military of today, Myers said, is "faster, more agile, more precise" and might require fewer troops to meet an objective.
He said the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines made unparalleled efforts to work as one force, not as separate armed services. Joint operations made for speed and efficiency he said.
Another feature of America's new way to make war, he said, was its ability to integrate intelligence gathering with high-tech weapons and communications.
In Iraq, he said, this made it possible for U.S. forces to react much faster than the Iraqis to what was happening on the battlefield.
When the United States learned that Saddam Hussein might be meeting with regime leaders in the al-Monsour area of Baghdad, it took 38 minutes for bombs to be dropped.
"That," Myers said, "is really fast."
History has shown that a military force with "the fastest decision cycle" often prevails in battle, he said.
Military analysts generally agreed with Myers' assessment that the Iraq war was something new in military history.
Loren Thompson, an analyst at Washington's Lexington Institute, said that historically a military plan was like a railroad timetable.
"Everybody had to stick with it. Otherwise it would become unraveled pretty quickly," he said. "It worked, but it required huge resources, it took a long time, and there were thousands of unnecessary casualties on both sides."
In Iraq, by contrast, the plan evolved from day to day depending on intelligence, Thompson said.
Myers spoke as if the war in Iraq was just about finished. But he listed four things that had yet to be completed: providing order, eliminating terrorism, finding soldiers still missing in action and searching for weapons of mass destruction.
A member of the audience asked Myers what he thought of the system of placing hundreds of American and foreign reporters with military units in the Iraq war.
Myers noted that the military had long been distrustful of the media, but he said: "My view of it is that, for the most part, it has been successful. It has worked."
Myers' audience, the Navy League, is a civilian group of retired military officers and defense contractors that promotes sea power.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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