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Glossary of war-related terms

A sampling of terms that may appear in stories about the war in Iraq:

Amphibian: A small craft that moves via propellers and wheels or air cushions on both land and water.

Barrage: Fired munitions that are designed to destroy an area rather than be aimed at a given target.

BDU: Battle dress uniform; the camouflage utility uniform worn with combat boots.

Blue on blue: Another term for "friendly fire," an inadvertent attack on a comrade.

On U.S. military computer displays showing the array of forces, the icons that represent American forces are blue, so an attack on an ally is "blue on blue."

Bunker: A fortified chamber mostly below ground, often built of reinforced concrete.

CENTCOM: Abbreviation for U.S. Central Command, which has headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. The U.S. CENTCOM commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, reports directly to the secretary of defense, who in turn reports to the president.

Command and control: The exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over forces in the accomplishment of a mission.

Commission: A written order giving a person rank and authority as an officer in the armed forces.

Crunchies: What U.S. tank drivers and crews of other large, armored vehicles call infantry troops ("We better slow down so the crunchies can keep up.").

Decapitation strike: The U.S. attempt to kill Saddam Hussein in the bombing of Baghdad that began the war. This was originally a Cold War term, according to David Wilton, a former arms control negotiator and creator of the Web site. A military strategy during the Cold War suggested you could win a nuclear war with a limited number of bombs if you managed to kill a country's leadership, depriving the nation of decision-makers with the authority to launch a counterattack.

Detachment: Part of a unit separated from its main organization for duty elsewhere. Also, a temporary unit formed from other units.

Field artillery: Equipment, supplies, ammunition and personnel involved in the use of cannons, rockets or surface-to-surface missile launchers.

Ground fire: Small arms ground-to-air fire directed against aircraft.

Harassing fire: Discharge of weapons designed to disturb the rest of the enemy or to curtail movement.

Imam: The prayer leader of a mosque; a Muslim leader of the line of Ali, held by Shiites to be the divinely appointed successors of Muhammad; or a ruler who claims descent from Muhammad and exercises leadership over a Muslim region.

Iraqi National Congress: A coalition of Kurdish and Shiite Muslim groups that oppose Saddam Hussein, it formed in 1992 after a meeting of dozens of opposition groups.

Jump speed: The airspeed at which paratroopers can jump from an aircraft with comparative safety.

Kalashnikov: An automatic assault rifle initially developed in Russia in the mid-1940s by Mikhail Kalashnikov. Commonly referred to as the AK-47, for the 1947 model year. Known for simplicity of operation and reliability. Was widely exported to pro-Soviet regimes.

MRE: Meals ready to eat in the field.

Ordnance: Military supplies, including weapons, ammunition and combat vehicles. Also can refer to a service of the Army charged with procuring, distributing and safekeeping such supplies.

Point of no return: The point along an aircraft route beyond which it won't be able to return to base without refueling.

Q-message: A classified communication regarding navigational dangers, such as mined areas.

Residual forces: U.S. troops that are ready to go into combat but have been held in reserve.

Revetment: An embankment or barricade to provide shelter from bomb splinters or strafing.

RPG: A rocket-propelled grenade; a shoulder-launched weapon capable of firing an explosive device longer distances than an unassisted soldier could throw.

Rules of engagement: The circumstances under which troops will initiate and/or continue combat.

Sortie: In air operations, an operational flight by one aircraft.

Squad: The smallest Army unit, with as many as 12 soldiers; led by a sergeant.

Supporting fire: Fire delivered by supporting units to assist or protect another unit in combat.

Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq: Describes itself as an international group with secret cells in Iraq. Its military arm, the Badr Corps, consists of Iraqi refugees, including former Iraqi soldiers.

Tanker: In air operations, a jet that carries fuel and can transfer it to fighters in midair.

War game: A simulation of a military operation involving two or more opposing forces using rules, data and procedures designed to depict a real-life situation.

Zulu time: During a military operation, all units operate according to the same time zone. The world is divided into 24 time zones, each designated by a letter of the alphabet. The "clock" at Greenwich, England, is used as the standard for many activities that cross time zones and is designated Z. Military time usually is stated in a 24-hour format. Thus 1830Z is pronounced, according to the phonetic alphabet, as 1830 Zulu.


Source: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms; reporting by Richard Chin, St. Paul Pioneer Press; Knight Ridder research.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.