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Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


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Thursday, April 17

Iraq war showcases U.S. military's power

By Mike Madden | GNS

WASHINGTON - About a month ago, the first bombs were dropped on Baghdad. Three weeks later, U.S. soldiers were rolling through the Iraqi capital's streets.

After watching U.S. and British forces win an overwhelming military victory in the war in Iraq, Pentagon officials say the campaign may have been one of the most successful the United States has ever waged. Never before have U.S. troops taken so much territory so quickly with so few American casualties.

``I, for one, think that Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrates a new American way of war,'' said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

American and British troops swept through Iraq in about half the time it took to win the 1991 Persian Gulf war, and with about half the casualties. A reliable count of Iraqi civilian and military deaths is hard to come by, but experts believe there were relatively few of those as well because of the satellite-guided bombs and missiles used in this conflict.

Compare this military campaign to World War II, where it took almost four years from when the United States entered the conflict before Allied soldiers conquered Berlin, and the contrast is even starker.

``It's hard to think of another (war) in which as much territory was taken as quickly with so few casualties - and I mean that actually on both sides,'' said Yale University military historian John Lewis Gaddis. ``For taking over an entire country that's pretty remarkable. Normally it takes a lot more than that.''

Some observers say each conflict is different and comparing them may not be that useful. While the war in Iraq was impressive, some analysts wonder how well it will actually predict what the future might hold.

``Clearly, moving 250,000 guys halfway around the world and kicking the (tar) out of a very large military is a successful operation,'' said Chris Hellman, an analyst with the Center for Defense Information, a Washington think tank that is often critical of Pentagon policies. ``But you always fight the last war. We're not going to fight this war again, and I can tell you that there are almost certainly some other countries in that region who would be better opponents than the Iraqis were.''

A major problem with comparing wars is that each one has different objectives. In the 1991 gulf war the United States and its allies spent less money to move more troops and Iraqi forces killed fewer coalition soldiers. Most of the deaths in the first gulf war were the result of accidents or friendly fire.

But the goal of that conflict - forcing Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait - was significantly less ambitious than the goal in this war, so comparing them by looking only at statistics gives an incomplete picture, analysts said.

Unprecedented technological advances on the battlefield helped ease the way for U.S. and British troops in Iraq, experts said. Computers linked commanders at headquarters, soldiers in the field and airplanes on bombing runs and provided instant intelligence to all of them.

``It re-enforced the conventional wisdom that the U.S. will win a conventional war on a conventional battlefield,'' said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an intelligence and military policy organization based in Alexandria, Va. ``The security challenge is that there are a lot of problems out there that do not involve fighting conventional wars against states.''

Experts believe the war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may resemble the wars of the future much more than this one, with small groups of elite commandos fighting militias that blend in with the civilian population.

So Pentagon policymakers should not expect the unprecedented ease of the invasion of Iraq to be repeated elsewhere, observers said.

``This is not the first revolution in military strategy. We've had others like this and in every case... sooner or later you come up against an adversary who is prepared, who can resist effectively,'' Gaddis said. ``One should not conclude from this automatically that we can do this anywhere, anytime."