Operation Desert Storm

January 18, 1991

America's astounding success in the first phase of its decapitation of the Iraqi military changes the ways of warfare forever, despite Iraq's diversionary attack on Israel. U.S. armed forces displayed awesome power through the use of high-tech, night-fighting weaponry, the extraordinary integration of air, land and sea components and the deployment of massive strike units all over enemy country that future would-be aggressors will remember.

Defense Secretary Richard Cheney tells us to be cautious. Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells us to avoid euphoria. Last night's Iraqi-Israeli counter-punches demonstrated there will be casualties, agony and inevitable miscalculations before this war is over.

Nonetheless, the American people are entitled to be both relieved and proud that their service men and women acquitted themselves so well in the initial phases of fighting. For too long, the image of the military establishment has been hurt by inter-service rivalry, free-spending procurement practices and flawed performance. Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama -- all these disappointing missions raised doubts about the Pentagon.

No more. Early success in Iraq was at once a product of professionalism, of improved high-command structure and of the extraordinarily expensive weapons systems in which the nation invested over the past decade. All were brought to bear against the thoroughly militarized society of Iraq. Together with air units from Britain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, an armada unmatched since D-Day took out much -- but not enough -- of Iraq's air defenses, command and control capability, air fields and missile sites. Never in history had so huge a force been assembled so quickly to perform so complicated a task.

General Powell, the first chairman of the JCS to take office with authority to subordinate the parochial interests of the separate services, cited "an extremely detailed, well-though-out plan. . . enormously complex. . . encompassing all U.S. and allied forces participating in the operation, all responding to the direction of a single commander with a single air tasking order" as the not-so-well-kept secret of early success.

He began to compile this plan well before Iraq occupied Kuwait, when even he discounted a Middle East war. In the past 5 1/2 months, the plan's full dimensions have emerged, with the emphasis on overwhelming force rather than the incremental strategy that hobbled the U.S. military in Vietnam.

An example of what the Powell approach accomplished was the military's ability to coordinate strikes by land-based bombers and cruise missiles launched from ships against hundreds of specific enemy targets. This was a war combining the bravery of pilots and the brains of computer wizards.

After so many months of uncertainty, malaise, irresolution and self-doubt, Operation Desert Storm restored some of America's spirit. This will be needed during the trials still to come.

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