The fight against insurgents has pushed the Pentagon toward new strategies, new armor, and a transformed US force.
Hard service in Iraq is wearing out some of the US military's core weapons. Tanks, armored vehicles, and aircraft are being run at rates two to six times greater than in peacetime, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Congress earlier this month.
The bad news here is they may need to be replaced. But there's good news too, according to Secretary Rumsfeld: It's possible they can be replaced with something better.
The need to refurbish equipment "is providing an opportunity to adjust the capabilities of the force earlier than otherwise might have been the case," Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee on March 10.
Perhaps the same might be said of the military as a whole. Two years after the invasion of Iraq, the tough work of helping rebuild a nation while fighting an insurgency has profoundly affected the organization and deployment of United States forces. Whatever Iraq becomes, the American way of war may never be the same.
Throughout the services there's a new emphasis on mobility, guerrilla-fighting skills, and special forces. These changes might have occurred whether President Bush ordered the toppling of Saddam Hussein or not. But the urgency created by war may be making it easier for Secretary Rumsfeld to pursue a long-sought transformation of the Pentagon.
"I see not so much a direct response as an accelerated implementation of a plan Bush advisers already had in place," says Loren Thompson, a defense expert at the Lexington Institute.
On one level the effect of Iraq on the structure of the US armed forces is clear, and saddening. Over 1,500 Americans have been killed, and thousands more wounded, by the fighting.
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