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Mixing Blue, Green, & Khaki

US armed forces find reasons to work together

Fighting an elusive, worldwide terror network requires unprecedented cooperation. That can be seen in a stronger sense of unity at home and abroad against those who would use terror to cause harm. From national politicians to local fire, police, and public-health officials, Americans can be found putting their issues and concerns in greater perspective.

And while much has been said about successful cooperative military efforts among US-led coalition countries (the most recent example: surprising military cooperation between India and the US in the terror war), the branches of the US armed services also have found reasons to work together in Afghanistan.

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This week's tragic friendly-fire incident points to the need to keep such close coordination front and center.

As the battle shifts to routing terrorists out of caves, consider some notable evidence of cooperative adaptations:

• Navy pilots working closely with Army and Marine forces on the ground.

• Air Force and Navy pilots coordinating joint airstrikes.

• Military branches sharing ordnance and intelligence with one another and with intelligence-gathering agencies.

That all may seem like obvious and necessary examples of working together in wartime, but this hasn't always been the case. Though the Pentagon maintains that the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines long have had marching orders to cooperate, old rivalries and personality conflicts consistently have worked against highly coordinated team efforts.

Shared technology is helping to break those old patterns. Equipment once unique to a specific military branch increasingly is used across the services, including intelligence agencies. The Predator, for instance, an unmanned, remote-controlled airplane operated by the CIA, has been instrumental in coordinating surgical strikes against Taliban forces. But that happened only after the CIA and the Defense Department settled an argument over who had authority to fire the craft's two missiles.

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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has praised the CIA for its cooperation. In fact, cooperation between intelligence-gathering forces and the military has long been strengthening. The US Southern Command in Tampa has many links to law enforcement in the war on illegal drugs.

Military commanders recently asked the FBI and Treasury Department to assign agents to their staffs. This raises new turf questions, but those should take a back seat to sharing personnel in order to accomplish a greater good. The FBI is now represented, for instance, on the Joint Chiefs of Staff crisis team, which cuts red tape.

Improved processes and field operations naturally follow when relationships are more solidly based. When the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines work as a team to fight a new, common enemy, the nation, and the military, benefits.