Archives for November 2001


Rifleman Redux

By Bing & Owen West

Infantrymen need better equipment–they’re the one in this fight.

Modern American warfighting has a signature image: crystalline televideo from the nose of a laser guided bomb hurtling toward a bunker. From Baghdad to Belgrade to Kabul we have prosecuted a low-risk, standoff approach.

But bombing, however high tech, does not impress some enemies. Since the conclusion of Desert Storm in 1991, the United States and Great Britain have launched over three hundred cruise missiles and dropped more than five thousand bombs on Iraq for various violations. The result? We’re losing Desert Storm II. Absent a U.N. weapons inspection team since 1998, the recalcitrant Iraqis, totally emboldened, now fire on our jets twice a week hoping to win their version of Powerball even as they increase exports of illegal oil and rebuild their weapons of mass destruction. As for bin Laden, the feckless launch of cruise missiles to kill him after he destroyed our embassies in Africa in 1998 simply stoked his bloodlust. It showed we were unwilling to risk a ground raid.

Today we would send infantry into that camp to destroy it. Having run out of “hard” Taliban targets after a few sorties, we are realizing that the war against terrorism will not be won from 15,000 feet. As Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld put it, “An aircraft carrier or a cruise missile cannot find a person.” The war on terrorism has transformed our understanding of which force elements are most essential to our security. While it will be waged on several fronts—diplomatic, financial, cyberspace, and intelligence—it will be won by men with rifles hunting other men with rifles. The infantryman, relegated to nostalgic World War II movies, has reemerged, and he will be the prime lethal instrument in this war.