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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
America's invisible enemy
US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Mr Powell is drumming up worldwide support for action
The US Secretary of State Colin Powell appears to be applying his famous military doctrine to fighting terrorism. But the BBC's David Loyn wonders how effective it can be.

Colin Powell served in Vietnam as early as 1963.

It was an experience which would form his outlook almost more than anything else.

"When we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support," he wrote in his memoirs.

"We should mobilise the country's resources to fulfil that mission and we should go on to win."

But Vietnam, he added, had been a "half-hearted half-war, with much of the nation opposed or indifferent".

Gulf War ideas

The first of the three elements of what came to be called the "Powell doctrine" is already being deployed.

The secretary of state talks of being in a war, which President Bush calls the "first war of the 21st century".

US troops during the Gulf War
The US fought a clear, conventional enemy during the Gulf War

They are rallying the American people behind action.

But the other two parts of the doctrine - drawing together a huge force and unleashing it with overwhelming ferocity - may be harder to achieve.

The Powell doctrine was seen in its purest form in the Gulf War.

America put together a coalition of will at home and abroad, and then recruited an army of half a million.

The huge scale of US air technology meant that the ground war, when it happened, took only 100 hours to win.

Different enemy

The other key figures in the administration, Vice President Richard Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, are both veterans of the Cold War.

They share Mr Powell's unwillingness to commit American troops to anything other than the use of force in a winnable war, along with Condoleeza Rice at the National Security Agency.

America is now facing asymmetric warfare, where its overwhelming technological superiority does not bring it any advantage

But America's new enemies are not sitting in trenches in the desert.

They are few, disguised as civilians, living among Americans.

And they are prepared to sacrifice themselves for their cause.

America is now facing asymmetric warfare, where its overwhelming technological superiority does not bring it any advantage.


Mr Powell's critics say that he learnt the wrong lesson in Vietnam.

They say that the war was not lost because it was half-hearted, but because the cruelty inflicted on the civilian population turned them away from America.

Mr Powell was always on the side of the conventional armed forces in Vietnam, not those who wanted to live undercover, fighting the Vietnamese on their own terms.

He has clearly signalled that he believes that Osama Bin Laden is the man behind the attacks on America but, in taking on the Taleban, he is not facing an enemy who can be defeated by force.

A US helicopter in action during the Vietnam War
Washington has warned that US forces will have to risk their lives again

The Taleban is as much an idea as a government, and it will draw more support from persecution.

The failure of the West to engage the Taleban after they took Kabul in 1996 hardened their resolve.

They were even ignored last year when they destroyed the poppy crop, cutting the supply of heroin from Afghanistan, although that is what the West has been asking them to do for years.

America is now on a war footing against an invisible enemy.

The BBC's Rob Watson
"The US military is ready to strike back"
See also:

13 Sep 01 | Americas
Allies boost US confidence
13 Sep 01 | Americas
Q&A: Military options
06 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
On tour with Colin Powell
26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Powell revisits 'exciting' Vietnam
16 Jan 01 | Middle East
The Gulf War: 10 years on
21 Nov 00 | South Asia
Taleban enforces poppy ban
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