BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: World: Americas
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 24 September, 2001, 20:36 GMT 21:36 UK
US faces new kind of war
A US aircraft departs from a Turkish base
US soldiers prepare to face an unclear enemy
By Stephen Cviic in Washington

If this is a war, it is certainly not like any other war that the US military has ever faced.

It has no clear enemy and no territory to conquer.

Despite the big mobilisation that is under way, most members of the world's most powerful military machine are likely to spend the "war on terrorism" at home in military bases like Fort Myer, in Virginia, just across the river from Washington.

And yet being at home is suddenly a more dangerous mission than it ever has been before.

Some of the 2,000 or so military personnel here have spent the last two weeks down at the Pentagon, just a stone's throw from Fort Myer.

Soldiers who normally spend most of their time on ceremonial duties, like playing in military bands and mounting guard outside the White House, have had to clear up after an aerial suicide bombing - a task few of them could ever have imagined.

"Insult to my country"

The forces here at Fort Myer feel vulnerable and are on a heightened state of alert.

They are also motivated as never before to deal with the invisible enemy that America faces.

One military policeman described the suicide bombings as an "insult to my country".

A US soldiers cries for the victims of the terrorist attacks
US soldiers are keen to find the enemy
The determination of the military fits in with the patriotic feelings that have swept the country following the attacks, sweeping aside some of the political and cultural divisions that were so evident during last year's presidential election.

Tens of thousands of reservists have been called up, most of whom will be involved in what President Bush calls "homeland defence".

And for those who do go abroad, the motivation is equally strong, stronger perhaps than in the Gulf War or in Kosovo where some voices warned that these were not America's conflicts.

They know that, for once, people at home may be willing to see the military take casualties.

But they also know that, unlike the Vietnam veterans, combatants in this war are likely to be seen as heroes, the defenders of a nation suddenly and strangely under threat.

A new mission

As for the military top brass, the attacks on New York and Washington have provided them with a new mission.

No longer will questions be asked about what the role of this huge army will be in a world where the US seems less inclined to intervene militarily to sort out other people's conflicts.

There is just one problem.

The armed forces may have a mission, but carrying it out will be devilishly difficult. And conventional operations using ground troops - as opposed to special forces - may only be of limited use.

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories