By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
July 19, 2007 – Winning the war against terrorism requires warriors with multiple skills who can adapt to changing circumstances, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here last night. Today's anti-terror war is unlike any other conflict the United States has fought before, Gates told Marine Corps Association members.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, "the men and women wearing our nation's uniform have assumed the roles of warrior, diplomat, humanitarian, and development expert," Gates pointed out, noting ruthless extremists employ roadside bombs and guerilla-style hit-and-run attacks to kill or wound U.S. and coalition forces, host-nation troops and innocent civilians.
It's certain the United States and its allies "will continue to be threatened by violent extremist networks, mostly operating in countries with whom we are not at war," Gates said. "The ambition of these networks to acquire chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons is real, as is their desire to launch more attacks on our country and on our interests around the world."
Many people believe the war on terror began when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Gates said. However, the conflict actually began much earlier, he pointed out, when Hezbollah-linked terrorists killed hundreds of Americans during 1983 bombings of the Marine barracks and U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
"It is important to remember that until the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Hezbollah had been responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other terrorist group in the world," Gates said.
Almost six years after 9/11, U.S. servicemembers are deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq to deter al Qaeda, a terrorist organization that now constitutes the most deadly threat to America, Gates said.
The U.S. military removed repressive regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gates noted, and it is now engaged in "protracted stability and reconstruction campaigns against brutal and adaptive insurgencies" operating in those countries.
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq "will not last indefinitely in their current form and scale," Gates predicted, but he added that the U.S. military likely will be called to participate in other irregular campaigns in the future.
"What we now call 'asymmetric war' has become a mainstay of the contemporary battlefield, if not its centerpiece," Gates said. The overwhelming power and success of U.S. military might demonstrated during the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom has left potential enemies leery of openly confronting America on a conventional battlefield, he said.
Consequently, "it is hard to conceive any country challenging us using conventional ground forces, at least for some time," Gates said.
Yet, history amply demonstrates that smaller, irregular guerrilla forces and terrorist groups have "found ways to harass and frustrate larger, regular armies and sow chaos," the secretary said.
U.S. forces in Iraq have been involved in dangerous, block-to-block searches of houses for small groups of insurgents, he noted. "In these situations, America's traditional edge in technology, firepower, and logistics provides important tactical advantages, but not necessarily strategic success," Gates said.
Though direct force can be a useful tactic during asymmetrical military operations, Gates said, "it is also clear that in these kinds of operations, we are not going to kill or capture our way to victory."
Gates ticked off what he believes the U.S. military must do in light of lessons-learned from ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and forecasts of threats in coming decades:
-- "Our military must be prepared to undertake the full spectrum of operations, including unconventional or irregular campaigns, for the foreseeable future."
-- "The non-military instruments of America's national power need to be rebuilt, modernized, and committed to the fight."
-- "We must think about, envision, and plan for the world, the future, 2020 and beyond."
Army Gen. David W. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker are implementing a multi-pronged strategy, Gates said, that targets al Qaeda extremists, seeks to exploit divisions within insurgent ranks, and provides basic security and improved quality of life for the Iraqi people.
Achieving victory against insurgents in Iraq "will take patience and persistence, and some level of American force and assistance for some time," Gates observed.
U.S. forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have assumed roles and duties that formerly were Special Forces areas of expertise, such as learning foreign languages, reviving public services and promoting good governance, Gates said. Such skills, he said, "have moved from the margins to the mainstream of military thinking, planning, and personnel policies, where they must stay."
Deep budget cuts made across the U.S. government in the 1990s slashed such nation-building capability within the U.S. State Department and other non-defense federal agencies, Gates pointed out. Now, America needs to pledge the necessary resources and enact legislation as part of an integrated effort to re-establish such skills and capabilities across the government, he said.
"I believe we have little choice if we are to secure our nation and our freedoms in the years ahead," Gates said.
However, throughout history, aggressors have sought to dominate others by force, Gates pointed out. Therefore, training and sustaining a force of warriors that has mastered traditional military arts will remain a key priority in the years ahead, Gates asserted.
"Thus, we should never lose sight of the ethos that has made the Marine Corps -- where every Marine is a rifleman -- one of America's most cherished institutions and one of the world's most feared and respected fighting forces," the secretary said.
Gates pointed to the exploits of fallen Marine Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec, the renowned "Lion of Fallujah," who as a captain had fought with flair in Iraq against insurgents during the battle of Fallujah in April 2004.
Zembiec "was an unabashed and unashamed warrior, telling one reporter that 'killing is not wrong if it's for a purpose, if it's to keep your nation free or to protect your buddy,'" Gates recalled. During the fury of battle at Fallujah, Zembiec at one point braved enemy fire to climb onto a tank to personally direct the gunner's fire against insurgents.
After earning a Bronze Star for valor for his tenacity at Fallujah, Zembiec was promoted to major and took a desk job at the Pentagon, Gates said. Zembiec soon grew bored and requested another overseas assignment.
Zembiec completed a tour in Afghanistan and then returned to Iraq, Gates said. Zembiec was killed in action in Baghdad on May 11, 2007. The valiant Marine was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Every evening, I write notes to the families of young Americans like Doug Zembiec," Gates said in a breaking voice. "For you, and for me, they are not names on a press release, or numbers updated on a Web site. They are our country's sons and daughters."
Such selfless military heroes have performed "a tradition of service that includes you and your forbears going back to the earliest days of the republic," Gates said.