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Pentagon's Strategic Planning Changed Fundamentally After September 11 - 2001-12-25

For months after taking office last January, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top aides and advisors engaged in a highly secretive strategic review. But that review was deeply affected by the terrorist attacks of September 11.

The expected outcome of Mr. Rumsfeld's defense review was what some observers predicted would be the most sweeping overhaul of the U.S. military, its strategy and its weapons since World War II. There was talk of trimming force levels, closing bases and eliminating some weapons systems.

But then came the bloody terrorist attacks of September 11, followed quickly by the launch of U.S. anti-terrorist military operations in Afghanistan. And while much of the U.S. military response involved high-tech gear and tactics in line with the Bush administration's goal of a leaner, meaner fighting machine, there were some decidedly low-tech, old-time developments.

Even Mr. Rumsfeld joked about some of the kinds of unusual transformations he was seeing as he showed reporters a photograph of U.S. Special Forces, on horseback, in a cavalry charge with anti-Taleban troops.

"It's the Rumsfeld transformation. The ones in the light camouflage garb are in fact American Special Forces," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters.

"On horseback?" said a surprised reporter.

"On horseback in Afghanistan," Mr. Rumsfeld assured him, "And that is how they are moving equipment."

Still there were some awesome technological advances on display in Afghanistan. These included amazingly accurate precision munitions. But perhaps the most revolutionary advance involved the use of unmanned aerial vehicles: UAVs, special remotely-controlled surveillance planes.

One, called Predator, was outfitted with video cameras capable of transmitting live pictures of enemy positions or movements to field commanders. Some of these Predators were also equipped with small missiles, enabling those commanders to fire immediately at targets.

General Richard Myers, Chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said such UAV's give the U.S. military the ability to scan battlefields for hours on end - a major leap from the Vietnam era when reconnaissance flights were intermittent. "It's so unlike Vietnam, where you took snapshots of the battlefield, and you may do it at 10:00 in the morning, then you take another snapshot at 2:00 in the afternoon, and at 4:00. And persistence really counts," General Myers said.

For his part, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was also quick to note the changing nature of warfare in the 21st century as exemplified in Afghanistan. He noted there was no real army or navy to attack but an entire terrorist infrastructure that had to be rooted out.

"One of the things that I think is taking place," Secretary Rumsfeld said, "is that we are beginning to understand better that if you're not after an army or a navy or an air force, you're after something other than that, that bringing all elements of national capability and world capability to bear on something - the economic and the financial and the law enforcement and the intelligence gathering, as well as overt activities, as well as covert activities. That that combination makes life difficult for those that it's applied to. And that pressure ultimately is felt."

September 11 was reflected in the longterm strategy document released by the Pentagon at the end of that month. The Quadrennial Defense Review, issued every four years, announced the highest U.S. military priority from now on will be homeland defense, not fighting overseas.

The 71-page document called for a boost in investments for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance while also underscoring the need for special operations forces able to conduct covert missions over great distances, especially to deny enemies sanctuary in remote parts of the world.

But in a forward to the report, Mr. Rumsfeld said authorities cannot always know precisely where and when America's interests will be threatened. "We should try mightily to avoid surprise, but we must also learn to expect it," he said.

Part of VOA's Year End Series for 2001