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West Point Leader: US Soldiers Face Uncertain Conflict Situations - 2002-12-13

A senior U.S. military officer says soldiers today are fighting conflicts with unclear battle lines. Lt. General William Lennox, the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, spoke Thursday in Los Angeles.

Whether they are serving as peacekeepers in Bosnia or guarding their own facilities from terrorist attacks, General Lennox says soldiers face increasingly uncertain situations.

One reason is the war on terrorism, which he said has captured the attention of his students. "What I'm seeing now with the cadets is that many of them are very focused on the fight that's going on," he said. "So more than teaching about al-Qaida, we're bringing back experiences that army officers and others have had in the recent fighting to educate them on counter-terrorism, in a broad sense, to educate them on the Middle East in general."

The general said the U.S. military is undergoing changes as it shifts to smaller, more mobile forces, with greater cooperation among the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps than was seen in the past.

He said, however, the principles of warfare are unchanged. "I think it frequently comes down to the boots on the ground, your army soldier against our army soldier," he said. "Now, have other things happened in the meantime? Yes."

The changes include the increasing ambiguity of battle situations, where fighters sometimes mix with civilian populations, and new technology, which offers help with communications and fighting.

The West Point academy, 200 years old this year, is known for its strength in science and engineering. General Lennox said today, it also stresses humanities courses like English and history, to equip future army officers with the skills they need to carry out their missions.

The general said his cadets have resources that were undreamed previously, and that in the modern world, new subjects can be mastered as they are needed. "A young person now who may not know anything about an area can have a basic education in about 10 to 15 minutes by scanning the Internet," he said. "We want them to be able to do that. We want them to be able to know what they know now, and then be able to add to that very quickly as they go into some of these situations in the future."

With military preparations underway for a possible war in Iraq, public attention is now focused on the Mideast. General Lennox said this war, if it comes, will be launched more rapidly, with smaller forces and more advanced technology, than the Gulf War 11 years ago.

The West Point superintendent said his academy maintains a long-range vision in its training. He notes that, just two years ago, no one could have foreseen U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and adds that no one today can pinpoint future conflicts.