- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

SATTAHIP, Thailand U.N. intervention, concerns for hungry refugees, kidnapped relief workers and an assassinated American businessman were all part of the scenario in a U.S. military exercise that illustrated the complications of warfare in the 21st century.
Some 14,000 American soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen took part in an exercise over the weekend, code-named Cobra Gold, which was led by Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, who commands the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force on Okinawa.
The main purpose of what is known as a command-post exercise was to train the generals and their staff in complex operations and prepare them to make decisions, plans and orders while facing conflicting demands from every direction.
The scenario in Cobra Gold envisioned an attack on Country X by its neighbor, Green Land. Under a U.N. resolution, troops from White Land, Blue Land, and Sing Land were deployed to separate the combatants, compel the Green Landers to withdraw, and generally to restore the peace.
The fake names were but a thin cover for the United States, Thailand and Singapore.
Gen. Gregson operated in a coalition with a Thai general as his boss and a Singaporean general as his immediate subordinate; the staff included officers from all three nations. They were required to deal with political leaders and diplomats from all three capitals.
The U.N. secretary-general had a special representative on scene.
Imagined in the scenario were 200,000 refugees and displaced persons who had been crammed into eight camps under the most appalling conditions. Representatives of 10 relief agencies added demands for helping victims of the notional war.
Maj. Gen. Clive Milner, a retired Canadian army officer with extensive experience in complicated peacekeeping operations, described the exercise as "probably the most complex operation, not just military operation, but any kind of operation that mankind could devise."
Gen. Milner played the role of the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general.
The contrast between the complicated operation and earlier wars in the real world is vivid. In World War II, U.S. armed forces were focused on the unconditional surrender of a clearly defined enemy in the Pacific, Japan.
The Korean War saw U.S., South Korean, North Korean and Chinese forces fighting up and down the peninsula.
Things became more complicated in Vietnam, where the enemy was elusive, the front lines indistinct and the political aspects of the struggle paramount.
A North Vietnamese colonel once acknowledged to an American colonel that the United States had won every battle in that conflict.
"That may be true," the Vietnamese said. "It is also irrelevant."
The Gulf war saw a return to simplicity. The United States and its allies massed their land forces in Saudi Arabia, then swept north and east into Iraq to liberate Kuwait. It took six months to assemble the forces, several weeks of aerial bombardment to subdue the Iraqis, and 100 hours to crush Saddam Hussein's army.
Although a logistic nightmare, even the war in Afghanistan has been comparatively simple.
American warriors have relied on an ingenious combination of high-tech and field expedients in which they raced across the arid Afghan wastes on horseback to put laser beams on targets that were struck by B-52 bombers flying 20,000 feet overhead.


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