Winning: August 16, 2005


Combat experience is something that is not always appreciated until you run out of it. It was the experience of Japanese pilots that allowed Japan to dish out more than they took from December 1941 to June 1942 (when they lost the Battle of Midway). When the tables were turned at the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June, 1944, the American pilots, with much more combat experience, created the lopsided Marianas Turkey Shoot. So, who has the combat experience these days? Some countries have had more than others.

It goes without saying that the United States Army and Marine Corps are getting this experience in Iraq (in both 1991 and from 2003 to the present) and Afghanistan (from 2001). But the combat experience has been almost a constant since 1989s Operation Just Cause. There were some firefights (including the October 1993 firefight of Mogadishu) in the 1990s as well. The United States Air Force carried out combat operations in Desert Storm (1991), Bosnia (1995), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003). There was also a continuous enforcement of the Iraq no-fly zone from 1991-2003. The United States Air Force in the past 14 years has carried out almost continuous combat operations. The United States Navy has had a much more limited experience. Navy combat pilots have flown sometimes along the Air Force, but the surface forces have less combat exposure. Then again, navies get most of their combat experience just by spending a lot of time at sea. The U.S. Navy still leads the world in that department. 

The United Kingdom has also racked up combat experience alongside the United States in Iraq, Bosnia (part of IFOR/SFOR and the 1995 air strikes), Kosovo (KFOR and the 1999 NATO air strikes), and Afghanistan. The Falklands War was in 1982, but since then, they have had combat experience in Northern Ireland (The Troubles from 1966-1998), and a successful hostage rescue operation in Sierra Leone in 2000.

France has had some combat experience, as well. Most of this has occurred in Africa, including combat against Libyan forces in Chad in the mid-1980s), a peacekeeping operation in the Ivory Coast late last year that flared into a minor conflict (which was highlighted by a French raid that destroyed the Ivorian air force, and some combat in Desert Storm in 1991 (covering the flank of the left hook).

Russia has been carrying out operations recently in Chechnya (1994-1997 and 1999-2002). This has been a tough fight involving both urban warfare (around Grozny) and mountain combat (in southern Chechnya). Their Afghan war ended completely in 1992. India and Pakistan have had combat experience against each other (the Siachen Glacier conflict that has flared on and off over the last 18 years, with a major conflict in 1999). Israel ended an occupation of parts of Lebanon in 2000 (an operation that started in 1982), and had conducted a low-intensity conflict in the Gaza Strip (including two successful strikes against high-level Hamas leaders).

Two other countries have militaries receiving combat experience. Iraq has had two major wars since 1990 (Desert Storm in 1991 and Iraqi Freedom in 2003), while the new Iraqi military has been fighting both al-Qaeda and Baathist terrorists. Afghanistans new military has been fighting along side the United States since Northern Alliance troops helped topple the Taliban regime in 2001.

The United States has clearly had the bulk of experience in major wars over the last 20 years. Other countries have had their share, though. Some (the UK, in particular) fought alongside the US. Some have fought against the US. All sides, though, have gained experience and learned lessons. Harold C. Hutchison ([email protected])




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