Gulf War, 1991
In 1991, the United States became the worlds only superpower and began redefining its global role.
When Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait in 1990, President George H. W. Bush, with support from the United Nations, assembled a coalition of international allies. More than thirty countries, including Great Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt, provided troops, in-kind support, and help to pay the $61 billion cost of the war.
Americas military leaders were determined that Iraq would not be another Vietnam. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Colin Powell ensured that the coalition used what he called overwhelming force. He also granted the coalitions commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf, wide latitude to direct operations from the field. In 1991, the American-led forces went to war to liberate oil-rich Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. Military leaders amassed troops and material, constructed bases, and targeted Iraqi military command centers and critical infrastructures. After massive air assaults, ground troops joined the attack. By January 17, 1991, in little more than 100 hours, the combined air-ground campaign freed Kuwait, expelling Saddam Husseins armies. An American decision to let Hussein stay in power in Iraq quickly became controversial.
A half-million American men and women were deployed in the Gulf War; 148 died in combat. The speedy victory boosted public opinion of U.S. military prowess and public appreciation for the nation's all-volunteer armed forces. Troops returned home to flag-waving crowds and an outpouring of goodwill.
September 11, 2001
Stunning attacks in the United States by al Qaeda, an international Islamist terrorist group, killed nearly 3,000 people and launched an American-led war on terrorism.
At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked and crashed a passenger jet into the north tower of New York Citys World Trade Center. Fire and rescue crews rushed to the scene. As live television coverage began, Americans watched in horror as a second plane slammed into the south tower at 9:03 a.m. Thirty-five minutes later, a third airliner dove into the Pentagon right outside the capital. A fourth jet, bound for Washington, D.C., crashed in Pennsylvania, its hijackers thwarted by passengers. The nation reeled, but resolved to fight back. For more information visit http://americanhistory.si.edu/september11.
War in Afghanistan, 2001
The United States invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the ruling Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic militia, that was harboring al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
The United States launched its war against terrorism in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom, using diplomacy, intelligence gathering and analysis, law enforcement, monetary curbs, and military force. Several hundred Central Intelligence Agency and Special Forces operatives, armed with bundles of cash, recruited anti-Taliban forces and joined them in ground fighting. In October 2001, allied forces unleashed a torrent of precision-guided bombs and sea-launched cruise missiles against targets in Afghanistan, directing air support with lasers and Global Positioning System devices.
Remote-controlled, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were widely used in Afghanistan. They carried cameras and sensors that provided real-time intelligence to field commanders around the globe. Armed with Hellfire-C laser-guided missiles, the drones attacked mobile targets. The United States military forces experimented for the first time with various remote-controlled robots for ground reconnaissance. PackBots carried cameras that enabled ground troops to explore compounds and caves from a safe distance
Relying on this precision weaponry and several hundred ground troops, the United States toppled the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. While Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds were quickly destroyed, Osama bin Laden and other highly sought leaders escaped.
As the United States launched its attacks in Afghanistan, it began a massive humanitarian relief operation. Millions of rations and explanatory fliers were air-dropped. Tons of supplies, from building materials to radios, were distributed on the ground. Troops were deployed to help Afghans build and rebuild schools and housing.
War in Iraq, 2003
In 2003, Americas role as sole superpower was once again testedin Iraq, the heart of the Middle East. Called Operation Iraqi Freedom an invasion was launched in March 2003. The United States, Great Britain, and other coalition forces attacked and overthrew Saddam Husseins brutal regime in Iraq.
In the war against the Iraqi regime, U.S. and coalition forces simultaneously employed air strikes of unprecedented precision and ground attacks that were fewer, faster, and more flexible than those of the 1991 Gulf War. Troops deployed through Kuwait raced 300 miles to Baghdad, while Special Forces operatives were inserted deep into northern and western Iraq. When Turkey refused to allow a major coalition offensive to cross its border, small numbers of U.S. Special Operations Forces were inserted into northern Iraq, where they mobilized peshmerga, local Kurdish militia units. A long-oppressed ethnic minority, Kurds were willing allies in the fight against Hussein.
The Defense Department controlled media coverage of the war. In response to criticism that journalists had been excluded from on-the-scene coverage of the Gulf War, U.S. military officials embedded selected journalists with fighting units. These embedded journalists broadcast live reports to a global audience.
Major combat operations took less than two months, but coalition units remained entangled in a controversial effort to establish an Iraqi democracy. U.S. forces suffered 139 combat-related deaths before major combat operations in Iraq ended on 1 May 2003. As American and Iraqi authorities struggled to establish an interim government, U.S. and coalition forces faced civil unrest and an anti-occupation insurgency. Hundreds more U.S. troops were killed and wounded.