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The military history of the United States spans a period of over two centuries. During the course of those years, the United States evolved from a new nation fighting the British Empire for independence without a professional military to the world's sole remaining superpower of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.



U.S. military personnel and expenditures, 1790–2006. Personnel is shown in orange (left axis); expenditures are in teal (right axis). The two axes are scaled to visually align for World War II, thus showing the difference between the cost per soldier before and after President Dwight D. Eisenhower's "New Look" policy of the early 1950s.

The Continental Congress in 1775 created the Continental Army and named General George Washington its commander. He used that army along with state militia forces --and the French army and navy--to defeat the British. The new Constitution in 1788 made the president the commander in chief, with authority for the Congress to levy taxes, and make the rules.

As of 2008, the U.S. military consists of an Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps under the command of the United States Department of Defense. There also is the United States Coast Guard, which is controlled by the Department of Homeland Security. The President of the United States is the commander in chief of each branch of the armed forces. In addition, each state has a national guard commanded by the state's governor and coordinated by the National Guard Bureau. The President of the United States has the authority during national emergencies to assume control of individual state National Guard units.

The last invasion of American soil took place in The Battle of Attu 11 May 1943 – 30 May 1943 on Attu Island off of Alaska as part of the Aleutian Islands Campaign during the Pacific War of World War II.



Colonial wars (1620–1774)

The beginning of the United States military lies in civilian frontiersmen, armed for hunting and basic survival in the wilderness. These were organized into local militias for small military operations, mostly against Native American tribes but also to resist possible raids by the small military forces of neighboring European colonies. They relied on the British regular army and navy for any serious military operation.

In major operations outside the locality involved, the militia was not employed as a fighting force. Instead the colony asked for (and paid) volunteers, many of whom were also militia members.

In the early years of the British colonization of North America, military action in the thirteen colonies that would become United States were the result of conflicts with Native Americans, such as in the Pequot War of 1637, King Philip's War in 1675, the Susquehannock War in 1675, and the Yamasee War in 1715. There also occurred slave uprisings such as the Stono Rebellion in 1739.

Beginning in 1689, the colonies also frequently became involved in a series of wars between Great Britain and France for control of North America, the most important of which were Queen Anne's War, in which the British annexed French Acadia, and the final French and Indian War (1754–1763). This final war was to give thousands of colonists, including Virginia colonel George Washington, military experience which they put to use during the American Revolution.

War of Independence (1775–1783)

Detail from Washington and his Generals at Yorktown (c. 1781) by Charles Willson Peale. Lafayette (far left) is at Washington's right, the Comte de Rochambeau to his immediate left.

Ongoing political tensions between Great Britain and the thirteen colonies reached a crisis in 1774 when the British placed the province of Massachusetts under martial law. While shooting began at Lexington and Concord in 1775, the Continental Congress appointed George Washington as commander-in-chief of the newly created Continental Army, which was augmented throughout the war by colonial militia. General Washington was not the greatest battlefield tactician, but his overall strategy proved to be sound: keep the army intact, wear down British resolve, and avoid decisive battles except to exploit enemy mistakes.

The British, for their part, lacked both a unified command and a clear strategy for winning. With the use of the Royal Navy, the British were able to capture coastal cities, but control of the countryside eluded them. A British invasion from Canada in 1777 ended with the disastrous surrender of a British army at Saratoga. With the addition in 1777 of General von Steuben, of Prussian origin, the training and discipline of the Continental Army began to vastly improve. France and Spain then entered the war against Great Britain.

A shift in focus to the southern American states resulted in a string of victories for the British, but guerrilla warfare and the tenacity of General Nathanael Greene's army prevented the British from making strategic headway. A French naval victory in the Chesapeake led to the surrender of a British army at Yorktown in 1781, resulting in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which recognized the independence of the United States.

Since many Americans of the revolutionary generation had strong distrust of permanent (or “standing”) armies, the Continental Army was quickly disbanded after the Revolution. General Washington, who throughout the war deferred to elected officials, averted a potential crisis and resigned as commander-in-chief to Congress after the war, establishing a tradition of civil control of the U.S. military.

Early national period (1783–1815)

Following the American Revolution, the United States faced potential military conflict on the high seas as well as on the western frontier. The United States was a minor military power during this time, having only a modest army and navy. A traditional distrust of standing armies, combined with faith in the abilities of local militia, precluded the development of well-trained units and a professional officer corps. Jeffersonian leaders preferred a small army and navy, fearing that a large military establishment would involve the United States in excessive foreign wars, and potentially allow a domestic tyrant to seize power.

In the Treaty of Paris after the Revolution, the British had ceded the lands between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River to the United States, without consulting the Shawnee, Cherokee, Choctaw[1] and other smaller tribes who lived there. Because many of the tribes had fought as allies of the British, the United States compelled tribal leaders to sign away lands in postwar treaties, and began dividing up these lands for settlement. This provoked a war in the Northwest Territory in which the U.S. forces performed poorly; the Battle of the Wabash in 1791 was the most severe defeat ever suffered by the United States at the hands of American Indians. President Washington dispatched a newly trained army to the region, which decisively defeated the Indian confederacy at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1795.

When revolutionary France declared war on Great Britain in 1793, the United States sought to remain neutral, but the Jay Treaty, which was favorable to Great Britain, angered the French government, which viewed it as a violation of the 1778 Treaty of Alliance. French privateers began to seize U.S. vessels, which led to an undeclared "Quasi-War" between the two nations. Fought at sea from 1798 to 1800, the United States won a string of victories in the Caribbean. George Washington was called out of retirement to head a "provisional army" in case of invasion by France, but President John Adams managed to negotiate a truce, in which France agreed to terminate the prior alliance and cease its piracy.

"We have met the enemy and they are ours." Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's victory on Lake Erie in 1813 was an important turning point in the War of 1812. (Painting by William H. Powell, 1865)

In 1801, the United States fought another undeclared war, this time with the city-state of Tripoli. When President Thomas Jefferson discontinued the custom of paying tribute to the Barbary States, the First Barbary War followed. After the U.S.S. Philadelphia was captured in 1803, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a raid which successfully burned the captured ship, preventing Tripoli from using or selling it. In 1805, after William Eaton captured the city of Derna, Tripoli agreed to a peace treaty. The other Barbary states continued to raid U.S. shipping, until the Second Barbary War in 1815 ended the practice.

By far the largest military action in which the United States engaged during this era was the War of 1812. When the United Kingdom and France went to war again in 1803 with renewed vigor, the United States sought to remain neutral while pursuing overseas trade. This proved difficult, and the United States finally declared war on the United Kingdom in 1812, the first time the U.S. had officially declared war. Not hopeful of defeating the Royal Navy, the U.S. attacked the British Empire by invading British Canada, hoping to use captured territory as a bargaining chip. The invasion of Canada was a debacle, though concurrent wars with Native Americans on the western front (Tecumseh's War and the Creek War) were more successful. After defeating Napoleon in 1814, the United Kingdom was able to send troops from Europe to America, leading to the burning of Washington on 25 August 1814, although the Chesapeake Bay Campaign was thwarted at the Battle of Baltimore. A second British offensive was defeated by Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. By this time, diplomats in Europe had worked out a peace treaty, restoring the status quo ante bellum.

Continental expansion (1816–1860)

With the independence of the United States established, military efforts then focused on ensuring a dominant role on the continent, an idea which became known as "Manifest Destiny."

The Texas Revolution was a war fought from October 2, 1835 to April 21, 1836 between Mexico and the breakaway province of Texas. In February 1836, Santa Anna led his army into Texas and won victories at the Alamo and Goliad before being defeated by Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21. Santa Anna signed a treaty recognizing Texas independence and its expanded boundaries after the battle, but the government in Mexico City repudiated the treaty and vowed to subdue Texas, a position that led to the Mexican-American War with the United States in 1846.

In 1857 U.S. troops were sent to the Utah Territory to reassert federal primacy in the region in what became known as the Utah War.

American Civil War (1861–1865)

Dead soldiers lie where they fell at Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation after this battle.

Sectional tensions had long existed between the states located north of the Mason-Dixon Line and those south of it, primarily centered on the "peculiar institution" of slavery and the ability of states to overrule the decisions of the national government. During the 1840s and 1850s, conflicts between the two sides became progressively more violent. After the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (who southerners thought would work to end slavery) states in the South seceded from the United States, beginning with South Carolina in late 1860. On April 12, 1861, forces of the South (known as the Confederate States of America or simply the Confederacy) opened fire on Fort Sumter, whose garrison was loyal to the forces of the North (who represented the United States or simply the Union).

The American Civil War caught both sides unprepared. Both the Union and the Confederacy had to build their armies practically from scratch. Both sides sought a quick victory focused on the respective nearby capitals of Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia, but neither side would surrender their national identity cheaply. Even after the First Battle of Bull Run, many were slow to accept that war would last much longer than a single campaign. However, it spilled across the continent, and even to the high seas. Much of the vast resources of America would be consumed before it would be resolved.

The American Civil War is sometimes called the "first modern war" due to the use of mass conscription, military railroads, trench warfare, submarines, ironclads, aerial reconnaissance, modern cartridge firearms, rifles, and machine guns. It introduced the modern world to the horrors of total war.

Post-Civil War era (1865–1917)

The scope of the Civil War was as great as many of those in Europe, and the United States began to see itself as potential player on the world stage. With the country now stretching to the Pacific, eyes turned to overseas. The motivation behind the Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, and U.S. involvement in the Boxer Rebellion are debated among historians.

Indian Wars (1865–1870)

After the Civil War, Manifest Destiny expansion began in earnest. The Transcontinental Railroad and other trade routes linking California with the eastern states disrupted traditional Native America interactions. Many Native American tribes of the Great Plains and Southwest resisted this encroachment. Generals from the Civil War such as William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan were assigned to conquer any Indians who offered military resistance to the expansion of the United States.

Spanish-American War (1898)

The Spanish-American War took place in 1898, and resulted in the United States of America gaining control over the former Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific, most notably Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

Philippine-American War (1899-1913)

U.S. soldiers of the First Nebraska volunteers, company B, near Manila, 1899

The Philippine-American War was between the armed forces of the United States and the Philippines from 1899 through 1902.

This conflict is also known as the "Philippine Insurrection." This name was historically the most commonly used in the U.S., but Filipinos and an increasing number of American historians refer to these hostilities as the "Philippine-American War," and, in 1999, the U.S. Library of Congress reclassified its references to use this term.

Banana Wars (1898-1935)

The Banana Wars is a term used to describe US intervention in Latin America from the end of the Spanish American War in 1898 until 1935. These wars include involvement in Cuba, Mexico, Panama with the Panama Canal Zone, Haiti (1915-1935), Dominican Republic (1916-1924) and Nicaragua (1912-1925) & (1926 - 1933).

Most notable of these conflicts was when U.S. forces occupied the Mexican city of Veracruz for over six months in 1914, in response to the April 9, 1914 "Tampico Affair," which involved the brief arrest of U.S. sailors by soldiers of the regime of Mexican President Victoriano Huerta. The incident came in the midst of poor diplomatic relations with the United States, related to the ongoing Mexican Revolution.

In response to the Tampico Affair, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson ordered the Navy to occupy Veracruz. Huerta was overthrown and a regime more favorable to the U.S. was installed. The incident, however, worsened U.S.-Mexican relations for many years.

The Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion was an uprising against Western commercial, religious, and political influence in China during the final years of the 19th century. The U.S. contributed Army and Marine units, the China Relief Expedition, to an international joint force called the Eight-Nation Alliance, which captured Peking and forced a Chinese capitulation. By August 1900, over 230 foreigners, thousands of Chinese Christians and unknown numbers of rebels, their sympathizers and other Chinese had been killed in the revolt and its suppression.

World War I (1917–1918)

Lt. Teofilo Marxuach

The United States originally wished to remain neutral when World War I broke out in August 1914. However, it insisted on its right as a neutral party to immunity from German submarine attack. The ships carried food and raw materials to Britain. In 1917 the Germans resumed submarine attacks, knowing that it would lead to American entry. However the U.S. had deliberately kept its army small and mobilization took a year. Meanwhile the U.S. sent more supplies and money to Britain and France, and started the first peacetime draft. Economic mobilization was much slower than expected, so the decision was made to send divisions to Europe without their equipment, relying instead on British and French supplies. The first shots fired by the United States in World War I between the United States and Germany occurred in Puerto Rico's San Juan Bay and not in Europe. On April 6, 1917, the day that the United States declared war on Germany, Lt. Teofilo Marxuach, of the "Puerto Rico Regiment", was the officer of the day at El Morro Castle (then called Fort Brooke). The Odenwald, built in 1903 (not to be confused with the German World War II war ship which carried the same name), was an armed German supply ship which tried to force its way out of the bay and deliver supplies to the German submarines waiting in the Atlantic Ocean. Lt. Marxuach gave the order to open fire on the ship from the walls of the fort. The Odenwald was forced to return and its supplies were confiscated.[2] In 1917 ex-President Theodore Roosevelt was authorized by Congress to raise 4 Divisions of Volunteers to fight in France-Roosevelt's World War I volunteers; however Woodrow Wilson refused this offer. By summer 1918, a million American soldiers, or "doughboys" as they were often called, of the American Expeditionary Force were in Europe under the command of John J. Pershing, with 25,000 more arriving every week. The failure of Germany's spring offensive meant they had exhausted their manpower reserves and were unable to launch attacks or even defend their lines. Meanwhile, the German home front revolted and a new German government signed a conditional surrender, the Armistice, ending the war on November 11, 1918.

Russian Revolution

The so-called Polar Bear Expedition was the involvement of U.S. troops, during the tail end of World War I and the Russian Revolution, in fighting the Bolsheviks in Arkhangelsk, Russia in 1918 and 1919.

Neutrality Acts

After the costly US involvement in World War I, isolationism grew in the U.S. Congress refused membership in the League of Nations, and in response to the growing turmoil in Europe and Asia, the gradually more restrictive Neutrality Acts were passed, which were intended to prevent the U.S. from supporting either side in a war. The size of the U.S. military declined greatly, with the loss of many senior officers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to support Britain, however, and in 1940 passed the Lend-Lease Act, which permitted an expansion of the "cash and carry" arms trade to develop with the United Kingdom, which controlled the Atlantic sea lanes.

World War II (1939–1945)

During the interwar period the United States again reduced its military, but mobilized to its largest levels in history during World War II. The global conflict started on 1 September 1939 and raged until 2 September 1945, involving most of the peoples of the world. It was the most extensive and costly war in history as well as the history of the United States (excepting personnel).

US involvement in World War II was initially limited to providing war material and financial support to the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and Republic of China. The US entered officially on 8 December 1941 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii the previous day. This attack was followed by attacks on US, Dutch and British possessions across the Pacific. On 11 December, the remaining Axis powers, Germany and Italy, declared war on the US, drawing the US firmly into the war and removing all doubts about the global nature of the conflict.

The loss of 8 battleships and 2000 sailors and airmen at Pearl Harbor forced the US to rely on its remaining aircraft carriers, which won a major victory over Japan at Midway just 6 months into the war, and its growing submarine fleet. The Navy and Marine Corps followed this up with an island hopping campaign across the central and South Pacific in 1943-45, reaching the outskirts of Japan in the Battle of Okinawa. During 1942 and 1943, the US deployed millions of men and thousands of planes and tanks to the UK, beginning with the strategic bombing of Nazi Germany and occupied Europe and leading up to the Allied invasions of occupied North Africa in November, 1942, Sicily and Italy in 1943, France in 1944, and the invasion of Germany in 1945, parallel with the Soviet invasion from the east. That led to the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945. In the Pacific, the US experienced much success in naval campaigns during 1944, but bloody battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945 led the US to look for a way to end the war with minimal loss of lives. The U.S. used atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to shock the Japanese leadership, which (combined with the Soviet invasion of Manchuria) quickly caused the surrender of Japan.

Despite the crippling effects of the Great Depression, the United States was able to mobilize quickly, eventually becoming the dominant military power in most theaters of the war (excepting only eastern Europe and mainland China), and the industrial might of the US economy is widely cited as a major factor in the Allies' eventual victory in the war. Early in the war, the US military was perceived by some observers to be too "green" and untested to be of much use other than cannon fodder against experienced German and Japanese troops (especially as their first major action against German forces resulted in the humiliating defeat at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass), but the US eventually acquitted itself well and established a modern military tradition. Strategic and tactical lessons learned by the US, such as the importance of air superiority and the dominance of the aircraft carrier in naval actions, continue to guide US military doctrine more than 60 years later.

World War II holds a special place in the American psyche as the country's greatest triumph, and the soldiers of World War II are frequently referred to as "the greatest generation" for their sacrifices in the name of liberty. Over 16 million served (about 13% of the population), and over 400,000 were killed during the war; only the American Civil War saw more Americans killed (although the majority of soldier deaths that were directly caused by the war were the result of disease). The US entered the war, like many other nations, as a country struggling with economic and social problems and unsure of its identity. It emerged as one of the two undisputed superpowers along with the Soviet Union, and unlike the Soviet Union, the US homeland was virtually untouched by the ravages of war. The importance of US military and political power in world affairs since 1945 cannot be overstated; the outcome of the war and the fortunes of the victors have shaped world events to this day.

During and following World War II, the United States and United Kingdom developed an increasingly strong defense and intelligence relationship. Manifestations of this include extensive basing of US forces in the UK, shared intelligence, shared military technology (e.g. nuclear technology) and shared procurement.

Cold War (1945–1991)

Following the Second World War, the United States emerged as a global superpower vis-a-vis the Soviet Union in the Cold War. In this period of some forty years, the United States provided foreign military aid and direct involvement in proxy wars against the Soviet Union. It was the principal foreign actor in the Korean War and Vietnam War during this era. Nuclear weapons were held in ready by the United States under a concept of mutually assured destruction with the Soviet Union.

Postwar Military Reorganization (1947)

The National Security Act of 1947, meeting the need for a military reorganization to complement the U.S. superpower role, combined and replaced the former Department of the Navy and War Department with a single cabinet-level Department of Defense. The act also created the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Air Force.

Korean War

The Korean War was a conflict between the United States and its United Nations allies and the communist powers under influence of the Soviet Union (also a UN member nation) and the People's Republic of China (which later also gained UN membership). The principal combatants were North and South Korea. Principal allies of South Korea included the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, although many other nations sent troops under the aegis of the United Nations. Allies of North Korea included the People's Republic of China, which supplied military forces, and the Soviet Union, which supplied combat advisors and aircraft pilots, as well as arms, for the Chinese and North Korean troops. In the United States, the conflict was termed a police action under the aegis of the United Nations rather than a war, largely to remove the necessity of a Congressional declaration of war.

The war started badly for the US and UN. North Korean forces struck massively in the summer of 1950 and nearly drove the outnumbered US and ROK defenders into the sea. However the United Nations intervened, naming Douglas MacArthur commander of its forces, and US-ROK forces acting under the UN auspices held a perimeter around Pusan, gaining time for reinforcement. MacArthur, in a bold but risky move, ordered an amphibious invasion well behind the front lines at Inchon, cutting off and routing the North Koreans and quickly crossing the 38th Parallel into North Korea. As UN forces continued to advance toward the Yalu River on the border with Communist China, MacArthur and U.S. President Harry Truman came into serious disagreement about military objectives and resolution of the conflict. In November, 1950, after Truman refused to bomb bridges on the Yalu River, the Chinese Army poured across the border and sent UN forces reeling back across the 38th Parallel. MacArthur was later relieved of his command by Truman for insubordination, and while some feared the conflict might spark another world war, negotiations beginning shortly after MacArthur's dismissal eventually resulted in a stalemate and armistice in 1953, with the two Koreas remaining divided at the 38th parallel. North and South Korea are still today in a state of war, having never signed a peace treaty, and US forces remain stationed in South Korea as part of US foreign policy.

Lebanon crisis of 1958

The Lebanon crisis of 1958 was a political and religious conflict between the pro-Western government of President Camille Chamoun and Sunni Muslims who supported joining the United Arab Republic. A Muslim rebellion and the toppling of a pro-Western government in Iraq caused President Chamoun to call for U.S. assistance. President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by deploying Marines to bolster the pro-Western Lebanese government of President Camille Chamoun against internal opposition and threats from the United Arab Republic. Marines stayed from July 15 to October 25 of that year.

Dominican Intervention

On April 28, 1965, 400 Marines were landed in Santo Domingo to evacuate the American Embassy and foreign nationals after dissident Dominican armed forces attempted to overthrow the ruling civilian junta. By mid-May, peak strength of 23,850 U.S. soldiers, Marines, and Airmen were in the Dominican Republic and some 38 naval ships were positioned offshore. They evacuated nearly 6,500 men, women, and children of 46 nations, and distributed more than 8 million tons of food.

Vietnam War

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, was a war fought between 1957 and 1975 on the ground in South Vietnam and bordering areas of Cambodia and Laos (see Secret War) and in the strategic bombing (see Operation Rolling Thunder) of North Vietnam. In Vietnam, the conflict is known as the "American War." Although a small US presence had existed in Vietnam since the late 1950s, major US involvement is generally considered to have begun in 1964, after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

Fighting on one side was a coalition of forces including the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam or the "RVN"), the United States, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. Participation by the South Korean military was financed by the United States, but Australia and New Zealand fully funded their own involvement. Other countries normally allied with the United States in the Cold War, including the United Kingdom and Canada, refused to participate in the coalition, although a few of their citizens volunteered to join the U.S. forces. The U.S. and its allies fought against the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) as well as the National Liberation Front (NLF, also known as Viet communists Viet Cong), or "VC", a guerrilla force within South Vietnam. The NVA received substantial military and economic aid from the Soviet Union, turning Vietnam into a proxy war.

The U.S. framed the war as part of its policy of containment of Communism in south Asia, but American forces were frustrated by an inability to engage the enemy in decisive battles, corruption and incompetence in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, and ever increasing protests at home. The Tet Offensive in 1968, although a major military defeat for the NLF, marked the psychological turning point in the war. NLF forces appeared to be everywhere at once, even penetrating the US Embassy, Saigon, supposedly one of the most secure places in the country, and news anchor Walter Cronkite, in a famous broadcast from the battlefield, pronounced the war "unwinnable." After more than 57,000 dead and many more wounded, US forces withdrew in 1973 with no clear victory, and in 1975 South Vietnam was finally conquered by communist North Vietnam and unified. The chaotic evacuation of the US embassy in April 1975, as NVA forces closed in on the city, made for enduring images of desperate souls clinging to helicopter skids, trying to escape Communist rule. The war left Vietnam with many mine's yet to be disarmed and many parts of the jungle destroyed by napalm and many civilian's died with casualties in the million's and 800,000 dead for the NVN/Viet Cong. Even though the US is said to have won every major battle and killed up to thirteen times as many enemy combatants, many consider the war a defeat for America.

Even today, "Vietnam" is a politically divisive subject in the U.S. Some Americans view the Second Indochina War as a noble, if flawed, cause which limited and delayed communist expansion and conquest of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Others see the conflict as a quagmire; a waste of American blood and treasure in a conflict that did not concern US interests. Military service during Vietnam is still an issue in U.S. presidential campaigns, more than 30 years after US troops left the country, and fears of another "quagmire" have been major factors in U.S. military planning since 1975.

Tehran hostage rescue

Following the Iranian revolution and the resulting Iran hostage crisis, President Carter in April 1980, gave the order to launch Operation Eagle Claw, which attempted to rescue the hostages using a combination of special forces and helicopter evacuation. Operational problems forced commanders to abort the mission, and 8 servicemen were killed in a helicopter accident in the Iranian desert. The failure was attributed to inappropriate equipment, incomplete and unrealistic planning, and the lack of joint service training. Despite its size, the mission had significant effects on US military doctrine and training, and led directly to the creation of SOCOM. The hostages were eventually released after extensive diplomatic negotiations on January 20, 1981, Carter's last day in office, after 444 days of captivity.


In October, 1983, alarmed by a violent power struggle in Grenada, the U.S. dispatched paratroopers, Marines, Rangers, and special operations forces to the island in Operation Urgent Fury. Over a thousand Americans were on the island. The invasion force quickly moved to seize the entire island, eventually taking hundreds of military and civilian prisoners from a variety of East Bloc nations.


In 1983 fighting between Palestinian refugees and Lebanese factions reignited that nation's long-running civil war. A UN agreement brought an international force of peacekeepers to occupy Beirut and guarantee security. US Marines landed in August 1982 along with Italian and French forces. On October 23, 1983, a suicide bomber driving a truck filled with 6 tons of TNT crashed through a fence and destroyed the Marine barracks, killing 241 Marines; seconds later, a second bomber leveled a French barracks, killing 58. Subsequently the US Navy engaged in bombing of militia positions inside Lebanon. While US President Ronald Reagan was initially defiant, political pressure at home eventually forced the withdrawal of the Marines in February 1984.

The attack on the US Marine barracks resulted in the single largest loss of life for the USMC since World War II.[citation needed]

In 2003, a judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Islamic Republic of Iran was responsible for the attack.[3]


On December 20, 1989 the United States invaded Panama, mainly from U.S. bases within the then-Canal Zone, to oust dictator and international drug trafficker Manuel Noriega. In 1977, both nations had signed a treaty giving the Panama Canal to Panama by 1999, but the U.S. government did not wish to relinquish control of the strategically vital area to Noriega, whose government had become a narco-state. After Noriega nullified an election that had been won by an opposition party, a U.S. Marine officer was murdered by the Panamanian police and various U.S. military personnel were assaulted by Panamanian forces, President George H.W. Bush sent U.S troops in. The U.S. forces quickly overwhelmed the Panamanian Defense Forces, and Noriega was captured on January 3, 1990 after the Vatican refused his asylum request. A new government was installed and new elections were held. Control of the Canal was returned to Panama as scheduled on December 31, 1999. Noriega was tried in Miami and found guilty and sentenced on September 16, 1992, to 40 years in prison for drug and racketeering violations.

Post-Cold War era (1991–2001)

Gulf War

The Persian Gulf War was a conflict between Iraq and a coalition force of 34 nations led by the United States. The lead up to the war began with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 which was met with immediate economic sanctions by the United Nations against Iraq. The coalition commenced hostilities in January 1991, resulting in a decisive victory for the U.S. led coalition forces, which drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait with minimal coalition deaths. Despite the low death toll, over 180,000 US veterans would later be classified as "permanently disabled" according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (National Gulf War Resource Center; see also Gulf War Syndrome). The main battles were aerial and ground combat within Iraq, Kuwait and bordering areas of Saudi Arabia. Land combat did not expand outside of the immediate Iraq/Kuwait/Saudi border region, although the coalition bombed cities and strategic targets across Iraq, and Iraq fired missiles on Israeli and Saudi cities.

Before the war, many observers believed the US and its allies could win but might suffer substantial casualties (certainly more than any conflict since Vietnam), and that the tank battles across the harsh desert might rival those of North Africa during World War II. After nearly 50 years of proxy wars, and constant fears of another war in Europe between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, some thought the Gulf War might finally answer the question of which military philosophy would have reigned supreme. Iraqi forces were battle-hardened after 8 years of war with Iran, and they were well-equipped with late model Soviet tanks and jet fighters, but the anti-aircraft weapons were crippled; in comparison, the US had no large-scale combat experience since its withdrawal from Vietnam nearly 20 years earlier, and major changes in US doctrine, equipment and technology since then had never been tested under fire.

However, the battle was one-sided almost from the beginning. The reasons for this are the subject of continuing study by military strategists and academics. There is general agreement that US technological superiority was a crucial factor but the speed and scale of the Iraqi collapse has also been attributed to poor strategic and tactical leadership and low morale among Iraqi troops, which resulted from a history of incompetent leadership. After devastating initial strikes against Iraqi air defenses and command and control facilities on 17 January 1991, coalition forces achieved total air superiority almost immediately. The Iraqi air force was destroyed within a few days, with some planes fleeing to Iran where they were interned for the duration of the conflict. The overwhelming technological advantages of the US, such as stealth aircraft and infrared sights, quickly turned the air war into a "turkey shoot". The heat signature of any tank which started its engine made an easy target. Air defense radars were quickly destroyed by radar-seeking missiles fired from wild weasel aircraft. Grainy video clips, shot from the nose cameras of missiles as they zeroed in on impossibly small targets, were a staple of US news coverage and revealed to the world a new kind of war, compared by some to a video game. Over 6 weeks of relentless pounding by planes and helicopters, the Iraqi army was almost completely beaten but did not retreat, under orders from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and by the time the ground forces invaded on 24 February, many Iraqi troops quickly surrendered to forces much smaller than their own; in one instance, Iraqi forces attempted to surrender to a television camera crew that was advancing with coalition forces.

After just 100 hours of ground combat, and with all of Kuwait and much of southern Iraq under coalition control, US President George H. W. Bush ordered a cease-fire and negotiations began resulting in an agreement for cessation of hostilities. Some US politicians were disappointed by this move, believing Bush should have pressed on to Baghdad and removed Hussein from power; there is little doubt that coalition forces could have accomplished this if they had desired. Still, the political ramifications of removing Hussein would have broadened the scope of the conflict greatly, and many coalition nations refused to participate in such an action, believing it would create a power vacuum and destabilize the region.

Following the Gulf War, to protect minority populations, the US, Britain, and France declared and maintained no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, which the Iraqi military frequently tested. The no-fly zones persisted until the 2003 invasion of Iraq, although France withdrew from participation in patrolling the no-fly zones in 1996, citing a lack of humanitarian purpose for the operation.

Additionally, following the discovery of an aborted assassination plot aimed at former President George H.W. Bush, Navy ships bombed Iraqi intelligence facilities with cruise missiles in June 1993.


US troops participated in a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia beginning in 1992. By 1993 the US troops were augmented with Rangers and special forces with the aim of capturing warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, whose forces had massacred peacekeepers from Pakistan. During a raid in downtown Mogadishu, US troops became trapped overnight by a general uprising in the Battle of Mogadishu. 18 American soldiers were killed, and a US television crew filmed graphic images of the body of one soldier being dragged through the streets by an angry mob. Somali guerrillas paid a staggering toll at an estimated 1,000-5,000 total casualties during the conflict. Despite much public disapproval, US forces were quickly withdrawn by President Bill Clinton. The incident profoundly affected US thinking about peacekeeping and intervention. The book Black Hawk Down was written about the battle, and was the basis for the later movie of the same name.


During the war in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the US operated in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the NATO-led multinational implementation force (IFOR) in Operation Joint Endeavour . The USA was one of the NATO member countries who bombed Yugoslavia between March 24 and June 9, 1999 during the Kosovo War and later contributed to the multinational force KFOR.

War on Terrorism (2001–present)

The War on Terrorism is a global effort by the governments of several countries (primarily the United States and its principal allies) to neutralize international terrorist groups (primarily radical Islamist terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda) and ensure that rogue nations no longer support terrorist activities. It has been adopted as a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.


The invasion of Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan) to depose that country's Taliban government and destroy training camps associated with al-Qaida is understood to have been the opening, and in many ways defining, campaign of the broader War on Terrorism. The emphasis on Special Operations Forces (SOF), political negotiation with autonomous military units, and the use of proxy militaries marked a significant change from prior U.S. military approaches.


In January 2002, the U.S. sent more than 1,200 troops (later raised to 2,000) to assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines in combating terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida, such as Abu Sayyaf, under Operation Enduring Freedom - Philippines. Operations are taking place mostly in the Sulu Archipelago, where terrorists and other groups are active. The majority of troops provide logistics; however, a sizable portion are Special Forces troops that are training and assisting in combat operations against the terrorist groups.


In June 2003, a United Nations justice tribunal issued a warrant for the arrest of the Liberian president, Charles Taylor, charging him with war crimes. The pressure on Taylor increased further as President George W. Bush stated that Taylor "must leave Liberia" twice in July 2003.

Taylor insisted that he would resign only if American peacekeeping troops were deployed to Liberia. President Bush publicly called upon Charles Taylor to resign and leave the country if any American involvement was to be considered.

Meanwhile, the African states, in particular the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), under the leadership of Nigeria, sent troops to Liberia with the assistance of $10 million from the US[1]. On August 6, a 32 member U.S. military assessment team were deployed as a liaison with the ECOWAS troops[2].

On August 11, Taylor resigned, leaving Moses Blah as his successor until a transitional government was established on October 14. The U.S. brought three warships with 2,300 Marines into view of the coast. The subsequent transformations of government and elections were peaceful.


A Marine Corps M1 Abrams tank patrols a Baghdad street in April 2003.

After the lengthy Iraq disarmament crisis culminated with an American demand that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein leave Iraq, which was refused, a coalition led by the United States and the United Kingdom fought the Iraqi army in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Approximately 250,000 United States troops, with support from 45,000 British, 2,000 Australian and 200 Polish combat forces, entered Iraq primarily through their staging area in Kuwait. (Turkey had refused to permit its territory to be used for an invasion from the north.) Coalition forces also supported Iraqi Kurdish militia, estimated to number upwards of 50,000. After approximately three weeks of fighting, Hussein and the Ba'ath Party were forcibly removed, followed by an extended period of military occupation.


The Army's chief modernization plan was the FCS program. Many systems were canceled and the remaining were swept into the BCT modernization program.

See also

Related lists



  1. ^ The earliest recorded date of American Indians becoming U.S. citizens was in 1831 when the Mississippi Choctaw, after the ratification of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, were the first non-European ethnic group to become so.
  2. ^ CALLS ODENWALD AFFAIR AN ATTACK, The New York Times, April 7, 1915
  3. ^
  • Atlas of American Military History, Stuart Murray (2005) ISBN 0-8160-5578-5
  • American Military History: 1775-1902, Ed. Maurice Matloff (1996) ISBN 0-938289-70-5
  • American Military History and the Evolution of Western Warfare, Robert Doughty (1996) ISBN 0-669-41683-5
  • The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy, Russell Frank Weigley (1977) ISBN 0-253-28029-X
  • A Handbook of American Military History: From the Revolutionary War to the Present, Ed. Jerry K. Sweeney and Kevin B. Byrne (1997) ISBN 0-8133-2871-3
  • The Oxford Companion to American Military History, Ed. John Whiteclay II Chambers, Fred Anderson, Lynn Eden, Joseph T. Glatthaar, Ronald H. Spector, and G. Kurt Piehler (2000) ISBN 0-19-507198-0

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