"This is going to be straining if it goes on for a long period of time, yes," says John Hamre, a former deputy secretary of defense and now president of a leading Washington think tank.
"We can rise to any near-term emergency," he says. We've got a lot of depth and skill and resilience in the system to respond in the short term. How long we have to keep it, that is a big question. How long we can keep it without significantly greater resources is a very large question."
In the short term, the U.S. has bombers that can fly non-stop from the U.S. to hit targets anywhere in the world. But how will the American military keep that up year in year out and still perform all its other missions -- patrolling the no fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, defending South Korea, keeping the peace in Bosnia and Kosovo? And now there are new responsibilities at home - defending cities against the possibility of another airliner attack. At 26 bases around the country, fighter jets are kept on strip alert -- ready to scramble on a moments notice. And it's all being done with fewer troops than America had during the Gulf War.
Says Hamre: "Our forces have shrunk 40 percent during the last ten years. The globe is not 40 percent smaller. It's very clear there aren't 40 percent fewer bad guys around the world. And so weve been doing it, working out people harder."
The president has said the U.S. is at war and it's not just the shooting that makes wartime operations very different from peacetime.
"That's a much higher pace of operations - many more forces involved in conducting operations at any given time and while you can sustain that over the near term, if this is going to be a war that's measured in years rather than weeks, eventually you have to be concerned about troops becoming fatigued, having to be rotated, equipment wearing out, the cost of maintenance of equipment which is being used at a much higher rate going up as well," says Andrew Krepinevitch, who runs a small consulting group that advises the Pentagon.
"Over the long term, you're looking at increased financial cost and an increased human cost in the sense you have to recruit more people into a larger military."
Does that mean a return to the draft, something last seen during the Vietnam War? Most experts say the war against terrorism is not likely to be the kind of war that requires a draft.
"It's not a fight of massed armies and huge air armadas against similarly equipped adversaries," says Krepinevitch. "It's more a war for intelligence, small elite forces that can move very quickly. Not a war of mass armies."
"I do think some of the battles of this war are likely to unfold without a shot being fired," says Tom MNaugher, a military analyst for the Rand Corporation. "Imagine rolling up a cell meeting in some foreign city or even in the United States. You really would like to take those people alive so you can interrogate them. So some of the battles are going to be quite out of keeping with what the word 'war' conjures up."
For younger Americans the word war conjures up the brief American onslaught against Iraq. This new war promises to be a long one, even longer than the wars older Americans remember.
"We're still in for a very long campaign. Longer than the traditional notion of a military campaign. We're talking about probably decades here," says Hamre.
Not just a long war but an indecisive one as well, a war in which the U.S. will never be able to eliminate the terrorist threat and declare victory. As Defense Secretary Rumsfeld put it Thursday, victory may be nothing more than a feeling that it is once against safe enough for Americans to live their lives in relative freedom.
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