2002 in review: War on terrorism dominated DOD's year
December 31, 2002
As 2003 unfurls, the buildup to war with Iraq is dominating both the international headlines and the thoughts of most people in uniform.
But when military historians look back on 2002, their focus will not rest solely on Iraq.
Instead, their 2002 book might be titled, “The first full year of the Bush administration’s ‘global war on terrorism.’” And while the war has its roots in Sept. 11, 2001, 2002 was the year the Defense Department’s reactions to those attacks fully blossomed.
In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other Bush hawks grabbed their chance to take the ball from the moderate camp, led by State Secretary Colin Powell — and ran with it.
And as they ran, President Bush and his party discovered that most U.S. citizens were eager to embrace the military leadership’s worldview: a black-and-white battle pitting the Free World against the Axis of Evil and its minions.
It was the year servicemembers learned to find Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Philippines and Pakistan on the map — boots first.
Georgia became a country for many who thought it was a just a U.S. state. And everyone started paying rapt attention during gas mask and MOPP-gear drills.
Many servicemembers earned combat badges in 2002, while a smaller number were awarded Purple Hearts. And an even smaller subset, never to be forgotten, earned trifolded flags and a place of honor in Arlington National Cemetery. We honor them all.
Major events of 2002 for the Department of Defense and U.S. servicemembers included:
Jan. 1 — Servicemembers receive a 4.6 percent pay raise, the largest across-the-board raise in 20 years. Another $1 billion goes to targeted raises, with some mid-grade officers and noncommissioned officers receiving raises of as much as 10 percent.
Jan. 9 — A Marine Corps KC-130R refueling plane crashes into the mountains in Pakistan, killing seven, including the first U.S. military woman killed in combat since the Persian Gulf War.
Jan. 29 — In his second annual State of the Union speech to Congress, President Bush calls Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “axis of evil” that threatens the world with mass destruction.
Jan. 31 — The 2002 Unified Command Plan creates a Northern Command directed at homeland defense. The new command is responsible for air, land and maritime defense, as well as coordinating military support to civilian authorities at federal, state and local levels.
Feb. 20 — More than 1,300 U.S. servicemembers, including 160 special operations advisers, begin moving into the Philippines for Balikatan (“shoulder to shoulder”), a six-month counterterrorism exercise with the Philippine army against suspected al-Qaida sympathizers.
Feb. 21 — Forty American military personnel arrive in Tbilisi, capital of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, marking the first deployment of U.S. combat forces in the Caucasus region.
The troops, including U.S. Special Forces, are scheduled to train nearly 200 Georgian soldiers in light-infantry tactics to counter terrorist threats in the Pankisi Gorge.
March 2 — U.S. military launches Operation Anaconda, a 17-day mission to root out hundreds of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts in the Khost and Paktika provinces.
Seven U.S. servicemen die March 3 and 4 during a firefight. Participants from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the 10th Mountain Division later quietly voice doubts that many enemy troops were killed.
April 1 — Eight Army soldiers and two Air Force pararescuers are killed when an Army MH-47 Special Forces Chinook helicopter crashes in the southern Philippines, in the ocean waters just off the coast of the south-central city of Dumaguete.
April 25 — Pentagon officials announce that the U.S. Space Command will merge with the United States Strategic Command. The new command, based at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., harnesses in one entity the nation’s missile-warning network, its nascent national missile-defense system, and the Pentagon’s planning center for offensive nuclear and conventional weapons.
May 8 — Rumsfeld officially cancels the Army’s $11 billion Crusader artillery system, setting the stage for a battle with Congress in which the defense secretary ultimately prevails.
May 28 — The Marine Corps tilt-rotor Osprey resumes a test program at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., that could last two years. Defense acquisition chief Edward C. “Pete” Aldridge has said this is the last chance for the Osprey to prove itself airworthy before the program is canceled.
June 11 — The first in a six-week string of four alleged murders of wives by their soldier spouses takes place at Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the elite Special Forces Command. Three of the four soldiers accused of the crimes are recent returnees from Afghanistan, where they served with Special Forces units.
June 13 — With little fanfare, the Bush administration pulls the United States out of the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which bans space-based missile shields and other new nuclear missile developments. Russia and other countries oppose the decision.
July 1 — A missile launched by a C-130 Spectre gunship as part of U.S. military operations in the central Uruzgan province in Afghanistan results in civilian casualties. Local Afghans claim the gunship crew mistook traditional celebratory fire from a wedding party for an enemy attack and subsequently killed 48 civilians and wounded 117. U.S. military officials insist the crew was protecting itself from anti-aircraft fire, and contest the civilian toll.
July 27 — Unknown enemies attack a joint U.S.-Afghan reconnaissance patrol near Afghanistan’s eastern city of Khost, wounding five American soldiers.
Aug. 19 — About 600 soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division enter Afghanistan’s Zormat and Shah-i Kot areas for the opening of Operation Mountain Sweep, an effort to clear Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan of any remaining enemy forces. Villagers protest the 82nd’s “kick in the door” approach, but Pentagon officials point to captured arms caches and more than a dozen suspected Taliban affiliates taken into custody to justify the mission.
Sept. 9 — In the largest overhaul of the federal government in more than 50 years, Congress passes the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The bill creates a new Department of Homeland Security, which is charged with the mission of preventing future terrorist attacks on the United States. President Bush signs the legislation into law Nov. 25.
Sept. 11 — The first anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The Pentagon memorial ceremony is held at the site of the crash, revealing to the world the results of “The Phoenix Project” — a completely repaired exterior of the building.
Oct. 13 — A bomb blast in Bali kills 180 tourists, more than half of them from Australia. The attack, which intelligence officials attribute to al-Qaida, is the deadliest terrorist attack since Sept. 11.
Oct. 16 — North Korea admits to secretly moving forward with a nuclear-weapons development program, straining its already tense relations with the United States and South Korea.
Oct. 31 — Navy officials scrap plans for the DD-21 land-attack destroyer, shifting DD-21 development money into the DD(X) modular family of ships that could also be adapted for missile defense and littoral attacks.
Nov. 3 — A leading al-Qaida suspect, Qaed Senyan al-Harithi, also known as Abu Ali, dies in Yemen along with five others when an armed unmanned aerial vehicle destroys his car. Unnamed U.S. and Yemeni officials say the CIA orchestrated the attack.
Dec. 13 — President Bush announces that 500,000 “high priority” servicemembers will receive smallpox vaccinations. As commander-in-chief, Bush says that he, too, will be inoculated.
Dec. 17 — Bush announces plans to field a limited space-based missile defense system by 2004.
Dec. 24 — North Korean threatens “all-out war” against the United States while moving forward with preparations to restart its nuclear reactor. In response, the Bush administration halted fuel-oil shipments that were key to a Clinton administration deal to persuade Pyongyang to shut down its reactor.
Sandra Jontz contributed to this report.