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language of war

New U.S. Acronyms Surface for Iraq War
By VINCE CRAWLEY
Defense News, July 12, 2004, p. 30

These times, U.S. leaders keep telling their public, are like no other: The nation is waging a new kind of war against an enemy unlike anyone they’ve ever fought.

So it only makes sense that the U.S. military requires a whole new vocabulary to help 21st-century troops wage battle against heretofore inexpressible foes.

Thus, UBL started the GWOT, which led to OEF and OIF — but not OAF or OIJ. IEDs dealt a blow to the CPA, but hopefully the combined efforts of the MNF-I and the IIG will prevail.

The military has long been a source of linguistic inspiration. Generations of troops have given the world Jeeps and Humvees, snafu and fubar, radar and scuba.

** Here, in no particular order of importance, are the origins of some new military acronyms for a new millennium.

Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom

** OEF, OIF: First came Operation Enduring Freedom, originally the military response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Within weeks, the CAPs (combat air patrols) over U.S. cities morphed into the takedown of Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers.

President George W. Bush’s administration didn’t give the Afghan mission its own name, in part because of a desire to create the idea of a single, seamless worldwide campaign. Anyway, the acronym OAF — which hardly conjures an image of finesse — had been used by NATO for Operation Allied Force, the 1999 Kosovo war.

OEF was followed by OIF, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the overthrow of the Saddam regime. The Pentagon’s creation of a separate name for the Iraq war caused some heartburn for Bush administration officials who kept insisting the toppling of various unpleasant regimes was all one seamless military campaign.

OEF almost was OIJ. In the emotional aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, some officials referred to the military buildup against Afghanistan as Operation Infinite Justice.

Muslim clerics pointed out that justice at the infinite level typically is meted out by a much higher authority than even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, so the name quickly vanished.

** GWOT: It was inevitable that the long-winded term Global War on Terrorism would get shortened. Official Pentagon statements began including this shorthand about a year ago. The correct pronunciation remains disputed because the simplest rendering — it rhymes with “squat” — doesn’t convey the full grandeur of the undertaking.

** UBL: Short for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, who in 1996 declared war on the United States and other infidels whose presence in Muslim holy lands upset him.

Bin Laden’s first name is almost universally spelled with an “O” in English. But the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, which knew him long before he became globally infamous, still often calls him UBL in briefings and news conferences.

Arabic, of course, uses a different alphabet than English, and not everyone agrees on the best way to transcribe Arabic sounds. That’s why observant readers will see “k,” “kh” and “q” all used to depict the “soft k” that is so prevalent in words from that part of the world.

UBL predates the Sept. 11 attacks and harkens to a time when most people in the know preferred Usama as the English spelling of a fairly common Arabic name.

Bin, by the way, means “son of” and is a distant cousin to the English name Ben.

** MNF-I: The Multinational Force-Iraq took over military functions in Iraq after the June 28 transfer of power.

Previously, international forces were governed by CJTF-7. No one has explained what happened to the first six combined joint task forces, although little-known CJTF-4 apparently was the group that planned for postwar construction in Iraq.

A comparable force in Afghanistan is known as CJTF-76. By subtracting CJTF-7 from CJTF-76, conspiracy buffs might suspect there are as many as 69 other stealthy task forces that have eluded public scrutiny. Perhaps CJTF-55 was in charge of finding the 55 most-wanted Iraqis, while CJTF-22 is scouring the countryside looking for Saddam doubles.

And don’t confuse MNF-I with MNC-I, the Multinational Corps-Iraq, a subordinate headquarters overseeing combat operations.

** CPA: The U.S. overlords of Iraq originally were called the Coalition Provisional Authority, which formally ceased to exist on June 28.

** IIG: The Iraqi Interim Government, the hardy group of Iraqis that took over June 28, has not yet issued guidance on how to pronounce its acronym.

** IED: A plague of roadside bombs began assaulting U.S. patrols and convoys almost as soon as Baghdad fell. At first, these attacks were attributed to unexploded ordnance or grenades.

Then, as the killings mounted in mid-2003, troops sought a new way to describe the makeshift bombs, often created from looted military ordnance. Thus, the improvised explosive device — or IED — entered the military lexicon.

Last year, officials extended the acronym to VBIED, vehicle-borne improvised explosives devices. It is unclear why such an unwieldy phrase is needed to replace the much pithier “truck bomb,” which has wreaked havoc from Lebanon to Oklahoma for decades.
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