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Q & A GEN. COLIN POWELL, USA (RET)


Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm.  U.S. casu- alties in the Persian Gulf War included 148 bat- tle deaths and 467 wounded. A total of 694,550 Americans deployed for Desert Shield or Storm and 235 died in theater of noncombat injuries or ailments. Many more thousands later died or became disabled from Gulf War-related illness linked to a variety of environmental and chemi- cal hazards.  In remembrance of the war fought 25 years ago, Contributing Editor Tom Philpott interviewed General Powell.


As a military power, how did America view itself in 1990? I’ll start with the invasion of Panama in December 1989. Military dictator Manuel Noriega long had ignored


warnings against harassment of American citizens and then one American was killed. President Bush authorized what our commander there, [Army Gen.] Max Thurman,


and I had been thinking: a full coup de main. We sent in 13,000 troops on top of 13,000 already there and took down the whole [Panamanian De- fense Force]. It was a good operation. Not a huge war, but it worked. We got rid of a dictator and put in the elected civilian president who had been in hiding. It was a fi rst test for me and Max and the Joint Chiefs. We did it well. It showed what combined opera- tions were like these days. So we heard from the American people: “Hey, you guys can do something.” They’ve had peace in Panama with no American soldiers present for the last 26 years. After the invasion, in my fi rst full


year as chairman, I faced the big- gest task we had. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had to fi gure out how to re- duce our armed forces in response to the end of the Cold War and pressure from Congress. It would require a major transformation of U.S. forces to pay a peace dividend, yet we had to do it in a way that our forces remained as capable and strong as at the start of transforma- tion, just not as large. We worked on that for most of early 1990 and had a plan in place to cut 25 percent of the force. On Aug. 2, the same day President Bush was to give a speech on the new force struc- ture, Iraq invaded Kuwait.


Powell waits with Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, right, outside the Pentagon in the early days of Operation Desert Storm.


64 MILITARY OFFICER JANUARY 2016


On that date, how would you assess U.S. military capabilities? Were there weaknesses you hoped to address during the drawdown? The transition hadn’t begun, so our military was quite large and strong. The Soviet Union was no longer an immediate threat. It was coming to an end, and we were in good stand- ing with the Russians. So not only did I have all of the forces based in


PHOTO: DOD


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