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Omaha World-Herald

Don't Hamstring Military Training

November 14, 2001
Copyright © 2001
Omaha World-Herald Company. All Rights Reserved.

Critics have berated the U.S. Navy's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for bombing practice. In some activist circles, the issue has become a cause celebre. Judging from one lawsuit filed in the matter, one gets the impression that activists are developing environmentalist arguments to question the need for bombing practices altogether, at any location.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the lawsuit in May 2000, claiming that "the Navy's operations at Vieques Island have been an environmental and social disaster without any redeeming military benefit." He added: "The idea that there is a national security issue involved here is ridiculous."

Legitimate argument is possible over Vieques as a particular bombing site. But the military's general need to carry out practice assaults remains essential. The current U.S. campaign in Afghanistan provides the proof.

Air strikes by U.S. forces have been crucial in pushing back Taliban fighters. Charles E. Miller, a retired Air Force colonel, points out that Navy aircraft, in particular, have provided "the brunt of the sorties to date, flying distances and sustained rates for which they are not designed."

Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. regional commander, has asked for deployment of a fourth American aircraft carrier to the area to increase the naval air presence.

To carry out their duties effectively, pilots for the Navy and other U.S. services need to be able to hone their skills through training that includes realistic bombing practices. The debate over Vieques should not distract Americans from appreciating that important aspect of national security.

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