America’s Forever War Is Getting a New Name
‘Shield’ ops replace Enduring Freedom moniker
The Pentagon is subtly changing how it talks about its fight against terrorists.
Since around 2011, the Defense Department has been slowly re-branding counter-terrorism operations overseas. The new trend is to use code names that end with the word “shield.”
War is Boring is aware of at least four “shield” missions going on right now. These efforts include Juniper Shield in North and West Africa, Octave Shield in East Africa and Spartan Shield in the Middle East.
These are all new names for parts of Operation Enduring Freedom or OEF. By 2010, OEF had branches in Afghanistan—where American and Afghan commandos are pictured below—plus the Caribbean and Central America, the Horn of Africa, Kuwait, The Philippines and Africa’s Trans Sahara region.
This new “Shield” ops aren’t limited to foreign lands. Operation Gladiator Shield is the Pentagon’s defense against terrorists in cyberspace.
We don’t know exactly why the military is changing the names—nor why now. However, the U.S. has done this sort of thing before, for a number of different reasons.
Put on your happy face
American military operations get their nicknames according to a number of established conventions. The moniker might reference a broader policy or indicate which branch of the military is in charge.
The Pentagon might change a mission’s name to indicate a shift in policy. The goal might also simply be to try shift attention away from the campaign.
For example, in 1966 the military renamed the second phase of Operation Masher in South Vietnam as Operation White Wing. The U.S. hoped the new name would focus attention on American assistance there rather than the bloody slog against the Viet Cong.
The Defense Department made a similar change shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Operation Infinite Justice lasted a mere five days before changing to Enduring Freedom.
The new name worked well with the prevailing “freedom” narrative of the time. OEF also avoided any possible association with Operation Infinite Reach—the Clinton administration’s ineffectual missile strikes against Al Qaeda in 1998.
In the same way, the Obama administration has been keen to cut links to former president George W. Bush. In March 2009, the White House told the Pentagon to stop using the Bush-era term “Global War on Terror” or GWOT.
Bush had coined GWOT in 2001. Since 2009, Washington has used the vague term “overseas contingency operations” to describe fighting abroad. The Pentagon might be hoping that its new anti-terror “shield” will also seem different from previous operations.
Names also get changed to keep certain activities out of the public eye. In 1971, code names for secret operations in Cambodia and Laos changed after documents leaked to The Washington Post.
The Pentagon is secretive about the new operations and says it does not, as a rule, comment on ongoing military operations. The new nicknames do not regularly appear in official releases and spokespersons have generally deflected requests to explain them.
The Defense Department may have also taken the idea for the “shield” convention in part from the Department of Homeland Security. In March 2003, DHS started Operation Liberty Shield to defend against terrorism in the U.S.
Ending the ‘forever war’
Of course, there is also the possibility that the new naming trend is simply a coincidence. The titles of many missions remain unchanged—at least so far.
If it is a new policy, the Pentagon and its branches also don’t seem to have a firm handle on it yet. Sometimes the new names appear side-by-side with the old names in official documents.
OEF is still the name of the over-arching global anti-terror plan, which only adds to the confusion.
Whatever the case, the changes appear to be primarily administrative. The Pentagon doesn’t seem to be scaling back its counter-terrorism efforts to any great degree.
In the end, the Pentagon’s new “shield” ops will likely end up just as far flung as OEF—and maybe more so—unless the threat of terrorism somehow subsides. This “forever war” is probably far from over.