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Two months after American bombs and missiles began pounding fighters of the so-called Islamic State, President Barack Obama’s undeclared war in Iraq and Syria finally has a name: Operation Inherent Resolve.
The Wall Street Journal had reported on Oct. 3 that the name had been considered and rejected, with one unnamed military officer saying “it is just kind of bleh.”
The long search for a name had sparked a flurry of jokes on Twitter, where one leading tongue-in-cheek suggestion was that it be called “Operation Hey Wasn’t That My Humvee” – a reference to U.S. airstrikes hitting Islamic State fighters using American equipment captured from Iraqi troops.
The Obama Administration announced the moniker a day after the president attended a meeting of defense chiefs from some 20 partners in the coalition trying to beat back the rampaging extremist group, which has captured broad swaths of Iraqi territory. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hosted the gathering at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, best known for being home to the blue-and-white liveried airplane that serves as Obama’s Air Force One.
Veterans groups had complained that the lack of a formal name could shortchange Americans risking their lives to fight IS by leaving them unable to claim the recognition of a combat medal. One American, a Marine, has lost his life in the operations.
Formally naming large-scale military operations has a long history ― the D-Day landings that helped defeat Nazi Germany were code-named Operation Overlord. But using the process to try to score public relations victories is a more recent phenomenon.
A previous Iraq war remains arguably the best example: American forces deployed to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield to keep Saddam Hussein’s troops from invading the kingdom in the same way that they had taken neighboring Kuwait. They unleashed Operation Desert Storm when the mission changed to booting Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait.
A previous Iraq War also provides one of the most painful how-not-to-do-this examples. The March 2003 invasion of Iraq to topple Hussein briefly carried the name Operation Iraqi Liberation – or OIL. A hasty rewrite turned it into Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The invasion of Panama, Operation Just Cause, was known among some junior military officers at the Pentagon as Operation Just 'Cause (as in "Just Because").
The U.S.-led response to Ebola in West Africa has been known as Operation United Assistance, while the war in Afghanistan, now America’s longest, will change in December from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Resolute Support.
That conflict’s original name had given Pentagon planners a headache, former Defense Department spokeswoman Torie Clarke recalls in her new book.
“Some knuckleheads had decided to call the military operations in Afghanistan ‘Infinite Justice,’” Clarke recalls. “That name turned out to be very finite, as Muslims around the world told us how insulting it was to suggest that we, rather than Allah, would decide infinite justice for anyone.”
Reboot. Officials responsible for naming big operations “swore they used computers and algorithms and such stuff,” Clarke writes. “I’m pretty sure they scrawled words on a white board and threw darts until they came up with Operation Enduring Freedom.”