Two recent conflicts may provide better indicators of the likely nature of a future U.S.-Iraq war: the 1989 invasion of Panama and the 1993 U.S. experience in Mogadishu, Somalia. In December, 1989, U.S. forces overthrew Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and defeated his armed forces. About 22,500 American personnel participated. The operation involved simultaneous nighttime airborne operations against 27 objectives throughout the country. Special forces infiltrated key sites shortly before the airborne assaults to take down Panamanian communications and oppose any attempts by Panama to reinforce its forces under attack. The massive, simultaneous assault against Panama's 4,400-strong defense forces and its paramilitary forces of several thousand more overwhelmed the latter, surprising them with its ferocity and coordination in the opening hours of battle. Twenty-three Americans died, as did about 125 Panamanian military personnel. Perhaps 200 to 600 Panamanian civilians died as well.
In the Somalia experience, U.S. forces faced ragtag militia opposition. Somali fighters had access to plentiful automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, and mines, but not much more than that, and they were not trained in combined-arms or coordinated military operations. As is well known, the United States had 18 soldiers killed in action on the night of Oct. 3-4, 1993 in the course of a raid on a building where leaders of the Aideed faction were meeting. The tragedy occurred when two helicopters were shot down by rocket-propelled grenades; additional American casualties were suffered in the effort to rescue any of the crew members that might have survived those crashes. About 2,000 U.S. forces were deployed for conducting and supporting such raids; only 160 participated in the October raid. Estimates of Somali militia strength were in the many thousands, with losses on Oct. 3-4 alone estimated at 300 or more combatants. Often forgotten is that a number of other American troops died in Somalia. Total losses reached 29 from hostile action and 14 from "nonhostile" action such as accidents.