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Cheney: 'no doubt' terrorists wish to strike again

Cheney addressing graduating midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy commencement Friday.
Cheney addressing graduating midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy commencement Friday.  

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney told the 965 graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy Friday that the role of the Navy will remain critical to the ability of U.S. forces to combat terrorism around the world.

"In your careers, naval operations will be every bit as important, if not more so, than they were in the last century," Cheney told the first class in more than a generation to graduate in a time of war.

Fourteen graduates of the academy were among the dead in the terrorist attacks of September 11, Cheney noted. "There is no doubt they wish to strike again and are working to acquire the deadliest of all weapons."

The vice president said U.S. forces must remain alert to the threat: "Wherever terrorists operate, we must find them where they dwell, stop them in their planning and, one by one, bring them to justice."

The war in Afghanistan has been waged with a combination of tactics and techniques that mark a turning point in modern warfare, he said.

Operation Enduring Freedom assembled the largest naval task force since World War II. And "overwhelming air power, much of it off carriers, removed the need for large, stationary forces on land," he said.

Within three weeks of the start of the war, Special Forces were operating on the ground in Afghanistan, and small teams of Navy SEALs were calling in air strikes and engaging enemy forces, Cheney said.

For the first time, Special Forces were able to assign targeting assignments to pilots and have them acted on within a matter of minutes, he said.

The addition of new technology -- such as unmanned predator aircraft -- to the coalition's armament also has aided in the effort.

Precision-guided bombs, which played a small part in the Gulf War, made up most of the munitions used by coalition forces in Afghanistan, "making our strikes far deadlier, and less so for innocent civilians," he said.

In addition, naval forces operating in Afghanistan established a ground base 450 miles inland, more than twice the distance previous doctrine considered supportable, he said.

The Class of 2002 includes 797 receiving commissions as ensigns in the U.S. Navy Reserve, 162 as second lieutenants in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and two as second lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

It also includes one graduate each from Bahrain, Cameroon, Croatia and Turkey. They will return to their countries and receive commissions in their own armed forces or enter other government service.

Since it was established in 1845, more than 68,000 men and women have graduated from the Naval Academy.




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