New Delhi, March 10: The Indian military briefed the political leadership headed by the Prime Minister in the operations room of the defence ministry yesterday, giving its “educated understanding” of the situation in the Gulf.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, defence minister George Fernandes and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani were explained with graphics and maps the deployment of US and coalition forces around Iraq and given an assessment of force levels and components.
The briefing was given by the army chief General N.C. Vij, and was also attended by senior officers of the navy and the air force.
Among other things, the political leadership wanted an assessment of how long a war on Iraq by US-led forces could last, whether it could affect supply lines and if there was a chance of a spillover of the war from Iraq to other parts of the region. The heightened level of military activity on India’s western seaboard was also part of the briefing.
It is understood that the Indian Air Force was also asked to have contingency plans ready to evacuate Indians from the region. Like the conflict in 1991-92, this time, too, the responsibility for a large-scale evacuation of Indians from Iraq, Kuwait and countries thought to be vulnerable will in all likelihood vest with the Indian Airlines.
However, if required IAF transporters will be kept on stand-by “depending on the time available and the number of people to be evacuated”.
Yesterday’s briefing, called hurriedly, was part of the government’s preparations ahead of the all-party meeting held this evening. Among other things, the leadership was trying to assess if oil supplies could be disrupted.
The general assessment is that even if a war was to be unleashed without UN sanction, the US will try to ensure that oil supplies out of the Gulf continue unabated. India shares this concern with other countries.
The understanding in the security establishment is also that a war on Iraq will begin with a blitzkrieg — a continuous shower of aerial bombardment — to be followed by fast-paced movement by land forces to capture Baghdad.
While Iraq’s military infrastructure has vastly depleted over the years — since it has been in almost a state of constant war for the better part of two decades (first, the eight year war with Iran, then the invasion of Kuwait and Operation Desert Shield and since then the continues attacks on its defences in the north and south) — the fear that it might use chemical or biological weapons is high.
The military has relied on inputs for its assessment from defence attaches, India’s own experience with Iraq in the past, the presence of Indians as observers and peacekeepers in the Gulf. The military gave its understanding of the strengths and positions of the Iraqi military establishment, the position of neighbouring militaries and also the possible impact on Pakistan.