New Delhi, March 19: A study carried out within the Indian security establishment has projected four possible options for attack by US-led forces on Iraq. The study is the result of a close “professional” watch by the Indian military on the build-up around Iraq.
The Indian military has also drawn lessons from its own experience of military-to-military contacts with Iraq — that have since all but ceased — and from the presence of Indian military contingents in UN peacekeeping missions in the Gulf.
Earlier this month, the political leadership, led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and including deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, was given a briefing by the chief of army staff, General N.C. Vij, in the operations room of the defence ministry in South Block.
Officers from the Directorate General of Military Operations, the Directorate General of Military Intelligence, the air force and the navy were also present.
The briefing preceded a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security. It dwelt on the possible consequences for India in the event of a war in the Gulf with emphasis on the security of oil supplies.
The briefing was also largely the Indian military’s “educated assessment” of the situation in West Asia and the possible course of a war on Iraq. It could be little else for India is not part of the US-led war effort. Nor does India have a lively military relationship in the region.
Data compiled within the security establishment confirm that there is “a huge asymmetry of forces” in the US-Iraq standoff. That is the jargon for a conventional war that is predicted to be one-sided.
The Iraqi defence is likely to be organised on three tiers: the outer tier that will be manned by the regular army, a middle tier of the Republican Guards and an inner tier of the Special Republican Guards. The defences of the Republican Guards and the Special Republican Guards would be mostly in and around towns and cities and population centres.
Decades of fighting war or coping with a failing economy and a sanctions regime have degraded the Iraqi military machine so much that all divisions apart from the Republican Guards are not expected to be more than 50 per cent fighting fit. Only a third of its weaponry is comparable to western standards of quality.
The US-led forces, on the other hand, have the best of equipment and an arsenal that is the best that money can buy. In the event of a war, the US-led forces will be commanded by the US Central Command, which is understood to have moved to its forward headquarters at Camp As Saliyah near Doha, Qatar, from Tampa, Florida.
The US army nerve centre in the region would be at its headquarters, the Army Central Command (Arcent) in Kuwait, the navy would be commanded from Manama, Bahrain, and the air force from Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia. But the US-led land forces will be operating from Turkey and Kuwait with possible special operations out of Jordan. In the event of an invasion, the marines will be tasked to secure bridgeheads. That would mean Iraq’s small coastline of 58 km in the Persian Gulf.
Common to all four possible options of attack is an air assault by combat fighters and bombers and also from ship-launched missiles such as Tomahawks. Iraq’s air defences are already degraded with successive US-led strikes to impose the no-fly zones in Iraq’s north and south.
In a sense, the conflict is already into its first stage, the study suggests. This is the stage of “psy ops” and includes pressure by building up of forces, secret contacts with Iraqi divisional commanders to engineer surrenders and defections.
In any conventional war, the first phase of air assault is primarily aimed at moving from “air parity” to “air supremacy”. In Iraq, “air parity” almost does not exist.
The scenarios for attack envisage assaults by land forces from the north and the south and also a possible use of Kurdish and Shia rebels. The Kurdish rebels are mostly to the north of Baghdad and the Shia to the south.
The use of Kurdish and Shia rebels is most likely in a scenario that envisages Saddam Hussein’s forces attempting to draw in US-led forces into street-to-street battles in towns and villages. The air assault will then “soften” up targets to allow for the rebels to attack before targets recuperate.
In a second scenario, tentatively termed the “light force option: inside-out approach”, an air assault is followed by the dropping of an air-borne division in and around Baghdad. These forces will then seek to expand their area of influence by waging battles while progressively expanding in concentric circles with Baghdad in the centre.
A third scenario of attack sees ground offensives by land forces from Kuwait and Turkey steadily closing in on Baghdad from the north and the south.
In a fourth scenario — the “combination approach” — ground forces and rebels capture areas in a steady march towards Baghdad to link up with air-borne divisions.
In Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the air campaign was followed by US-led forces assisting the Northern Alliance to reach Kabul and oust the Taliban. In fact, Operation Enduring Freedom actually did not have a battlefield climax because the Taliban fled and the Northern Alliance advance to Kabul in the final stages did not see bloody battles.
The study indicates an air campaign in Iraq could last 15 to 30 days. Military experts do not hazard a guess on how long it would actually take for the US-led forces to overrun Iraq. “Anything between three to 30 days,” one said.
The US-led forces will be particularly concerned with “economic targets” — mainly oilfields — and a desperate use of chemical weapons. In the 1991 war, as the Iraqi forces withdrew from Kuwait, they set several oilfields on fire. Another concern will be possible terrorist attacks in the rear. In the countries around Iraq, where US-led forces are at staging posts, drills are being carried out for emergencies involving chemical weapons.