The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Conflict outlives predecessor and looks much older

Kuwait, March 26: How similar are the first and second Gulf Wars'

The 1991 war in the Gulf lasted 43 days and most of it was aerial bombardment. The ground war began at 4 in the morning of February 24. In about a hundred hours, the “mother of all battles” was over.

The new war also began at dawn at 5.30 am but most of the similarities end there.

In the first war, Iraqi forces left Kuwait, which they had invaded earlier in August. The US and allies not only raided Iraqi forces in the desert but also Iraq itself. It was the attacks on Baghdad and in Iraq that shook the military leadership and forced the retreat of the troops to the home base.

This time, the context is different though the players are the same. It is Iraq that has been invaded.

Militarily, the ground war has begun almost simultaneously with the aerial bombardment. Therefore, the new ground war has already outlasted that of 1991.

Why did the ground war begin simultaneously with the air war'

Two reasons: First, political. The US and allies know that the longer the war lasts, the better it is for Saddam Hussein. The likelihood of collateral damage and the possibility of a groundswell in public opinion against the Americans, particularly in the Arab world, is high then.

Second, military. The coalition land forces were perforce concentrated in Kuwait, actually, in half of it, for months.

Kuwait is a small country. The smaller the staging area for an invasion, the greater the likelihood that an attack by the defender will take a heavy toll.

With Saudi Arabia and Jordan not agreeing to be staging posts for an invasion of Iraq, the forces had to be concentrated here.

The absence of a credible northern front yet -- though that is being sought to be opened up – also retards the progress of the invasion.

Therefore, the US-led military “shook out” of Kuwait, and the ground war was launched simultaneously with the air war.

The rapid advance through the Samiya Desert in Iraq has ensured that the vanguard of the US 3rd Mechanised Infantry Division is close to Baghdad now.

One significant reason for the lightning stride is that the invading force is largely bypassing cities and defences. Had, for instance, Saudi Arabia thrown open its borders to the US forces, they would have got to where they are now even earlier.

There are enough instances in military history in which an invading army makes rapid ground at first. That is what has happened this time in Iraq, too.

The US will forever be afraid of getting bogged down into a “dirty little war” in Iraq as it was in Vietnam. On the other hand, the US military, which has not been prone to taking risks since the Vietnam experience, has taken one this time.

Why' Because the Americans are sure that the superiority in men and material will overcome Saddam’s forces.

Another important reason for the advance is technology. Technology has compressed the duration of wars, just as it has compressed so much in life. But technology has not changed the pattern of the war.

A war that is into its sixth day is still a “young” war but the information blitz is making it look much older. This is because time has been “compressed”. If past wars were about being information-starved, this one is about being information-surplus. It is necessary to sift through the intelligence in that glut.

It will not be surprising to find television viewers tiring of the same images, though this war is just past a little more time than a full-length Test match.

Imagine, what it is like then to the men and women fighting the war, either as invader or as defender. Add to it the months and years of preparation that have gone into it.

Saddam’s regime is, therefore, trying to play politically to win the war militarily. This war does not have to last 40 days to make the world war-weary.

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