Washington, April 1 (Reuters): US and British forces may be compelled to fight at night because of the searing heat if the war in Iraq drags on into late spring or early summer, analysts said yesterday.
The troops could also risk heat stroke on the battlefield if they don full-body chemical warfare suits in soaring temperatures.
Every day that passes raises the chances that the invading armies will have to fight in the heat expected to come to Iraq, particularly southern Iraq, starting in late April and May.
“It’s only logical that the senior leadership wants to avoid large-scale operations in extreme weather conditions. You just don’t want to do it. It’s incredibly hard on the troops,” said retired US Marine Corps Col. Phil Anderson, an analyst with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
“Once it heats up to more than 37° Celsius, it’s going to make things very, very difficult.” The average daily high temperature in Iraq in May is 35° Celsius, rising to 40° Celsius in June .
Air force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the military’s joint chiefs of staff, has said US forces are capable of fighting in any weather, but said night-time operations could be used in order to avoid the heat of the day. US officials also have made the point that the Iraqis would have to fight in the same heat as the American and British forces invading Iraq.
“There is no doubt that — no matter what time of year — we can fight and prevail,” Myers said in remarks before the war began. But he said combat in the brutal temperatures that can occur in the Iraqi desert might prove difficult, particularly if US troops had to be outfitted in restrictive, full-body suits to protect against chemical or biological weapons.
“We will do better in that (summer desert) environment than any potential adversary. And part of that is enabled by the fact that we can fight at night,” Myers said.
“We are as good at night as we are in the daytime. That is not true of most forces and it would give us a tremendous edge.”
The threat of suffering heat stroke and dehydration may be particularly acute if US and British soldiers are compelled to don the protective outfits to guard against any Iraqi use of chemical weapons such as nerve gas or biological weapons such as anthrax, Anderson said.
He noted that the protective suit is not porous — “it doesn’t breathe” — and comes equipped with a hood and mask.
“Having worn that gear for extended periods of time, often times in very warm climates, you reach a point where it’s unbearable. Then you have heat casualties,” Anderson said.
Military analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute said one advantage of the heat in the event of an Iraqi attack with chemicals is that such weapons generally evaporate more quickly in the heat.“Chemical agents are less persistent in heat than they are in cooler weather,” Thompson said.
One way to evade the heat is with operations in the relative cool of the night. Analysts said the US military uses the best thermal and infrared night-vision equipment in the world, which can make extensive night operations possible. “We own the night,” Anderson said.
Analysts said armoured vehicles including the M1-A1 and M1-A2 tanks and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle are equipped with this technology, and individual soldiers and Marines have night-vision goggles.
Thompson said the desire by US commanders to avoid fighting in the heat already has had an impact on war strategy.
He said that after Turkey denied access to its bases for US ground troops to invade Iraq from the north, Gen. Tommy Franks had to decide between two options for opening a northern front in the war.
Thompson said the first option was to move a heavy armoured force into Iraq that could not be in place until late spring, when temperatures already could approach 37° Celsius.
The second option was to insert a light ground force of paratroopers that could be put in place without waiting but would not have the same level of firepower.
He chose the quicker option involving a less capable force. “That tells you how much he wants to avoid fighting in the hot weather,” Thompson said.
Military analyst Benjamin Works of the Strategic Issues Research Institute said the heat also affects logistics, causing a need for greater supplies of water to be trucked into Iraq to sustain thirsty troops.
“These guys are going to be drinking two gallons (7.5 litres) a day, drawing two gallons a day per man, minimum. That is a lot of water,” Works said.