The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Army sees power parade ground
- Heeling touch: Is this what awaits Indian troops'

New Delhi, June 17: The debate in the Indian security establishment on whether or not to send troops to Iraq to aid the Anglo-American stabilisation effort goes on against the backdrop of force projections already made by the military.

The view within the military is that working alongside US and British forces will give the army not only an experience it has not had but also “project national power”. India has one of the largest militaries in the world but is not reckoned as a power and Iraq can be the stage from where it will make its bid.

The troops assessment by the army — the directorate general of military operations in coordination with the additional director-general (perspective planning) and the directorate general of military intelligence — was made professionally and on the assumption that India will send troops to Iraq.

Such projections before an operation are normal for professional militaries the world over. It is still premature to read too much of political intent into this kind of an assessment because there are other countries which have been invited by the US and the UK to militarily contribute to the stabilisation force in Iraq.

Several of these countries have told the US and the UK in “force generation” conferences in end April-early May that they would be comfortable sending troops under a UN Security Council mandate.

If and when the decision to send troops is formalised, it will not only be a major military operation by any standard but will also be the first time ever that the Indian military will travel and operate beyond the subcontinent under the Indian flag.

On the two occasions the Indian military operated offshore on its own (not as UN blue-helmet forces), one was in the Maldives and the other in Sri Lanka. As the Indian Peacekeeping Force, they were invited by the beleaguered governments of the host nations.

The Indian military’s own study of the situation in Iraq — the army is not totally unfamiliar with Iraq given past military-to-military ties — has led it to conclude that a contingent whose brief would be “peace enforcement” (as distinct from “peacekeeping”) cannot but be prepared for combat. For such a role, the terrain in Iraq makes it mandatory to take along an armoured component.

The force projected by the military is deemed to be necessary irrespective of whether Indian troops are asked to be deployed in the north of Iraq — which is hilly — or in the south or central regions. As things are in Iraq now, the south of the country is under British control and the Americans are thinly spread out from the south central, through the central to the north. The least of the military complications is in the north where the Kurds have supported the American war.

The need for an armoured component in an Indian force has been projected not so much as an intent of aggression but as protection. An Indian troop deployment will require a detailed joint effort with the Americans and the British because they will have to undertake to keep the supply lines intact and running.

Such planning will involve working out details like the quantity and quality of diesel to be supplied for Indian tanks (the fuel used by the US and UK military may not be compatible with India’s Russian-made armour, for example), payment to Indian soldiers and officers and coordination mechanisms that will allow Indian troops to operate with their own methods despite the US Centcom chief, General Tommy Franks, being the immediate authority over Iraq currently.

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