Rediff India Abroad
 Rediff India Abroad Home  |  All the sections


The Web

India Abroad

Sign up today!

Article Tools
Email this article
Top emailed links
Print this article
Contact the editors
Discuss this article
Home > News > Columnists > Colonel (retd) Anil Athale

Dawn of a new imperial era

May 15, 2003

Last week US President George W Bushdeclared the war in Iraq over. It is too earlyfor comprehensive analysis as much of the information is still classified,so this is only an attempt to delineate some pointers for further inquiry.

The much advertised 'shock and awe' did not take place atall. Thisconcept is not new:an opening artillery barrage has been a tactic since the 15th century and was used in India by Babar in 1526. The shock effect of the initial air strikesfailed primarily because the American bombing was selective.Despite all criticism about civilian casualties, Iraqis in Baghdadand elsewhere felt safe as long as they were not close tomilitary targets. The Americans thus lost the element of fear and uncertainty that is necessary to create awe.

Compared to the SecondWorld War bombing of Hamburg or Tokyo, the air attack on Iraq was 'humane'. Then how doesone explain the lack of resistance?

The obvious explanation for this is that Saddam Hussein and his supporters have simply melted away into the population andmay soon start an Algerian-type guerrilla war against the occupying American forces. The tactics would be to use individual snipers, landmines, and ambushes. The targets would be individual soldiers, one at a time.

Such tactics,carried out over a long period,can cripple the invader by instillingfear and forcing the soldiers to their bunkers. The first sniper attack has already taken place in Baghdad. It would be wise not to write the obituary of Saddam Hussein prematurely.

Gulf War I saw an air campaign that lastedclose toa month.This time around, the ground offensive began almost simultaneously.But comparing the twocan be misleading because underthe UN sanctions and 'no-fly zones', the American and British air forces have been pounding the Iraqi air defences for years. That made a long air campaign superfluous. Still the air supremacy, not just superiority, achieved by the Americans was breathtaking. Not a single Iraqi aircraft took to the air throughout this war. The air defences in Baghdad went silent quite quickly. It is as yet unknownwhat weapons the Americans used to achieve this.

Such was the American domination of air and space that ground fighting became a virtual adjunct to the air campaign. This means in any future war the Americans would be confident that they would be operating under conditions of total control of airspace. No nation at this momentcan challenge the Americans in this field.

This is in a way a throwback to1898, when, under General Kitchener, the British reconqueredthe Sudan at a cost of 500 of its soldiers while the Mahdi lost 20,000. The valiant Arab horsemen had no answer to the machine-guns of the British. A new imperial era seems to have dawned with airpower playing the role of the machine-guns of yesteryear.

Apparently the infantry weapons used by the coalition forces this time were the good old machine-guns and rifles, not very different from the ones used in the first Gulf War. The sensors and detection devices used werequite advanced and were openly flaunted on TV. But any soldier worth his salt knowssensors can only give an edge, not the kind of decisive superioritywitnessed here. So did the Americans have emp (electromagnetic pulse) or beam weapons? It was noticeable that all the TV pictures of war by 'embedded' journalists were long shots and avoided showing either the Bradley fighting vehicles or tanks in any detail.

Gulf War II can be called a truly landmark event, a revolution in military affairs rather than in military technology, for the single reason that this was the first time a war was fought in such close co-ordination with the 'special forces' or plain spies.

Even the opening act of war, the air attack to kill Saddam Hussein, was directed by the CIA.The special forces not only gathered intelligence, but actually controlled the direction and momentum of the air and ground offensive. Communication devices with global reach, detectors and sensors, personal protection gear, all played theirpart.In earlier wars, the special forces acted in support of the main army; here, the main force was acting in support of the special forces.

But the penetration of special forces would not have been possible without local support, whichputs a question mark on the possible Iraqi strategy of launching an Algerian-style insurrection.

The breach between Europe and America seems to have opened a transatlantic chasm. Incidentslike the French companyVivendi selling its assets in the US aregrim pointers in that direction. The blunt assertion by the French defence minister in New Delhi recently that India should be wary of the American embrace was unprecedented.The Russians tooseem to have stirred themselves, launchingno less than 10 military satellites this week. A marriage of French electronics with Russian space prowess could well create the second military 'pole' in the current unipolar world.

I am aware that I have raised more questions with no answers. As the Americans would say, the jury is still out and the long-term effects of this war will only show up in due course. But one thing is certain. With the major role of special forces in this and coming wars, internal cohesion and security have become vital even for external defence.

Guest Column

Share your comments

 What do you think about the story?

Read what others have to say:

Number of User Comments: 7

Sub: Dawn of a new imperial era

The analysis by colonel is neat. he has done a good analysis iraq war ii. especiall the about the Special forces and drawing a corallary ...

Posted by muthukumaran

Sub: The american weopons in Iraq

It should be obvious.The same ones that were used by the British and the Afgans in India-- Mir Jafars and Jaichands. The middle east has ...

Posted by Jimmy

Sub: Might Is Right

Dear Sir, A very well written article by Mr Anil. It only proves that might is right, whenever the nation is threatened, a la Israel. ...

Posted by Nishal

Sub: Good Analysis

It is real good analysis. Its political, executive, judicial and fourth estate Press(most pessimistic fellows of India) need to not only do the analysis but ...

Posted by pkg

Sub: Re: Dawn of a new imperial era

A fairly nice article by Colonel (retd) Anil Athale. This is certainly a welcome change from the rubbish served up by polemicists( I won't dignify ...

Posted by Hari Sivaraman



Copyright 2005 India Limited. All Rights Reserved.