Dr. Anil A. Athale , ( Colonel Retd)
Coordinator Pune based Inpad.
Even a person with cursory knowledge of history would recognise that during the Second World War invasion of Russia, Germany, like Napoleon’s France, was doomed to failure. The fundamental reason was that the German resources were grossly inadequate. Hitler never realised the value of strong allies and had none. Even alliance with Japan was an afterthought and other allies like Italy, were inconsequential at best and a burden at worst. The initial technological superiority and the tactical brilliance as evidenced by the ‘Blitzkrieg’ victories obscured this basic weakness for a brief period. But in the end, Germany’s defeat was pre-ordained. In fact, the easy early victories actually worked against the Germans by postponing the midcourse correction needed and later it was too late.
The quick and relatively painless American victory in Iraq, over a year ago, acted similarly. It obscured the fact that Americans went into this venture of regime change through military force in Iraq, without any major external ally. The largest states, though not against American war aims, have stood aside due to American proclivity to ‘unilateralism’. Internally, the rag tag bunch of opposition leaders that it gathered were essentially rootless wonders whiling away time in safe confines of London and Washington. Kurds are certainly with the Americans, but even here, due to the sensitivity of Turkey, the Americans have been half-hearted in their support to the Kurdish cause. The one solid group, Shia, that is the numerical majority in Iraq and were victims of Saddam’s brutalities, were not co-opted due to hesitation over fear of Iranian influence. Even a tacit understanding with Iran, as was arrived at while tackling Afghanistan, seemed missing.
Thus is it any wonder that today the Americans are faced with a revolt from the diehard Sunni support base of Saddam from Falluja area and also from the Shia groups of Sadr. It is a situation of a classic two front war.
Like in case of Germany in 1941, the basic American premise is also fatally flawed. It is undoubtedly true that the US has the military muscle to conquer Iraq, as it did swiftly. But military force can defeat another military force but cannot build a nation or bring about political change. Expectation that the military force would achieve this political aim was false and the price US is paying today is the direct consequence of this initial blunder.
Military analysts are often accused of ‘worst case’ scenario based advice. The answer to that is , unlike in any other field in war there are no runners up. To over ensure success is the cardinal principle of military planning. It appears that the US military planning for Iraq war seemed to be based on the ‘best case’ scenario. But even more basically, the US lacks the instrument to implement its plans of occupation of Iraq, how so ever temporarily.
This lack of ‘occupation’ forces is deep rooted American problem. Throughout its history , be it first world war or the second, US approach has been to send its troops to defeat the enemy and then RETURN home at the earliest. Post cold war, the American ground forces have been built around technological superiority and shock effect. In this their forces, specially the Marines, are indeed top of the heap in the world today.
But the kind of job the American military is called upon to perform in Iraq today needs less technology and more manpower and leadership. What US lacks is the PBI ( Poor Bloody Infantry) . Manpower to do the most routine, boring and repetitive jobs like patrolling , manning barricades, protecting routes and convoys. From a highly centralised form of combat , the US army has to now perform the counter insurgency operations. These are diffused operations that use ‘adequate’ and NOT maximum force. Sort of in between stage , between all out war and policing. Here the junior leadership is crucial, the Captains and Majors.
There is obviously some disconnect at the tactical and doctrinal level as well. As an infantryman, one is appalled at the kind of huge weight American soldiers seem to be carrying while in combat. The kind of gear Commando’s carry when they are to be self sustained for several days. This weighty gear must be surely hampering their battle efficiency. It is still a puzzle as to why they are doing it.
Americans are NOT prepared to face the reality that what they are facing, both in Afghanistan and Iraq, is insurgency, plain and simple. But such is the powerful hold of ghost of Vietnam memory, that neither the US media nor the military is prepared to use the dreaded word ‘counter-insurgency’. This is not merely semantic issue but affects strategy, tactics and organisation of forces in both these theatres of war.
Desperate efforts are now on to rope in the manpower surplus countries like India and Pakistan to do the infantry job in Iraq. This is being called peace keeping and protecting UN presence. But counter insurgency is not peace keeping. The later operations are only possible with a degree of support of the people of the country where peace has to be enforced. Currently that situation does not exist in Iraq and only partially so in Afghanistan.
But India does not have the luxury of keeping off Iraq for all times to come. She has major political and economic stakes in Middle East. A victory for anti American forces in Iraq or Afghanistan, would, over long term, have adverse impact on India’s own war against terrorism. India could contribute substantially in ushering peace in Iraq and not just militarily. It is time for some bold initiatives.
The whole exercise of constitution making in Iraq is flawed. An un-elected and handpicked council made constitution does not have popular sanction. The first stage of peace process ought to begin with free and fair elections. It is the freely chosen representatives of Iraqi people who should then act as the constituent assembly to draft a democratic constitution for Iraq and also act as an interim government. This may seem tall order in face of the current level of violence. But once this step is initiated, the violence will die down. This has been the Indian experience in Nagaland, Mizoram and even in Kashmir. Even the failure in Sri Lanka taught Indians this very lesson. With Indian expertise in conduct of elections and running a democracy, she is ideally suited for the job. But for that India must be placed in driver’s seat under UN and not asked to act as appendage to the occupying American forces. This would be the mother of all ‘out sourcing’. But this presupposes that the US pronouncements on Iraq are genuine and they do not have a hidden agenda that has no place for the Iraqi people and their welfare.