First attack 'a new military tactic'

Laura Elston,Pa News
Thursday 20 March 2003 01:00

The first strikes against Iraq illustrate a radical new form of military thinking, a defence expert said today.

Describing the action as a "decapitation exercise", US officials said the campaign was aimed directly at the Iraqi leadership and based on intelligence concerning their specific location.

Jeremy Binnie, Middle East editor of Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment, said he had believed that thousands of cruise missiles would be used in the first few hours rather than just 40.

"This does not look like the previous campaigns where we were looking to grind the enemy into surrendering through air power."

He added: "People are worried about civilian casualties. What they are trying to do is to remove the top of the regime.

"If you break off the communications, then the regime cannot communicate with the army, then the army will not fight.

"Who will want the risk of fighting independently? It is a slightly risky scenario, but they must be confident of their intelligence."

Mr Binnie continued: "This is the first time we have seen something like this.

"Before, in previous conflicts, they have used a large campaign to grind the country down and to make it clear who is powerful and to psychologically defeat the people.

"This is something completely new. It's going to be very interesting to see if it works.

"This is radical new military thinking. The civilians in the Pentagon will be hoping it works, but the military personnel may be more sceptical.

"Military officers tend to be more conservative with their tactics."

He added that sources of intelligence were an essential part of the strategy.

"Saddam Hussein's personal security is immense. Few people in Iraq know where he is. Building up the intelligence is critical so you know where their weak spots are."

Mr Binnie said it was thought that the F–117A Nighthawk fighters, which are virtually undetectable by radar, would be used to take down Iraq's air defences.

"This would have allowed ordinary aircraft to go in. But if they used a small attack, they may not have gone for the air defences. We shall have to see."

Thomas Withington, defence analyst at King's College London's Centre for Defence Studies, said the scale of the attack was different to what had been expected from the US.

"It's not the shock and awe the Americans were talking about," he said.

"We have seen the overture, but we have still not seen the main performance. A lot now will depend on what the weather is like.

"The interesting thing will be the battle damage assessment afterwards to see what effect it has had.

"They will be looking at it now – using satellites and flying U2 spy aircraft over the areas."

He added that he was not surprised by the tactics, saying that the opportunity to attack was seized after the receipt of intelligence.

"They probably had news that some people were on the move. Clearly what they want to do is remove the leaders at the earliest opportunity and shatter the communication and control inside and out."

Mr Withington said he believed that any further assaults would also be carried out at night.

"I think they're going to play it very, very safe, but that could change if they feel they have air superiority."

He added: "I think with any campaign there will be a lot of air power force before the ground troops go in.

"They want as few threats as possible for the troops."

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