There is more than one common factor between the wars the United States fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some may make uncomfortable reading. Both ended in America’s military victory at an unbelievably low cost in life; both expelled their targets from the territorial bases from which they committed their crimes; both cleared the way for enlightened government. However, both targets eluded capture and remain at large with sufficient resources to dog the steps of the United States and its allies and inflict enormous harm all over again. Saddam, after his first sanctuary in Minsk has been detected, has the resources to keep on moving and activate the illegal weapons he still commands.
Five weeks after the Iraq War began – and one week after it ended – DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources cite documents turned up by coalition forces in Baghdad which confirm Saddam Hussein and his regime did indeed possess nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. However, though on the run, he retains control of sufficient stocks of unconventional weapons, intelligence assets and money to wage war on the United States from bases and hideouts outside Iraq, where some of his WMD systems are also tucked away. So cunningly were they hidden that not a single banned weapon system has so far come to light amid the wreckage of the mighty Baath military, intelligence and political machine, with which a tyrant and his two sons held sway over 24 million Iraqis.
Although they have lost a land larger than California and almost the size of Spain, most of Saddam’s elite escaped in one piece, just as most of the Taliban’s leaders and Osama bin Laden’s operational core got clean away from conquered Afghanistan to continue operations from new bases in other countries.
The rank and file of the Taliban army melted into the local populace in Afghanistan and along the border with Pakistan. Taliban-al Qaeda fighting elements relocated in the Gulf, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Central Asia and Far Eastern countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. All they left behind were large weapons depots.
Here too is an analogy for Iraq, albeit on a different scale. A huge army of 45 Iraqi army divisions – some half-million troops – has disappeared as if the ground had swallowed it up. Failing a mass exodus from the country, the missing troops can only be accounted for by having shed their uniforms and gone home to their families. They have melted into the general population like the Taliban and al Qaeda of Afghanistan.
The resemblance between the two wars may stem from the fact that both were conceived by the same pair of strategic brains: US Central Command chief General Tommy Franks and his main sponsor in government, US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence experts, the two men fathered a bold and innovative concept according to which even big wars can be waged and won without large-scale and decisive battles. This revolutionary concept was first practiced in Afghanistan, where it was proved that massive ground forces were not needed for victory. The Afghan campaign hinged heavily on a combination of aerial might and small ground contingents made up of special forces and local militias backed up by commandos from allied neighbors – in this case, Russia and Uzbekistan.
The superfluity of massive aerial power in actual combat was demonstrated again in the Iraq War. Iraqi strategists knew that the Iraqi air force was no match for the advanced technology of the American air force and therefore kept its aircraft grounded. Indeed, there is no air force on earth today sophisticated enough to take on America’s state of the art air might. Stealth bombers and ageing B-52 warhorses were used for limited sorties against ground targets, but no major role was played by fighter planes and assault helicopters – even against enemy tank columns. The same applied to aircraft brought to the Gulf theater aboard half a dozen US and British carriers.
That’s not to say that fighter-bombers were not a key component of the overall war plan. Their role was preventive; many months before the war began, they carried out sorties to destroy Iraq’s stationary and mobile radar and air defense and anti-missile systems in the allied no-fly zones and inside the country.
And, one important footnote: While the Iraq War marginalized the direct combat role of fighter planes, bombers and assault helicopters, it highlighted the inestimable importance of flying transports for ferrying men and machines – even entire armored divisions – from point A to point B.