Thomas A. Keaney
The US air attacks on the Iraqi air defense system have become a daily event, causing many to question what part they play in US strategy toward Iraq and where these air attacks are leading. Do they signal a new departure for US strategy? Are they a continuation of the Desert Fox campaign of last December? Or, are they merely a reaction to Iraqi testing of the no-fly zones with no greater importance? Finally, based on any of these perspectives, how effective can air strikes be in achieving US objectives, and what are the risks? My remarks today attempt to address these questions.
First, let me state that I have no access to the assessments of the damage done in Iraq by air strikes, nor have I any direct information on the military planning done by US Central Command to carry them out. My perspective is of someone reading the published accounts in open sources and from looking at these air attacks in the context of my experience in examining the employment of air power during the Gulf War. Rather than conclusions, you should take my comments as issues you should want to know more about as you deal with those responsible for the planning and US strategy in the region.
Just after the Gulf War, I became part of a team commissioned by the Air Force to study all aspects of the employment of air power in that war and to publish our findings. Modeled on the strategic bombing survey accomplished after World War II, the personnel of the Gulf War Air Power Survey were drawn from different backgrounds, civilian and military. The director was Dr. Eliot Cohen, Director of Strategic Studies at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University (my present employer). The Air Force, and to a lesser extent the other services and our coalition allies, gave us complete access to their records of the war and permitted extensive interviews. It was during this work that I examined closely how air power was employed and with what effects. As closely as possible, we looked at the relative effort at each of the target sets in Iraq, examined the results and linked them to the objectives of the air campaign. I co-authored two reports of that study: the Summary Report, looking at all aspects of air employment, and the Effects and Effectiveness of the Bombinga specific assessment of air powers effect on all Iraqi targets: leadership, command and control, weapons of mass destruction, the air defense system, electric power, oil, transportation, Scuds, military support facilities, and, by far the targets attacked the most, the Iraqi army.
Though the Gulf War analysis serves as my background, I would like to begin by stating that the Desert Storm bombing campaign of 1991 was quite a different endeavor from what has been going on in 1998 and 1999. Differences in scope, coalition support, focus, and desired results, to name just a few. Any lessons from the Gulf War, or analogies offered, therefore, must be used with caution. For instance, in Desert Storm, the principal targets were the deployed Iraqi army and the support of those units and to a lesser extent Iraqi naval and air forces. The total number of strikes against Iraqi leadership and command and control targets was less than 5% percent of the total; number of strikes against the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and Scud targets was just over 5%. And, the numbers support the focus of that campaign: it was to get the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. Some were watching to see if the Iraqi leadership would be pressured by strikes against Baghdad, but the focus by Gen. Schwarzkopf and the Washington planners was on the Iraqi army itself, letting its destruction pressure Saddam Hussein. Finally, the numbers of precision weapons represented only a small part of the totals. General-purpose bombs used outnumbered laser guided bombs by more than 20 to 1, though here the numbers can be deceiving in the other way. For the types of targets of most interest for understanding Desert Foxleadership and command and control targetsthere was a disproportionately higher employment of precision weapons in Desert Storm. Nearly all of the attacks on Iraqi government leadership during Desert Storm, for instance, were by precision weapons. In other words, Desert Storm results do have relevance for effects against these kinds of targets.
Desert Fox of December 1998 bears some similarity to the attacks on the strategic targets in Desert Storm. The focus was on leadership, command and control, weapons of mass destruction (NBC category of the Gulf War) and their delivery means (Scuds). Four Republican Guard units were attacked, but here too the emphasis was on the command and control of those units. The attacks took place for only four days, only at night, and precision weapons were the dominant means used. The numbers of Tomahawk cruise missiles and airborne cruise missiles used exceeded the number used in all of Desert Storm. And, while the effects of these attacks must be greatly speculative, one can assume that there was far better intelligence available to the planners on these targets than was the case in 1991.
Measuring effectiveness of Desert Fox bombing, of course, begs the question of "compared to what", and here the answers get murky. The stated objectives were to degrade, to diminish, and to demonstrate. Did the strikes degrade Saddam Husseins ability to make and use weapons of mass destruction and diminish his ability to wage war against his neighbors? Without some metric of how much degraded or diminished, the answer becomes an almost automatic yes as soon as any weapons hit their target. I assume that the objectives were stated that way for reasons of political cover, not as the basis for military planning for the attacks. I also assume there were unstated objectives that were just as important: to weaken the regimes control of the armed forces and the Iraqi people, for instance. If not in Desert Fox, such objectives have become much more an explicit part of US strategy since then. For both sets of objectives, stated and unstated, there is some evidence that Desert Fox was quite effective. For example in the immediate aftermath of Desert Fox, there were reports of Iraqi security forces moving throughout the country, and General Zinni stated that there were signs that Saddam was having problems. But for Desert Fox to be deemed truly successful there needs to be some continuing impact, aside from the immediate effects of what took place during four days in December. There must be some effects to counteract at least one visible effect of the bombing campaignthat the inspection regime is now no longer in place. The line of inquiry I would have for the those responsible, now almost three months after Desert Fox, would be (a) whether the signs of unrest and opposition in the country were short term phenomena or are still there; (b) whether the degradation of WMD programs and diminishment of capabilities are truly measurable and significantmore important now in the absence of the previous inspections regime; and (c) what takes the place of the inspections as a way of monitoring and stopping WMD development?
The present series of air attacks on the Iraqi air defense system does not appear to be in any way related to Desert Fox operations, nor are these two operations comparable in any meaningful way. If they represent some new departure in US strategy in the region as some have suggested or posited, I am at a loss to explain it. And, viewing these retaliations as a new strategy, and, moreover, one that is working out very well for the United States, calls into question the elements of such a strategy.
The continued attacks on Iraqi defenses are perfectly understandable as strictly retaliatory operations against the Iraqi challenges, but that does not make them a strategy or the makings of one. I dont see how those retaliatory attacks could be either lessened or significantly escalated without undesirable political effects for reasons that I think are well known. There has been some escalation, of course, from attacking a missile site to attacking the communications system that controls the site, for instance, but the targets and probable effects still remain quite limited. The argument that these attacks on an already dismembered air defense system can contribute significantly to military or regime instability does not seem persuasive. And, before that escalation went further, I would want to know quite precisely where it was going, and what results were sought.
Complicating the view of retaliatory attacks as strategy is the reality that Iraq maintains the initiative in these operations, and that situation should not be comfortable for the United States. The Iraqis pick the time, place, and, to a great degree, the extent of the operation. At the risk of an anti-artillery site, arguably of little worth to Iraq, the Iraqis are able to prompt a reaction and hope to bring down a US or British aircraft. And, despite losses, Iraq has clearly been able to limit its exposure. Central Command has claimed more than 20% attrition of the Iraqi air defense system, but notice that despite numerous incursions into the no-fly zones, no Iraqi aircraft have been shot down. In short, in terms of targeting, the present operations bear little relationship to Desert Fox, and the initiative has gone over to the Iraqis.
For the operations themselves, a number of questions arise.
--Whats the plan when something goes wrong? Iraqi air defenses are in disarray--aircraft malfunctions or a mid-air collision over Iraq probably represent as great a danger to the crews as being shot-downbut what further response is planned for the loss of an aircraft or seizure of crewmembers?
--Further, although no differences are apparent between the US and British perspectives on these operations, there is an important seam between the US commands that requires a close look: Northern Watch, a combined joint task force of European Command, and Southern Watch, a task force of US Central Command, are conducting essentially parallel operations with no single commander in charge, though they are confronting a single Iraqi strategy. If two US commands are required, even greater attention is required to maintaining unity of command so that the Iraqis confront a single, coordinated operation.
With the above opening statement, and questions, I am ready for your questions.
Thomas A. Keaney
Thomas A. Keaney is the executive director of the Foreign Policy Institute and senior adjunct professor of strategic studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC. Until 1998 he was a professor of military strategy at National War College, Washington DC, and director of its core courses on military thought and strategy. During 1991 and 1992 he was a researcher/author with the Gulf War Air Power Survey. He was co-author of two reports of that survey: The Summary Report and The Effects and Effectiveness of Air Power (both published by the U.S. Government Printing Office in 1993). He is also author of Strategic Bombers and Conventional Weapons: Air Power Options (National Defense University Press, 1983). His most recent publication (with Eliot A. Cohen) is Revolution in Warfare?: Air Power in the Persian Gulf (Naval Institute Press, 1995). He is a graduate of the National War College. He holds a B.S. from the U.S. Air Force Academy and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history from the University of Michigan.
During a career in the U.S. Air Force, he served in positions including: associate professor of history at the U.S. Air Force Academy; planner on the Air Staff; forward air controller in Vietnam; and B-52 squadron commander. He retired as a colonel in 1991.
Pursuant to Clause 2(g) of Rule XI, I am reporting that the School of Advanced International Studies, my employer, has a contract with the Department of Defense for an Executive Management Development and Training Program. This contract, carried out in partnership with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public affairs, Syracuse University, provides for conducting an eight-week Senior Officials in National Security Course, a two-week Senior Executives course, and a two and a half-day Defense Policy seminar. I take part in the conduct of each of these courses.