Thursday 24 July 2003

Where are the WMDs?

There's so much disinformation and sheer lunacy being emanated from the people who should be "keeping the bastards honest" as the (Australian) Democrats used to say with some credibility, that some inportant issues have been swept under the carpet.

The one that most worries me is the question of WMDs. Please bear with me here, it's not the issue that's been publicised.

The Forces that went into Iraq were fully equipped with what's called "MOP suits". MOP = Military Operational Posture, if I remember correctly. These suits are designed to provide some degree (not complete) protection against Chemical and Biological weapons. Wearing them in a hot environment greatly decreases the effectiveness of troops - a simple task that takes 5 minutes under normal conditions ( such as changing a Nitrogen bottle in a Fighter ) can take many gruelling hours while under anti-gas conditions, and leave the wearer of the suit exhausted with heat prostration.

That's the major effect of Chemical Weapons against military targets - not to cause casualties, but to cause them to lose efficiency, and slow everything down. It's only against unprotected civilians that you get large numbers of deaths.

Because of this increase in the "Friction of war", you don't have this gear worn and ready-to-use unless you absolutely have to. You have it nearby. Just look at the pictures from WW II, where the Germans often had a fluted cylindrical container as part of their battle dress. This contained their Gas Mask. The British and US had similar gear, but put it in cloth pouches (the Brits in both WW I and WW II wore theirs across the chest, for example). Nearby, but not worn.

But in Iraq, in the first few days, troops often looked like this ... which severely hampered their abilities.

We - including sometime professional military analysts like myself - expected either immediate use, or (as we hoped), deterrence of immediate use of chemical weapons. They were there, ready to fire, and in large quantities. We were as sure of this as you can be of anything amidst the "Fog of War."

Remember what UK Lt Col Collins said in a widely reported speech :
"It is not a question of if, it's a question of when. We know he has already devolved the decision to lower commanders, and that means he has already taken the decision himself. If we survive the first strike we will survive the attack."
"We know he has already devolved the decision to lower commanders." That is a sure indication of local SIGINT (signals intelligence) that messages had been transmitted and acknowledged ordering the readying of the WMDs. All modern military units have their own SIGINT sections, they can't rely on the often-delayed "Central Intelligence" sources such as NSA, CIA, GCHQ (that one's British), NRO etc for up-to-the-minute information about local conditions.

So what happened? Because the gas-filled rockets and shells that we were sure were with the Iraqi units... weren't. They may be buried out in the desert somewhere, they may be in Syria or even Iran. They may have been sold on the Black Market months ago. We know they existed - have even found a few - but not in large quantities and ready to use.

This indicates an Intelligence stuff-up of truly epic proportions. We were had - and not by Bush, or Blair, or Howard. Perhaps not even by Saddam. The most believable hypothesis is that somewhere between Baghdad and the Front, this gear got...lost. The commanders at the front were reporting all was well, everyone was fully equipped, while their troops were deserting in droves. The commanders get to pocket their troops' pay that way. This has been a common occurence throughout history - military parades were originally designed to prove to the paymasters that the troops actually existed and were properly equipped. It happens all the time today in many "developing" countries.

But... we should have known. We didn't. And that's a worry.

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