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US opens way for summer war in Iraq to be fought at night

by Sean Rayment,, 5 January 2003


Allied commanders are drawing up plans to fight a war against Iraq entirely at night, allowing an invasion during the heat of summer.

Front-line American troops have undergone intensive training recently in preparation for night combat.

American soldiers possess the world's most advanced battlefield night-vision equipment. Generals believe that their ability to fight in complete darkness will prove to be a vital factor in the outcome of the conflict.

The possibility of a summer invasion gives President George W. Bush the option of delaying an attack until all the military and political factors are in his favour. Military commanders say that surprise remains crucial for a quick and successful attack against Saddam Hussein.

They accept that the Iraqi leader must now be aware of "how and where" his forces will be attacked. The unknown quantity is "when". They believe that making Saddam aware that a summer invasion is now possible will undermine his ability to prepare for war.

Until recently, US military chiefs hinted that a summer invasion of Iraq was unlikely because its desert temperatures can pass 104F (40C).

Military equipment, such as tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces, tend to develop problems in such heat, while troops can quickly become tired or dehydrated, especially if they have to wear heavy suits to protect against chemical or germ warfare.

Fighting a war at night, when temperatures drop to about 68F (20C), would eliminate many of the drawbacks.

Each American soldier is equipped and trained to use night-vision goggles, which have the effect of "turning the night battlefield into day". All front-line US troops are also issued with a laser target-marker fitted to their rifles. At the touch of a button, the laser will place a red dot on a target, showing exactly where the bullet will hit when the trigger is pulled.

Night-vision equipment is also part of the weapons system in every American tank, armoured troop carrier, jet aircraft and helicopter.

The British Army, which also prides itself on its night-time military skills, does not possess anything quite as good as the US equipment.

British troops usually share night-vision goggles, while a night-vision weapon sight, which can be fitted to the SA-80A2 rifle, is issued to only one for every three or four soldiers.

RAF fighter and bomber pilots are trained in night attacks, and some helicopter pilots are trained to use night-vision goggles, but their cost, at about #163;4,000 a pair, has prevented them from being standard issue to all troops.

Iraq's army, one of the world's biggest with almost 400,000 regular troops and 650,000 reserves, has a very limited night-vision capability. The 60,000-strong Republican Guard is equipped with Russian-made T-72 tanks, which do have night sights, but most Iraqi troops have none and would be dependent on flares and illumination from artillery rounds during a night battle.

A senior British Army officer, who has trained with US troops, said he believed that their capability to fight a full-scale war in darkness was probably the most powerful weapon in their armoury. The officer told The Telegraph: "The US has the best night-vision equipment in the world. It is light, sturdy and gives a crystal clear image with real depth, which allows the soldier to engage the enemy with a phenomenal amount of accuracy.

"Night fighting is part of US military doctrine and they train intensively in darkness in all operational theatres."

The officer added: "The current thinking is that the US will go to war when the conditions are right. If that is in June -- they will go in June.

"They would prefer to fight at night because their advantage is not diminished, but comparatively increased. Less well-equipped and trained armies, like the Iraqis, lose a great deal.

"This isn't going to be an El Alamein battle in which they're fighting for weeks and weeks in desert heat. It will be short, sharp and brutal."

Copyright © 2003 Telegraph Group Limited
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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