Britain reined in US military’s shock and awe strategy
By David Charter and Michael Evans
LONDON: Britain played a defining role in blocking an American plan to open the Iraq war with up to six days of shock and awe air strikes on Baghdad, The Times has learnt.
American commanders halved the planned bombing campaign after Air Marshal Brian Burridge, the commander of British Forces in the Gulf, argued that it would have disastrous political consequences.
The disclosure explains one of the great mysteries of the campaign: America’s failure to use its massive arsenal in an overwhelming attack to force immediate Iraqi capitulation. Defence sources said that Air Marshal Burridge was involved in a hotly contested debate over the airstrikes and their targets which lasted right until the first shots were fired.
British lawyers and military advisers adopted a “tighter” interpretation than Washington over what was a legitimate target, and some of those chosen by the Americans were removed from the list because of British objections. Air Marshal Burridge retained his national “red card” for every airstrike launched.
The dispute had broadened after Air Marshal Burridge, backed by London, told the coalition commander General Tommy Franks that he was totally against the shock and awe concept, believing that it would strengthen rather than destroy Iraqi resolve. In the end he was never forced explicitly to threaten to withdraw British military support because he was able to talk through his differences with General Franks.
“None of us ever approved of the phrase Shock and Awe because it painted totally the wrong picture, but it was the Pentagon’s favourite slogan,” one British source said.
The shock and awe tactic was championed by Lieutenant-General Michael Moseley, the US Air Force commander in the Gulf who argued that it alone could bring down Saddam Hussein’s regime, removing the necessity for a dangerous ground offensive which might face weapons of mass destruction. “We’ll never know whether shock and awe would have shortened the war,” one source said. —LT