By Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE
‘It appears to me we’ve remembered the lessons of 2003 and forgotten the lessons learnt from 1991?’
Exactly 25 years ago I was lining up with B Squadron 14/20 Hussars, a tank regiment, on the Saudi-Kuwait border about to cross the ‘berm’ to defeat the Iraqi Army who invaded Kuwait and return some stability to the region. Four hi-octane days of fighting through the desert led to the defeat of the Iraqi Army and the liberation of Kuwait. A relative peace settled on the region for over 12 years until the misadventure borne out of imprecise intelligence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), leading to Gulf War 2, which is probably the single most important factor leading to the current disaster in the Region.
In the ensuing 25 years, Iraq is almost a failed state, rent asunder by sectarian division, corruption and coupled with the failed uprising in Syria, has fuelled the rise of the so called Islamic State, which desires to build a Caliphate based on the most unholy terror.
The inactivity of the International Community after the WMD ‘redline’ was crossed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons at Ghouta in Aug 13, in part, explained as to not repeat the mistakes of 2003, gave ISIL the green light to expand. It also encouraged Putin to get fully engaged in the region, rekindling an ‘apparently’ phoney but potentially disastrous new Cold War.
What bought victory in 1991 that we are so steadfastly missing in 2016?
Firstly, a coalition of the willing…those willing to commit forces to comprehensively defeat the enemy, within proscribed objects.
1991 – Saddam out of Kuwait, his WMD out of Iraq, and unity of purpose in the Gulf.
2016 – The comprehensive defeat of ISIL, ceasefire and elections in Syria with the humanitarian commitment to rebuild both countries? We have at least removed ‘most’ of Assad’s WMD and a ceasefire is now on the cards.
Secondly, the Safe Haven put in place in 1991 saved the Iraqi Kurds. It is the Peshmerga forces, who are putting up the sternest fight on the ground against ISIL; but for the Safe Haven in 91 they would probably not be around to do this. It is highly likely that without this we would have seen millions of Iraqi Kurd refugees in Europe, as Saddam Hussein was bent on the extermination of the Kurdish people, which began in the Anfal Campaign of the 1980’s and is synonymous with the mass gas attack on Halabja in 1988. Safe Havens in Syria today would protect the 15 million displaced people and allow air drops to the 1 million starving in 17 besieged towns.
Thirdly, in 1991 the whole region was fully involved, collectively responsible for the military and political outcome. In 2016 not all are committed and not all are pulling in the same direction.
Finally, the commitment of overwhelming military force to defeat the enemy was deceive in 1991. The UK committed a complete Armoured Division plus air and sea power. Of course, we could now only manage a third of this, perhaps just an Armoured Brigade, but it would be British ‘boots on the ground’ to defeat this existential threat which is, according to the current UK Prime Minister, the greatest danger to our [British] way of life.
A coalition force made up of sophisticated and professional Western armies working side by side, and fully integrated with local forces, can defeat ISIL tyranny and restore some sort of peace and bring a sort of democracy – the type envisaged by TE Lawrence, exactly 100 years ago in this very region. World leaders could do a lot worse than read ‘The 7 Pillars of Wisdom’ by TE Lawrence and look at the lessons learnt from 1991 before embarking on the next chapter in this horror, rather than dwell on the errors of 2003?
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is a former Army officer and chemical weapons expert advising Syrian NGOs