Thursday, September 16, 2010

IN THE LINE OF FIRE

PAKISTAN REACTS ON INCREASING DRONE ATTACKS

US forces mounted over 100 + attacks inside Pakistan airspace – killing hundreds which included mostly innocent civilians during 2007. Starting from August 2008 Pakistan’s airspace was frequently violated and tribal areas were attacked with huge civilian causalities. U.S. forces in Afghanistan carried out at least 26 air strikes by unmanned aircraft on militant targets in northwest Pakistan since the start of September. But most of their targets were innocent civilians. Although Pakistan supported the U.S. led campaign against militancy but does not allow foreign troops or strikes inside its territory. These attacks violated the sovereignty of Pakistan and undermine efforts to deal with militancy by inflaming public anger.

CIA Operated Predator UAV
With protests mounting from the civilians against these drone attacks, the civilian government was compelled to issue a statement that Pakistan does not have the capability to stop these drones. Whatever the reason was behind this kind of statement is questionable, but this was countered by the PAF CAS Air Chief Marshall Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed. According to the CAS, despite its limited resources, the Pakistan Air Force is capable of intercepting drones but it is for the government and the political leadership to decide whether to handle the matter diplomatically or militarily.

The statement by PAF Air Chief was enough to put pressure on the civilian government to stand up to the United States and opposition parties were critical of the government's failure to stop the strikes. Then on 3rd September 2008 US-led forces carried out a ground assault in Angoor Adda, near the Afghan border, killing over 50 people which mostly included women and children. This incident was followed by another drone attack in which twelve people were killed and 14 others injured. The Pakistan Army CAS General Kayani then stated that the army will defend the borders at all costs against the backdrop of repeated US threats of cross-border raids inside Pakistan territory bordering Afghanistan. It refurbished army's image that had touched rock bottom because of its involvement in internal politics under Pervez Musharraf. Political leaders and the media, while welcoming Kayani's bold stand, made an embarrassing comparison to relatively feeble response from democratic government.

Following this PAF F-16s and Mirage ROSE-I started flying CAP in areas on the border with Afghanistan on Saturday in the wake of increased airspace violations by US drones and incursions by coalition forces into tribal areas. Following this were interceptions which included obtaining a radar lock on the drones, after which the drones disengaged and turned back to their home base. One notable engagement took place between a PAF Mirage ROSE-I and a CIA Reaper drone. Reapers are notorious for having limited air to air capability, but in this case the drone disengaged after being locked by the Mirage. In another engagement on the same day, US Blackhawk Helicopters containing an assault team, exchanged fire with a Pakistan Army outpost, after being fired upon. The US assault team was fired as soon as it entered Pakistan airspace and was forced to retreat.

PAF F-16s on a CAP mission near Afghanistan Border

Concerned over the situation Adm. Mike Mullen, the then U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Pakistan amid the increased tensions. Mullen met with top civilian and military leaders to discuss a range of issues, including ways to improve coordination and cooperation along the Pakistan-Afghan border as well as the drone issue. Admiral Mullen acknowledged the positive role Pakistan was playing in the war on terror and pledged continued US support. He reiterated the commitment to develop cooperation and coordination with Pakistan on critical issues that challenged the security and wellbeing of the people of both countries. Hours after the American military commander had assured Pakistan’s political and military leadership that the United States would respect the country’s sovereignty, missiles were fired from US drones on a house in South Waziristan, killing six people and injuring three others. Surprisingly no PAF aircraft intercepted the drone this time.

Followed by this incident the Pentagon and the Pakistani military denied a pair of reports that emerged September 15 that said PAF had repelled US air incursions. The aggressive posture of the Pakistan Armed Forces vanished much quicker than it was established. This forced the public to believe that either the Pakistani Government has signed a deal with the Americans in which they silently agreed that the drone attacks should continue, or the Americans have threatened Pakistan for dire consequences if they create any hindrance in their drone operations. Whatever the truth is, so far has not surfaced in the public, but this thing is for sure that the top brass of our leadership has sold our self respect, integrity and sovereignty for the price not known to us.

There is no doubt in that; the Americans upgraded the Pak Armed Forces, enhanced their training methods and provided necessary funds so that the Pakistan Armed Forces could actively participate in the ‘War against Terror’. Making Pakistan a frontline state against terrorism fulfilled numerous US purposes which includes:

1.US needed to station its forces in Afghanistan and for that the NATO forces used Pakistani territory and airspace for all sorts of logistic support which was cheap as compared to any alternate mean;
2.Due to the important geographical location of Pakistan, US wanted the control of the country in order to monitor China and Iran more closely. For that it influenced the top ranking armed forces officers as well as the civilian government officials so that they could run the country as per the US agenda;
3.Since Pakistani surface to surface ballistic missiles could target Israel with ease, US was desperate to gain control, or at least, monitor the Pakistani missile and nuclear arsenal. By achieving this motive, US wanted to make sure that Pakistan should not rise as a major power in South East Asia;
4.US sold Lockheed Martin products to Pakistan to keep the Lockheed Martin plant running till 2012, which could enable them to launch their new fighter, the JSF-35. Also by selling small numbers of aircraft to Pakistan, they tempted the Indians to buy their products in large numbers which could solve all sorts of problems for the company.

Due to increasing drone attacks, the Pakistani government expressed displeasure at US' incursions into its territory from across the Afghan border. While causing widespread anger among Pakistani population, the apparent US raids, including missile strikes and a ground assault, underlined Washington's concerns that the Pakistan government was unwilling or incapable of rooting out the Taliban and other extremists on the border. For the first time the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told the NBC televisions channel in October 2008 that incursions by the U.S. military into Pakistan served to increase anti-American sentiments in the country, and said that raids against Taliban militants in the area should be carried out by Pakistani forces. "Give us the intelligence, and we will do the job," he said. "It's far better done by our forces than yours." Even then the drone attacks did’nt stop.

Whereas the Armed Forces wanted to deal with this matter on the basis of equality, the Government of Pakistan wanted a diplomatic and peaceful solution to this problem. But whatever the situation was, US decided to increase the number of its armed forces and related equipment in Afghanistan.

With such type of situation prevailing and the government not taking any practical steps in curtailing the drone attacks, this hatred grew. However some elements in the Pakistani Armed Forces still had some self respect, and love for this country due to which they silently made a plan to down these drones. One such drone was downed in September by the armed forces but due to certain reasons it was the local tribesmen which were credited with the kill. The aircraft was reportedly hit at the village of Jalal Khel in South Waziristan after it made several rounds of the area for several hours. Wreckage was strewn on the ground. Without confirming or denying the incident, a US military spokesman in Afghanistan Capt. Christian Patterson said that officials were looking into the claim. Though the Pakistanis were able to prove that they have no role in downing the drone, the drone attacks gradually decreased but never stopped till to date.


PAF IN ACTION DURING BAJAUR OPERATION

With Pak Army indulged in heavy fighting against the Indians supported terrorists in the Western Border, the terrorists carried out some harassing suicide attacks on military as well as civilian population. Pakistan Army, along with American provided intelligence was quick to locate the terrorist’s command and control centre in Bajaur. Thus a major offensive operation was carried out in that area. Since Pakistan Army’s Cobra helicopters could not deliver the punch that was required, PAF was called in to provide ground support.

PAF was primarily trained to fight a conventional war with India and had the firepower to take out an advancing armoured column but it was a difficult task to strike targets located in heavily populated areas, where the terrorists were hiding behind civilian cover. Avoiding civilian casualties and taking terrorists from the air is a demanding task and requires very high level of skill. PAF had initially been forced to use Google Earth for reconnaissance imagery and was compelled to attack the targets using unguided bombs based on intelligence provided by the Pakistan Army. This included popping smoke out of targets as well as visually identified targets on Google Earth.

Thus US decided to train PAF the art of urban warfare which is one of the most difficult faces of war.

PAF Mirage attacking terrorist positions using unguided Mk-82 Snake-eye bombs

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