Brig. (Retd) Said Nazir Mohmand

“Air power may either end war or end civilization”.— Winston Churchill

The role of air power in the modern warfare needs no emphases. It is an effective tool to bring awe and shock, in the conventional enemy lines by obliterating men, material and installations. The superior and sophisticated air platforms are the means to soften the targets, hasten the victory and shorten the war through vertical envelopment of enemy’s war making machine. But still, there are doubts concerning air power’s contribution and effectiveness.

The massive air campaigns conducted during the Gulf War, and the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan (war on terror) have provided enough loud thinking to the air power enthusiasts to view the bombing as a new era of precision attacks, while skeptics argue that bombing has been far less accurate than claimed.The Gulf War consumed more than 118000 combat and support sorties to fight a 40 days war against zero air to air combat threat. The Allies air platforms dropped 88500 bombs to liquidate the Iraqi air defence system, command and control centers and Scuds missile launchers besides ground forces.

All told, 165,000 munitions including the Tomahawk and other cruise missiles were delivered. The 320 tons of uranium depleted warheads were pumped into Iraqi soil; the resultant radiation boosted the cancer rate to 40% in the aftermath of the war. The so-called Operation Iraqi Freedom during 2003, consumed 20700 Coalition bombers and fighters sorties delivering 29,900 munitions with 2:1 guided and unguided ratio.

The classic display of air power against the Taliban was in the form of 7000 tons of carpet bombing by strategic bombers flying 12600 sorties in the first phase of the war on terror.The latest addition to the debate is the frank assessment of the Pakistan Air Force chief, Air Marshal Rao Qamar Suleiman assertion during the Dubai Air Show that the air operation at best achieved 10 to 15 % results. The PAF has carried out 5,500 strikes to quash the militancy in FATA and Swat by dropping 10,600 bombs with a claim of destroying 4,600 targets.

The Army Aviation gunship helicopters delivered almost every missile in it’s kitty to quell the militancy in the Fata region. USA has also playing its part in smoking out insurgents in the FATA region through the use of its CIA operated drones. So far more than 300 drones’ attacks have been carried by firing above 1300 Hellfire missiles into the underbelly of tribal belt.The fore said data is just to paint a macro picture of the gigantic air efforts in keeping afloat the corporate wars as envisioned by the neo-cons. These tangible facts could be further analyzed in the realm of air power strategic fatigue. Air warfare is a costly game and the air platforms are the most expensive fighting machines.

It is evident from the data base that the air power has been used extensively to hasten the victory in the battle field. This strategy could best be applied in the hardened battle field conditions where the enemy is equally equipped with all the air defence weapon system. It is a case of overkill to carry out target practice under the clear skies (unchallenged) environments and inflict telling loss on the defenceless foot soldiers and civil populace. The allies and coalition air power remained unchallenged in all the three theatres of war and caused colossal collateral damage by dropping area weapons like daisy cutters and BLU-2 heavy weight 15000 lbs bombs. In fact the war zones were used as testing ground for their new weapon system and humans were treated as Ginny pigs in the hot labs.

The overzealous on the push button exhibited callousness and remained indiscriminate in their approach while delivering the payload. The use of uranium depleted munitions and cluster bombs left crippling and long lasting traumas on their victims. The soaked soil radiation effects coupled with sanctions on life saving drugs perished half a million children up to seven years of age alone. The munitions delivered through the air platforms amount to dropping of four nuclear devices of 2 KT each in Afghanistan in the first four months of the war, whereas in case of Iraq the nuclear yield gets elevated to twelve and six nuclear bombs of 5 KT each in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom respectively.

FATA a tinny tribal belt got the maximum air bashing from both PAF and CIA (drones) equal to three atomic bombs of 2 KT each. The air campaign by all definition and manifestation remained an extension of scorch earth policy in all the cases. The US Marine Corps Manual, is on the dot in highlighting the ground reality that,” no aircraft ever took and held the ground”. The use of air power in the asymmetric war is not only cost prohibitive but marginally effective against widely dispersed militants. Their excessive and indiscriminate usage gives rise to militancy especially at home ground on account of collateral damage. The ground reality is staring the Allies on both sides of the Durand Line.

The mushrooming of the militancy on one hand and the fatiguing of the air machines on the other hand is a recipe for disaster. Every flying hour of F-16 and gunship helicopter is adding to the drag on their useful lives.The decade long so-called war on terror is proving to be a deep black hole which has sucked the economies in blood and money to the tune of 3 trillion dollars and 70 billion dollars in case of US and Pakistan respectively. The result is the chink in the allies’ armour, visible in the form of trust deficit, blame game and clash of interests.

The surge strategy failed, air power got fatigued and frustration over spilled the boundries of alliance. The exit clock is ticking towards the drawdown timelines, the strategic presence beyond 2014 is in duldrums and the home front is no more supportive on the war efforts and expenditure. Taliban are sticking to their guns hitting hard the well-guarded high profile targets at will. The attrition rate is on the rise and the options are getting limited in scope and strategic undertakings.In the final analysis it has once again been proved that asymmetric war is the war of the poor and no conventional force can attain a win win situation.

The hard power used in the first stage of the war should have soon been replaced by a soft power. The winning of hearts and minds was a political and administrative affair which was lost sight of due to imperialistic mindset. President Bush put a sense in sending a 2 million dollars missile to hit a $10 tent, that was found to be empty. President Obama followed suit and embarked on the surge strategy which tantamount to re-enforcing the failure. The leopard is not changing it’s spots and the US is hell bent upon to bring peace and reconciliation through coercion and manipulation. It is a short-sighted and beaten approach and will kiss the dust much before 2014.

The ground realty has no scope for the US presence beyond 2014. Had the policy of dialogue and development been pursued with the same vigour and will as was/is the case with the strategy of deterrence, the Pukhtuns would have presented their hearts and minds in a platter. The war on terror has reduced both Fata and Afghanistan to the stoneage by footing a hefty finance bill of 3 trillion dollars and 70 billion dollars by US and Pakistan respectively. Had 1/10th of this money spent on development that would have created the monuments of education, health and mineral wealth in the present war zone.


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