FATA epicentre of war on terror (From "Daily Times" of Lahore dated October 19,208)
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: FATA is the epicentre of the global war on terrorism, according to a US security assistance officer helping Pakistan improve both equipment and training in order to fight more effectively against extremist militants.The observation is quoted in an assessment by the Centre for Naval Analysis (CAN) of US-funded projects in Pakistan under the rubric 1206.
The focus of 1206 projects in Pakistan has been on three distinct, but inter-related sets of capabilities. The goal is to rapidly increase Pakistan’s capacity to confront terrorists operating in FATA. Specifically, the programme seeks to provide the Pakistani special operation forces the capability to conduct airborne night strike operations against terrorists in the FATA.
FY06 1206 projects in Pakistan have focused on increasing the capacity and capability of the Pakistani Army’s rotary wing aviation units as well as improving the equipment and training available to the Pakistani Army’s Special Services Group (SSG). Pakistan is also to be enabled to deal with terrorist attacks in settled areas and urban centres.Superior knowledge:
The Pakistani forces, CAN said, engaged in combat with enemies in the FATA often find that their adversary has superior knowledge of the territory and is able to use this knowledge to provide tactical advantages. With that advantage, the adversary reportedly takes advantage of the night to conduct surveillance, reinforcement, withdrawal and even attacks against Pakistani forces.
Between 2003 and 2008, the SSG conducted 122 separate counter terrorist operations in the FATA and the NWFP. While SSG operations resulted in 178 terrorist dead and 211 captured, the SSG suffered 42 killed and 90 wounded. Additionally, the SSG suffered 16 killed and 29 injured in a terrorist attack at the Tarbela SSG base.
After 1206 funding authorisation was passed, Pakistan requested support for spare parts, aviation body armour, night vision goggles (NVGs), a night targeting system for Cobra helicopters, and limited visibility training for pilots. While much of the 1206-funded equipment for Pakistan in financial year (FY) 2007 has arrived in Qatar, home of US Central Command’s Special Operations Component Command, it has not been distributed to the SSG. Instead, distribution of the equipment to Pakistani units is being paired with specialised training by US special operation forces under the Joint Combined Exchange Training.
The goal for the FY07 1206 programme is to rapidly develop the capability of the SSG to conduct vertical insertion nighttime company-sized attack helicopter supported raids against terrorist targets in the FATA. According to Pakistani officers the training and operational profile of the forces involved has changed as a result of the arrival of new equipment. According to a senior US officer, the number of combat operations by Pakistani military forces against terrorists has increased dramatically since the Red Mosque siege in July 2007.
This increased operational tempo has compounded the strain on the Pakistani Army’s capabilities, especially aviation. According to the commander of the SSG special operations task force, there is both an operational and psychological impact of having Cobra helicopters available to support special operations forces engaged with terrorists in NWFP and FATA. The Cobras also provide direct strike capabilities against enemy targets.
According to the Pakistani director of Military Operations, the Cobra is the mainstay of their missions in the FATA. It protects logistics, it provides reconnaissance, and it allows raids on emergent targets. The FATA is very difficult terrain to operate in and the only fire support available to ground units comes from mid-range towed artillery and helicopters. Surveillance and reconnaissance are difficult, but helicopters provide the combined capabilities of surveillance, quick reaction and fire support.
According to a former Pakistani company commander, when the enemy hears Cobras coming, they disappear. Actual casualties inflicted on the enemy by the helicopters are less important than the deterrent effect of having them nearby to support ground forces.