Airstrikes just first of our firepower options

NST, March 8, 2013
By Haris Hussain

IT'S amazing what a round of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare can do -- that a cherubic, bespectacled couch potato, who is as athletic as a slab of tofu with zero military background, can form an opinion of how a military campaign should be waged. Even before the dust cloud from the airstrikes on the Sulu terrorist positions in Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu had settled, earth-bound pseudo-"Mavericks" and armchair generals were already taking to the blogs and social media to give their take on how the air and ground offensive should have been carried out.

Some had claimed that the airstrikes by the three Royal Malaysian Air Force Boeing F/A-18D Hornets and five British Aerospace Hawk 208s that were launched off from Labuan had been completely ineffective and had failed to neutralise the enemy. One even said: "The US air campaigns shows (sic) that effective aerial bombardment requires hundreds if not thousands of ordnance drop (sic) over several days", and suggested that for the airstrikes to work, a sustained bombing campaign along the lines of the Tora Bora throwdown in December, 2001 (five days) and the two-month bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999, should have been implemented.

There were also those who said that the pilots had completely missed the target, the absence of a body count being the justification for their claims. An online news portal reported that Abraham Idjirani, the spokesman for the terror group, had said that the bombs dropped by the air force had not hit their positions but had, instead, fallen on security forces that had massed up for the assault. A late night chat over teh tarik and roti tampal with "Taco", a retired Hornet driver with more than 2,000 hours logged on the type, and his former backseater "Hanus" shed some light on the operational thinking that went into the planning and execution of the air offensive segment of Ops Daulat. "The first thing you have to realise is, the air force's mission here was not to take out the enemy. They were tasked with softening up the target for the ground troops. "Because the terrorists are scattered in the area of operations, there's no way the ground commanders can be certain that an airstrike would get every single one of them. "That's why they opted for a layered offensive. The airstrike was just one element. We still needed to put boots on the ground and clear the area door-to-door, one house at a time." The aerial bombardment was followed by a mortar barrage and suppressive fire from heavy machine guns before the ground forces were sent in. When parallels between Tora Bora, Kosovo and Lahad Datu were brought up, "Hanus" put things in perspective. "Bro, Tora Bora and Kosovo are two completely different scenarios. "Tora Bora is huge, so is Kosovo. It took five days of constant pounding in Tora Bora because of the extensive network of tunnels bored miles into the mountain. "Even thermobaric bombs and 2,000 pounders couldn't do the job as the tunnels were dug deep inside the mountain. "Plus, there was no specific intel on the exact location of Osama Bin Laden, and the Taliban numbered in the thousands. Nato took two months to bring Kosovo to its knees because of the huge tasking and targeting folders that needed to be sorted out." "This (Kampung Tanduo) was a precision strike. Every single target the pilots were given was from three weeks of observation and intelligence-gathering. "We didn't have to carpet bomb Kampung Tanduo because the Hornets' loadout was (GBU-12 Paveway II) laser guided bombs. These are precision-guided munitions; this was a surgical strike. You 'lase' the target with the (AN/AAS-38 Nitehawk) laser target designator and you can't miss," "Taco" adds.

The idea of carpet bombing, a concept borne on the back of the London blitz of the 1940s by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris against German cities and industrial centres, is no longer socially palatable, more so if the area being hit is your own backyard. Politically, it's suicide.

"Carpet bombing is when you want to level an entire town full of enemy combatants. Not a good idea when you're doing it on your own territory and when the risk of collateral damage is high. "Our guys established a very tight FEBA (forward edge of battle area) because of the proximity of the villages to the target. They took into consideration the lives and property of fellow Malaysians.

"We knew exactly where the terrorists were located from various sources; Humint (human intelligence, from people on the ground), Sigint (signals intelligence) and Comint (intercepted communications, decrypted communique) and other still-classified sources," says Taco. "This is a limited, low-intensity conflict which requires precision strike capability. The air force's objective for this mission was to soften the targets for the ground forces, nothing more. "Also, it's not how many bombs you drop, it's how you use them. If the intel is solid and 10 bombs can do the job, why would you want to expend more munitions?" How do you explain the absence of a body count resulting from the airstrike, then? "Dude, do you know what a 500lb bomb can do to a human body? If it's an airburst, the lethality radius is expanded. You vapourise. That's it. If that doesn't kill you, the overpressure will.

"The concussion will rip you apart, but not before turning your internal organs to mush. Fusing plays a major part in the kill radius of the bomb." We should never be led to believe that this crisis will be over in a few days and that one airstrike will get rid of the problem. More work lies ahead for the ground troops and any thoughts that a sustained bombing campaign alone will solve this problem is downright irresponsible and naive. ON THE OFFENSIVE: The aerial bombardment of Sulu terrorists in Kampung Tanduo merely marks the start of the blitz on our enemies