Fighting against militancy: Gunships grounded over high costs

Military campaigns in tribal areas hamstrung by resource constraints.

Zia Khan/kamran Yousaf January 26, 2011

ISLAMABAD: With the country's economy on a downslide, the military is struggling to keep up the momentum of its campaign against the Taliban and their al Qaeda cohorts in the tribal badlands, security officials said.

Resource constraints have grounded almost all operations against the home-grown Taliban to a near halt notwithstanding sporadic actions in some volatile areas, the offi cials told The Express Tribune. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Aerial attacks, which helped the military take out several high-value targets in the tribal regions, have particularly been affected by the shortage of funds. “Air power has always been a real difference between us and them. Without aerial cover, ground troops often face stiff resistance,“ said a fighter pilot from the Army Aviation, who took part in the 2009 Swat operation.

Helicopter gunships have been the most effective weapon the Army Aviation used in operations against militants in Swat and lately in South Waziristan and Orakzai tribal regions.

“But flying gunships on a daily basis is a very expensive affair,“ said the pilot, who once pounded the hideouts of the Taliban led by fugitive cleric Mullah Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio, in the high mountains of Swat Valley.

Of late, ground troops also relied on air power to make inroads into the deep valleys surrounded by mountainous terrain in the militant-infested South Waziristan and Orakzai.

But for quite some time now, the aerial operations have been halted, primarily because of their exorbitant cost, which runs into billions of rupees, said officials at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi.

Another official also confirmed the development but cited a different reason. “Yes, it is true helicopter gunship attacks are rare now. But it is due to the fact that militants are now scattered in different areas,“ he said. “Whenever the militants regroup we use helicopter gunships like we did on Tuesday in Mohmand,“ he added.

The military's presumed `foot dragging' is coincidental with efforts by top leaders from the country's largest political parties to evolve a mechanism to pull the country’s ailing economy out of troubled waters.

Last week, a government economic team engaged the main opposition party in talks in an effort to seek its support for the economy that has since 2008 been breathing on an $11.3 billion bailout package by the International Monetary Fund.

The economic crunch is hitting the military alike.

Recently, the army decided to allow two weekly holidays in its units to cope with the situation.

“Fighting a war is a costly affair,” said Lt-Gen (retd) Abdul Qayyum. “With the government facing serious economic challenges, it is obvious the military cannot sustain its activities in the tribal areas in this situation,” said Gen Qayyum, who is a former chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories.

“I don't think the military can launch any new full-scale operation in the tribal areas,“ he said. “According to my estimate, the ongoing operations in the tribal areas cost Pakistan roughly $250,000 per soldier annually as compared to $1 million being spent by the Americans in Afghanistan,“ he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2011.


Abdul Jabbar Khan | 10 years ago | Reply @ nawaz..... i agree... its usa and european war which pakistan is fighting for black oil from kazikhistan and mineral wealth of afghanistan ..... they have to pay the price they should fund not only pakistan army but also for the down turn of economy created by this war.... because they will need pakistan for their future plans of oil line to the ports of gawadar.... they should pay for their war in terms of dollars as well as share of oil when line comes in and if line comes in ..... which by the way carries a very big question mark since usa is loosing war in afghanistan (another vietnam in offing)... @bilawal.... you need to study more of politics before you start talking non sense on the net (paki war)..... secondly thank your grand father who created this missionary army.... by the way stay in uk thats where you belong no body has asked your opinion on pakistan ..... this is pakistanis problem
Bilawal Bhutto | 10 years ago | Reply @gothmog: Dont fool yourself. I know it is easy to believe that the Paki army is nothing more than a Missionary army that gets paid to fight someone else's war, History proves the same, with the army being paid for fighting the soviets, and which continues to this day. However things have changed and despite being paid as before the Paki army has started going against its Master's wishes. So it is but natural that further payments need to be conditional to their actions being as per what gets dictated to them. The Paki army needs to be paid the next instalment only after it does what the Masters have asked it to do and go after the bases in North Waziristan. Do this and it can proudly ask for more funds, else the double game of being paid for nothing has sadly come to an end.
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