Written By: Wing Commander Haroon Kirmani
Traditionally, armed forces of a state are structured and trained to fight a well-defined adversary in a regular conflict, governed by Law of Armed Conflict applicable to the belligerents. However, when terrorism from non-state actors posed a threat to peace and stability in Pakistan, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) undertook counter-terrorism operations for the first time. Air operations by PAF against militants in FATA were first conducted in Operation Al-Mizan in 2004 on a limited scale. This short duration operation continued for about three months. It was a new experience for PAF to engage targets in such a terrain where terrorists’ hideouts and associated infrastructure presented a challenge. Non-availability of desired capabilities and lack of experience in fighting irregular warfare was another major challenge for the armed forces in general, and PAF in particular.
PAF, after realizing these challenges and limitations carved out a strategy identifying most essential capabilities that were required for successful and effective execution of counter-terrorism operations and embarked on an ambitious force modernization plan. As a result of these efforts, PAF was able to equip itself with the required capabilities and trained its personnel for undertaking these operations.
In the timeframe approaching January 2008, PAF undertook operations in support of Pakistan Army in South Waziristan under code name Operation Tri Star. By this time the enemy had become well-equipped, battle-hardened, well-funded and well settled. The terrorists resorted to ‘Hit-and-Run’ tactics, reducing their exposure time to the security forces for a planned counter attack. Post-attack response by the LEAs/security forces entirely depended on immediate available force in the proximity. PAF fighter jets provided this capability to react quickly from operational bases, reaching anywhere in FATA within minutes, and engaging militants from high altitude with pinpoint precision. One such incident was the siege of Ladha Fort in South Waziristan. PAF was called upon by the ground forces to engage militants' firing locations. As a result of PAF’s timely action, Pakistan Army was able to hold Ladha Fort with minimum losses. The militants suffered major casualties because of the lethal and precise blows delivered by PAF while assisting the ground forces in defending their positions.
In the same timeframe, PAF undertook Operation Falcon Sweep to support Pakistan Army’s various operations i.e., Operation Rah-e-Haq in Swat, and Operation Sher Dil series in Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies. In 2009, Pakistan Army with the support of PAF planned operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat area which was codenamed Operation Burq by PAF. Capitalizing on its earlier experiences, PAF destroyed and neutralized a number of militants’ command centres, hideouts, training camps, ammunition dumps, and routes and passes to block their escape to neighboring areas. After PAF's successful preparatory strikes, Pakistan Army launched its operations which ended with a timely achievement of objectives and defeat of terrorists.
In mid-October 2009, ahead of Operation Rah-e-Nijat, PAF engaged militants in South Waziristan on an unprecedented scale. PAF started softening up targets in South Waziristan to support subsequent operation of Pakistan Army. The high ridges and slopes in valleys, which were occupied by the terrorists and where they had developed bunkers and pickets to ambush convoys, had to be cleared to ensure safe and swift movement of the troops. During the initial phase of about five days, PAF destroyed more than 150 targets engaging training centres, hideouts, ammunition depots and command and control centres.
After Operation Rah-e-Nijat, PAF continued its operations in support of Pakistan Army; Operation Brekna in Mohmand, Operation Koh-e-Sufaid and Operation Azmara-e-Gharo in Kurram and Orakzai agencies. In addition to these operations, numerous operations of relatively lower scale were also conducted in Khyber Agency. In Operation Brekna, taking over of Walidad Top was a major event. Another noteworthy operation by our ground troops was taking over of Mira-Sar Top in a very short time.
In June 2014, Operation Zarb-e-Azb which continues till date, became a symbol of will of Pakistani nation. Coordination between PAF and Pakistan Army in this operation was a continuous process. PAF precision strikes paved way for Pakistan Army to conduct their kinetic operations with minimum losses inflicting huge damages to the terrorists. As the operation reaches its concluding phase, terrorists have been driven out of their hideouts (killed and neutralized) and our country has emerged stronger and safer from the menace of terrorism.
These counter-terrorist missions were first of a kind, conducted by an air force which bore fruit and highlighted the importance of air power in these kinds of operations. PAF’s involvement in these operations and the results it achieved in driving the terrorists out of Pakistan has been duly acknowledged. PAF’s professional and unflinching support to the land forces and law enforcement agencies will continue till achieving the end state of war by comprehensively defeating the forces of evil and achieving peace and stability in Pakistan and the entire region.