Sunday, June 14, 2009
KARGIL - PAF's retd AIR COMMODORE'S ACCOUNT
This article appeared today (Sunday 14th June, 2009) in Indian Express, hence (c) to Indian express. Article title was: Pakistan's Kargil Plot.
Air Commodore (retd) Kaiser Tufail was Director of Operations, Pakistan Air Force, at the time of the Kargil war in 1999. His account, published in the Vayu Aerospace and Defence Review magazine, shows how steps taken by Pakistan triggered the conflict. Before excerpts, do go to Kaiser's blog : KAISER - AERONAUT - it has a treasure trove of information for buffs (Prasun - you may like this blog!).
INDIAN EXPRESS ARTICLE:
The Planning: As Director of Operations (in the rank of Gp Capt), the first occasion when I got an opportunity to interact with the Army’s Director of Military Operations (DMO) was over a phone call, some time in March 1999. Brig Nadeem Taj (who later became the ISI Chief) called with great courtesy and requested some information that he needed for a paper exercise, as he told me. He wanted to know when did the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) last carry out a deployment at Skardu, how many aircraft were deployed. Rather impressed with the Army’s interest in PAF matters, I passed on the requisite details. Next day, Brig Taj again called, but this time his questions were more probing and he wanted some classified information, including fuel storage capacity at Skardu, fighter sortie-generation capacity, radar coverage, etc.
He insisted that he was preparing a briefing and wanted his facts and figures right, in front of his bosses. Although he made it sound like routine contingency planning, I sensed that something unusual was brewing.
A cautious Air Marshal Zahid Anis (the Deputy Chief of Air Staff Operations) decided to check things for himself and despatched Gp Capt Tariq Ashraf, Officer Commanding of No. 33 Wing at PAF Base, Kamra, to look things over at Skardu and make a report. Within a few days, Gp Capt Tariq (who was also the designated wartime Commander of Skardu Base) had completed his visit, which included his own periodic war-readiness inspection.
While he made a detailed report to the DCAS (Ops), he let me in on the Army’s mobilisation and other preparations that he had seen at Skardu. His analysis was that ‘something big is imminent’. Helicopter flying activity was feverishly high as Army Aviation’s Mi-17s were busy moving artillery guns and ammunition to the posts that had been vacated by the Indians during winter season. Troops in battle gear were to be seen all over the city. Interestingly, Army messes were abuzz with war chatter amongst young officers.
In retrospect, one wonders how Indian intelligence agencies failed to read any such signs, many weeks before the operation unfolded. After hearing Gp Capt Tariq’s report, Air Marshal Zahid again got in touch with Major General Tauqir and, in a roundabout way, told him that if the Army’s ongoing ‘review of contingency plans’ required the PAF to be factored in, an Operations and Plans team would be available for discussion.
Nothing was heard from the GHQ till 12 May, when Air Marshal Zahid was told to send a team for a briefing at HQ 10 Corps with regard to ‘Kashmir Contingency’. Air Cdre Abid Rao, Air Cdre Saleem Nawaz (the Assistant Chief of Air Staff Plans) and myself were directed by the DCAS (Ops) to attend a briefing on the ‘latest situation in Kashmir’ at HQ 10 Corps. We were welcomed by the Chief of Staff (COS) of the Corps, who led us to the briefing room. Shortly thereafter, Corps Commander Lt General Mehmud Ahmad entered, clad in a bush-coat and his trademark camouflage scarf, cutting an impressive figure. After exchange of pleasantries, the COS started with the map orientation briefing.
Thereafter, Lt General Mehmud took over and broke the news that a limited operation had started two days earlier. It was nothing more than a ‘protective manoeuvre’, he explained, and was meant to foreclose any further mischief by the enemy, who had been a nuisance in the Neelam Valley, specially on the road of our side of the Line of Control (LoC). He then elaborated that a few vacant Indian posts had been occupied on peaks across the LoC, overlooking the Dras-Kargil Road.
The target was a vulnerable section of Dras-Kargil Road, whose blocking would virtually cut off the crucial lifeline which carried the bulk of supplies needed for daily consumption as well as annual winter-stocking in Leh-Siachen Sector. “Come October, we shall walk in to Siachen—to mop up the dead bodies of hundreds of Indians left hungry, out in the cold,” he succinctly summed up what appeared to be a new dimension to the Siachen dispute.
When Lt General Mehmud asked for questions at the end of the rather crisp and to-the-point briefing, Air Cdre Saleem Nawaz opened up by enquiring on the type of air support that might be needed for the operation. Lt General Mehmud assured us that air support was not envisaged and that his forces could take care of enemy aircraft, if they intervened. “I have Stingers on every peak,” he announced.
Air Cdre Saleem tried to point out the limited envelope of these types of missiles and said that nothing stopped the IAF from attacking the posts and artillery pieces from high altitude. To this, Lt General Mehmud’s reply was that his troops were well camouflaged and concealed and that IAF pilots would not be able to pick out the posts from the air. As the discussion got more animated, I asked the Corps Commander if he was sure the Indians would not use their artillery to vacate our incursion, given the criticality of the situation from their standpoint.
He replied that the Dras-Kargil stretch did not allow positioning of hundreds of guns that were required, due to lack of depth; in any case, it would be suicidal for the Indians to denude artillery firepower from any other sector as defensive balance had to be maintained.
It seemed from the Corps Commander’s smug appreciation of the situation that the Indians had been tightly straitjacketed in Dras-Kargil Sector and had no option but to submit to our operational design. More significantly, an alternate action like a strategic riposte by the Indians in another sector had been rendered out of question, given the nuclear environment.
Whether an exterior manoeuvre (diplomatic offensive) by the beleaguered Indians had crossed the planners’ minds, it was not discernible in the Corps Commander’s elucidation. Perhaps it was the incredulousness of the whole thing that led Air Cdre Abid Rao to famously quip, “After this operation, it’s going to be either a Court Martial or Martial Law!” as we walked out of the briefing room. Back at Air Headquarters, we briefed the DCAS (Ops) about what had transpired at the 10 Corps briefing.
His surprise at the developments, as well as his concern over the possibility of events spiralling out of control, could not remain concealed behind his otherwise unflappable demeanour. We all were also piqued at being left out of the Army’s planning, though we were given to believe that it was a ‘limited tactical action’ in which the PAF would not be required—an issue that none of us agreed with.
From the very beginning of the Kargil operations, the PAF was entrapped by a circumstantial absurdity: it was faced with the ludicrous predicament of having to provide air support to infiltrators already disowned by the Pakistan Army leadership! In any case, it took some effort to impress on the latter that crossing the LoC by fighters laden with bombs was not, by any stretch of imagination, akin to lobbing a few artillery shells to settle scores.
There was no doubt in the minds of PAF Air Staff that the first cross-border attack would invite an immediate response from the IAF in the shape of a retaliatory strike against the home base of the intruding fighters, thus starting the next round. PAF’s intervention meant all-out war: this unmistakable conclusion was conveyed to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by the Air Chief in no equivocal terms.
Short of starting an all-out war, PAF looked at some saner options that could put some wind in the sails after doldrums had been hit. Air Marshal Najib Akhtar, the Air Officer Commanding of Air Defence Command, was co-opted by the Air Staff to sift the possibilities. Audacious and innovative in equal parts, Air Marshal Najib had an excellent knowledge about own and enemy’s Air Defence Ground Environment.
He had conceived and overseen the unprecedented heli-lift of a low-looking radar to a 14,000 ft mountain top on the forbidding Deosai Plateau. The highly risky operation became possible with the help of some courageous flying by Army Aviation pilots. With good low level radar now available up to the LoC, Air Marshal Najib along with the Air Staff focused on fighter sweeps as a possible option.
While the PAF looked at some offensive options, it had a more pressing defensive issue at hand. The IAF’s minor border violations during recce missions were not of grave consequence in so far as no bombing took place in our territory; however, the fact that these missions helped the enemy refine its air and artillery targeting was, to say the least, disconcerting. There were constant reports of our troops on the LoC disturbed to see (or hear) IAF fighters operating with apparent impunity.
The matter was taken up by the GHQ with AHQ and it was resolved that Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) would be flown by the F-16s operating out of Minhas (Kamra) and Sargodha. This arrangement resulted in less on-station time but was safer than operating out of vulnerable Skardu, which had inadequate early warning in the mountainous terrain; its status as a turn-around facility was, however, considered acceptable for its location. A flight of F-7s was, nonetheless, deployed primarily for point defence of the important garrison town of Skardu as well as the air base.
F-16 CAPs could not have been flown all day long as spares support was limited under the prevailing US sanctions. Random CAPs were resorted to, with a noticeable drop in border violations only as long as the F-16s were on station. There were a few cases of F-16s and Mirage 2000s locking their adversaries with the on-board radars but caution usually prevailed and no close encounters took place. After one week of CAPs, the F-16 maintenance personnel indicated that war reserve spares were being eaten into and the activity had to be ‘rationalised’, a euphemism for discontinuing it altogether.
Those not aware of the gravity of the F-16 operability problem under sanctions have complained of lack of cooperation by the PAF. Suffice to say that if the PAF had been included in the initial planning, this anomaly (along with many others) would have emerged as a mitigating factor against the Kargil adventure.
It is another matter that the Army high command did not envisage operations ever coming to such a pass. Now, it was almost as if PAF was to blame for the Kargil venture spiralling out of control!
Might it strike to some that PAF’s restraint in warding off a major conflagration may have been its paramount contribution to the Kargil conflict?
It has emerged that the principal protagonists of the Kargil adventure were the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Pervez Musharraf, Commander 10 Corps Lt General Mehmud Ahmed and Commander Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) Major General Javed Hasan. The trio, in previous ranks and appointments, had been associated with planning during paper exercises on how to wrest control of lost territory in Siachen.
The plans were not acceptable to the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to whom the options had been put up for review more than once. She was well-versed in international affairs and all too intelligent to be taken in by the chicanery. It fell to the wisdom of her successor, Mr Nawaz Sharif, to approve the Army trio’s self-serving presentation. “General sahib, bismillah karen …” is how he is supposed to have given the go ahead, not withstanding the denials we hear from him every new moon.
In an effort to keep the plan secret—which was the key to its successful initiation, so it was thought—the Army trio took no one into confidence, neither its operational commanders, nor the heads of the other services. This, regrettably, resulted in a closed loop thought process, which engendered a string of oversights and failures.
Kargil, I suspect, like the 1965 and 1971 Wars, was a case of not having enough dissenters (‘devil’s advocates’, if you will) during planning, because everyone wanted to agree with the boss. That single reason, I think, was the root cause of most of the failures that were apparent right from the beginning. If this point is understood well, remedial measures towards tolerance and liberalism can follow as a matter of course.
Such an organisational milieu, based on honest appraisal and fearless appeal, would be conducive to sound and sensible planning. It would also go a long way in preclusion of Kargil-like disasters.
‘The truth is out…Sharif not innocent’
Gen VP Malik, Indian Army Chief during kargil conflict
It is a good that now some more information about the war has started coming from Pakistan. He (Kaiser Tufail) is the first Pakistan Air Force officer who has written about it in a candid manner. I am sure that slowly more information on the Kargil operations will come out now that Pervez Musharraf is not around. The article basically confirms our view that not many people had been taken into confidence (when the Pakistan Army planned the operation), particularly from the other two services—the Air Force and the Navy. It was conceived by the trio of Musharraf, 10 Corps Commander Lt Gen Mehmud Ahmad and Force Command Northern Areas commander Maj Gen Javed Hasan.
These three people were deeply involved as was the Director General of Military Operations. It also confirms my view that Nawaz Sharif is not as innocent as he makes himself out to be. In my book, In Kargil: From Surprise to Victory, I had written that Sharif had been briefed about the operation though he may not have understood the implications of it. He is really confirming what we always knew.
What I don’t agree with is that the Pakistani Army airlifted guns to vacated posts. Except for one post, none of the positions had been vacated by us. No guns were taken to our areas expect that in one case, we found 120 mm mortars. The artillery remained on their side.
What he has written is confirming what is known to us. If we have to learn proper lessons and Pakistan has to learn proper lessons, more such truth should come out. From our side, there is a lot of material on the war that has been brought out officially as well as in books. We did not get the confirmation from the Pakistani side but now that too has started coming.