DEFENCE NOTES

US air strikes against
Afghanistan and Sudan

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Patron Lt Gen (Retd) SARDAR FS LODI looks at the
whole episode of the launching of cruise missiles against
camps suspected of harbouring terrorists in these two countries

On August 20, 1998 United States Naval Units fired between 70 to 80 ‘Tomahawk’ cruise missiles to hit targets in Sudan from ships in the Red Sea and six targets in Afghanistan from ships stationed in the Arabian Sea away from Pakistan’s coastline.

The targets in Afghanistan were reported to be training camps run by Osama bin Laden, the Saudi millionaire residing in Afghanistan. The areas hit, are South of Khost (Matun) and opposite the Pakistani towns of Thal and Miran Shah, ahead of Bannu.

The camps are reported to have been completely destroyed and over a 100 people killed and similar number wounded. It seems these camps were initially established with American assistance to train Mujahideen fighting against the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan. That is the reason they were located close to the Pakistan border as some of the US arms and other assistance went from this direction.

The United States government has justified this unprovoked aggressive action after finding strong evidence that Osama bin Laden was involved in the bombing of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998. President Clinton said that the United States struck at a ‘terrorist base’ in Afghanistan and a chemical weapons facility in Sudan. We have convincing evidence these groups played the key role in the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania Clinton said, terrorists must have no doubt that in the face of their threat, America will protect its citizens, the President said.

US Defence Secretary William Cohen said, We have taken these actions to reduce the ability of these terrorist organizations to train and equip their misguided followers. He went on to warn of more such operations if a need was felt for further action.

The destructive air strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan was the first major US response to the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and came after Pakistan arrested three suspects, one while trying to enter Pakistan at Karachi airport and two while they were trying to leave Pakistan at the Pak-Afghan border at Torkham near Peshawar.

The information now available, as reported in the ‘Washington Post’ on August 29th, 1998, reveals that the missile strikes ordered by President Clinton in the wake of the August 7 car bombings of US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salam were planned more than a month before the twin attacks in Africa. Plans to strike the complex near Khost in Afghanistan were under way after Osama bin Laden threatened the United States in the spring (of 1998) and US intelligence learned that his group was planning some type of action.

‘Tomahawk’ long-range cruise missile is a latest state of the art weapon, which can be fired from surface ships and submarines. The missile weigh 2650 lbs consisting of a 1000 lbs warhead. The missile has a length of 18.2 ft, diameter of 1.8 ft and a wingspan of 8.7 ft. It has a range of 1550 miles in a nuclear configuration carrying a 200 kt nuclear munition. It has a range of 1000 miles with conventional high-explosives or submunitions, when fired from surface ships and 300 miles when fired from submarines. It has a speed of 350 to 500 miles per hour.

The missile has a sophisticated navigation system consisting of the Inertial Navigation System (INS) and Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM), which compares a stored digital map with actual terrain. This is assisted by the Global Positioning System (GPS) which corrects the position of the missile while it is en route to the target. over 400 ‘Tomahawk’ cruise missiles have been fired in Iraq during Desert Storm (1992), Desert Strike (1996) and in Bosnia (1995). The results show an 85% success rate.

Missile strikes against Sudan hit the pharmaceutical plant outside Khartoum and completely destroyed it, as it was reported to be manufacturing prototype for deadly nerve gas. But the ‘New York Times’ of August 29, 1998 reports that the Khartoum plant was not the highly secretive, tightly-secured military-industrial complex that US intelligence officials said it was. Quoting US and European engineers and consultants who helped build and supply the facility in the early 1990s, the daily said the plant made both medicine and veterinary drugs and was not equipped to producing a precursor of the deadly VX nerve gas.

Some legal experts are of the opinion that the United States government in this case, has acted as the prosecutor, Judge, Jury and executioner all in one. This is hardly compatible with her status as the only super power in the world, which bestows on her greater responsibilities for the maintenance of world peace and justice for all.

This unilateral action of the United States, of attacking a sovereign independent state, an original member of the United Nations has created a bad precedent for others to follow. There are many regional bullies around the world including India who may be tempted to take advantage of the precedent created law, to the detriment of the smaller states in the region.

This is the first time that the United States has followed an Israeli-type reaction in utter violation of International Law and customs followed by civilized nations. It must be mentioned that Israeli reaction of bombing civilian targets has not brought peace to the area.

The United Nations organization was created after the second World War to maintain international peace and security. The UN charter caters for the collective use of force to maintain peace and security throughout the world. In the present case, this august body has been ignored and completely sidelined, and America has taken the law into its own hands, so to speak. This is certainly not in conformity with the equal rights of nations large and small as enshrined in the preamble to the UN charter.

Terrorism is a world-wide phenomenon and a curse to humanity. It deserves to be condemned harshly in the strongest terms by every right-thinking person. All governments should take immediate measures to eradicate this evil from society and prevent the loss of innocent lives. Terrorism should now be treated at par with piracy at sea where a pirate was subject to arrest, trial and punishment by all states on the ground that he represented an enemy of mankind.

Article 100 of the UN convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982, says that all states are under a duty to co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the suppression of piracy on the high seas, or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any state.

It must, however, be appreciated that the answer to acts of terrorism, is not the application of greater terrorism by the state. When an organized state lowers itself to the level of terrorists, it forfeits the moral high ground and is apt to be judged as an aggressor. Israeli action of bombing Lebanon at the slightest pretext has not created peace in the region, and stands as a glaring example of state-sponsored terrorism to combat acts of terrorism by others.

The United States unilateral action of bombing Afghanistan and Sudan has certainly tarnished her image in the region. It would hardly be conducive to her interests as further acts of terrorism may continue involving America and her interests in the area. It is strongly felt that the United States should have adopted other options, diplomatic, political and legal, and above all, through the UN Security Council.

Unprovoked military action has been taken against Afghanistan, a former ally of the United States in a ten years struggle against Soviet occupation. It was the Afghan’s determination that brought the Soviet Empire to its knees and eventually eliminated communism from the world. The Afghans suffered great losses in killed, wounded and maimed for life. Their houses and shops destroyed and millions of Russian land-mines left behind which is still causing death and destruction. It is perhaps the privilege of a superpower to forget a small former ally who has played its part and can now be discarded and discredited. This policy of the United States will be difficult for the people of the region to understand.

By launching long-range cruise missiles on August 20, 1998, the United States has committed aggression against Afghanistan, Sudan and Pakistan, under the UN General Assembly Resolution of 1974 defining aggression. Article 1 defines aggression as the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another state.

In the case of Pakistan, military missiles have been launched across its airspace, over the 12 miles of territorial sea and the mainland without the knowledge or consent of the government. This is hardly compatible with the status of a former ally and has been resented by the people. The government of Pakistan was, therefore, left with no other option except to complain to the United Nations.

In the end it must be stated that terrorism is the scourge of society and the Government of Pakistan should make every effort to ensure that its territory is not used for terrorism or counter-terrorism by others. Terrorism cannot be tolerated anywhere in our territory, may it be in any form. It must be condemned in words and deeds. Pakistan continues to suffer from foreign inspired terrorism particularly by our large and aggressive neighbour on our Eastern borders. l

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