COMMENT: Blood of a soldier —Tammy Swofford - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

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COMMENT: Blood of a soldier —Tammy Swofford
What has changed in recent years for the Pakistan military is the manner in which the Taliban have risen to the top of their game when their line is threatened. They harvest events in as quick and adept a manner as an organ is harvested for transplant by a medical team

The Pakistan military recently released a short documentary film, ‘Glorious Resolve’. The drama revolves around a 2009 battle by members of an infantry battalion against the Taliban while serving at an infantry outpost in South Waziristan. The final moments of the film pay tribute to Sepoy Mashooq and Sepoy Muslim. The two soldiers held to their positions against overwhelming odds when the outpost was raided.

Each generation of warrior takes an oath that binds to fidelity and honour. The oath is the beginning point for the citizen who desires to be an active part in the defence of his/her nation against acts of aggression. Yet, each military generation faces distinct challenges that are collapsed into the historical timeline, geopolitical and spatial realities of the day. And for the Pakistan military of the 21st century, the Taliban presents no differently than the Kammhuber Line afflicting the Allies in World War II.

In considering this distinct threat during the year 1943, Prime Minister Winston Churchill must be quoted in entirety: “But we still had to deal with the enemy night fighters, which accounted for about three-quarters of our bomber losses. Each German fighter was confined to a narrow area of the sky and was controlled by a separate ground station. These ground stations had originally formed a line across Europe, called the Kammhuber Line, after the name of the German general who built it. As we attempted to pierce or outflank it, so the enemy extended and deepened it. Nearly 750 of these stations spread across Europe in ivy fashion from Berlin westward to Ostend, northward to the Skagerrak, and southward to Marseilles. We found all but six of them, but there were too many to destroy by bombing. If they were permitted to stay in operation, our bombers would have to fly through many hundred miles of night-fighter ‘boxes’ stretching from the North Sea to the target. Although the losses in each box would rarely be high, they would rarely be nothing; and in time they might cripple our bomber offensive. A cheap and wholesale method of jamming the entire system was urgently needed” —

The Hinge of Fate, pages 286-287.

The Taliban have developed a complex system of small stations across Pakistan, which are reminiscent of the Kammhuber radar stations. Spreading out across the landscape of Pakistan, these ground stations have also spread in ivy fashion from the 1,000 mile border shared with Afghanistan with extension into the densely populated urban areas. Staged out of both hearth and holy place, they meet the communications needs of the Taliban with the use of a system as old as man. Nothing beats a courier serving as an information mule to avoid detection. Everyone worth their salt knows that information is the NASDAQ of the Taliban. And the loyalists are their blue chip stock. The communication signals are not always captured by conventional means. Listening posts and fusion centres can be great inventions if for no other reason than the manner in which they separate out activity from action. However, they lack the benefit of HumInt (human intelligence). But, at times, the military is able to capture the signal. The pieces all come together and one of the many stations along the Kammhuber Line is located. When this happens, the next level of play ensues.

A differentiation is noted between a military that targets the general population and one that acknowledges instances in which the population cannot be indiscriminately spared. This is especially true when a set-piece type of battle is non-existent and even more painfully true when the targeted combatant chooses to nest with his family or use the urban landscape as a shield of flesh.

The use of a collaborative effort with unmanned drones to take out Pakistan’s modern-day Kammhuber Line has produced some remarkable successes. Drone attacks have also been the cause of civilian deaths. When loss of civilian life occurs during military actions the community mourns. Each death represents an individual with many roles. The man may be a father, son, brother or uncle. The woman may be a wife, daughter, sister or aunt. Absolutely gut-wrenching is the death of a child. Professional military organisations will debrief and look at after-action reports to determine how to continue a trend of keeping civilian deaths to an absolute minimum. What is rarely discussed is the manner in which civilian deaths affect men and women in uniform. We feel the pain of these events too. Again, this dilemma of war is the difference between targeting and sparing, malice and lack of malice.

What has changed in recent years for the Pakistan military is the manner in which the Taliban have risen to the top of their game when their line is threatened. They harvest events in as quick and adept a manner as an organ is harvested for transplant by a medical team. These media experts are decreasing their reaction times from event to media delivery of a public consumption statement. When civilian deaths occur secondary to military operations this news is transplanted into the greater body of anti-west sentiment within minutes and not hours.

The Pakistan military shoulders a tough role. The fight against the Taliban is a physical fight. The mental fight involves waging their own media war to present their case and on their terms, as shown in ‘Glorious Resolve’. It is also a battle to fight the perception that the Pakistan military man is draped in the American flag because of joint efforts to destroy the Taliban communications network with eyes in the sky and eyes on the ground.

The oath is never taken lightly but blood is not offered to fight against ideology. Blood is offered to fight against acts of aggression. And, on the ground, every single day men such as Sepoy Mashooq and Sepoy Muslim pay the cost incurred from the oath and it is a high one. What price, the blood of a soldier?

The writer is a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Reserves. She is a Nurse Corps officer who resides in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She has written articles and book reviews for the Marine Corps Gazette, and Op-Ed commentary for the Dallas Morning News

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