Pentagon scales back exercises abroad
WASHINGTON: The strain on US forces of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has forced the Pentagon to cancel dozens of military training exercises, a decision that senior defence officials say could affect the fighting edge of its troops over the long term.
The latest and largest exercise to be cancelled, called Bright Star, has been conducted every two years since 1981 in Egypt. About 10,000 American and 60,000 foreign troops were to participate in this year’s event, which was to begin next month.
The exercise was abruptly cancelled on Aug 8 when Pentagon officials realized that it would mean recalling to the Middle East thousands of soldiers who had only recently returned home from long, arduous deployments in Iraq.
“This was an extremely difficult decision,” Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a statement recently. “Given our current worldwide commitments, it seemed best to take a temporary break from . . . one of our most important exercises.”
But Bright Star is only part of the story. Since Oct 1, the Pentagon has cancelled or postponed 49 of the 182 training exercises it had scheduled for this fiscal year.
Military officials say that if the trend continues, the military skills of US soldiers could deteriorate — and so could relationships with the many countries for whom such exercises provide critical contacts with American troops.
“Given the commitments and the fact that we’re out there doing a lot of missions, I think a lot of the skill sets are being worked,” said a senior military official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “But there is tremendous value to these exercises, and you can delay them for only so long before it starts to show.”
These exercises, often elaborate combat simulations involving tens of thousands of troops, are designed to provide realistic military training and have come to serve a critical function in building military skills, especially in peacetime. Between 1995 and 2000, the Pentagon spent an average of $400 million to $500 million a year just on exercises sponsored by the Joint Chiefs, according to a study by the General Accounting Office. That does not include money spent for ongoing training at bases and training centres around the world run by the four military services.
Bright Star, the largest and most significant training exercise regularly conducted by the US Central Command, which manages forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, focuses on desert fighting skills. It teaches troops everything from how to maintain their equipment in desert terrain to how to communicate with each other and with coalition forces.
Bright Star, scheduled to run for several weeks, was to have drawn heavily on the very ground, air and special operations units that are and have been deployed in Iraq for months. It was last cancelled in 1992, in the wake of the Persian Gulf War.
“Most of those skill sets that you get from Bright Star were well exercised in the first eight months of this year — deployment of air and sea lift, bridging of forces, movement of military equipment halfway around the world,” said Daniel Goure, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based research organization. Goure is a former director of the Office of Strategic Competitiveness in the Office of the Secretary of Defence.
But while many US forces are presumably current on desert warfare, that’s not the case for the 60,000 troops from other countries who were to participate in the exercise, Goure said. They were from Egypt, Greece, Germany, Jordan, Spain and Britain.
“The second important feature of these exercises is the collaboration with friends and allies,” Goure said. “We may not need Bright Star to keep our skill sets going, but the Egyptians and others certainly do. And these exercises build friendships and connections that are valuable.”
Regardless of such exercises’ value, with nearly three- quarters of Army combat troops now deployed overseas, military officials say they just don’t have the resources to maintain the pace of exercises and training.
About 138,000 of those deployed overseas are reservists, many in certain specialties that are being called up repeatedly. An additional 67,000 reservists from other branches of the military also are deployed. In Iraq alone, 133,000 Army soldiers are deployed, out of a total of 144,000 US and 12,500 coalition personnel. There are 34,000 US troops in Kuwait.
Planning for Bright Star had been under way for more than nine months when Rumsfeld intervened to cancel it, military officials said.—Dawn/The LAT-WP News Service (c) The Los Angeles Times.
Kargil’s long, dark shadow
KARGIL, a mere tactical feature in a row of soaring strategic peaks, casts a shadow, long and dark over the map of Jammu and Kashmir, far beyond its natural importance. It continues to act as a tenacious spoiler of any positive move towards a peaceful resolution of the long-running dispute - and just about the time when the peace process looks maturing into a sort of an agenda for peace, no matter how embryonic.
As in the past, this time round too Kargil has surfaced with a good deal of vengeance close on the heels of the recently-concluded grand India-Pakistan peace jamboree in Islamabad under the banner of the South Asian Free Media Association (Safma).
Th Safma conference was the fourth in a series since the first in Islamabad Feb 2000. The other two were in Kathmandu (2002) and Dhaka (2003). This month’s conference brought under one roof some 60 Indian parliamentarians and media persons representing a medley of such diverse, even mutually incompatible, groups as the Congress and BJP (along with much of its Sangh Pariwar) from India and the Muslim League-Q, the mainstream Muslim League-N and the PPP from Pakistan. Never before did the present writer see India-Pakistan political leaders and opinion-makers mix and interact so well and constructively in an atmosphere remarkably free from rancour.
Returns Kargil to throw a spanner in the wheel of the peace march much in the same manner as it did in the past. Happily, however, not with the same reactive force and impact.
Historically, the first time, Kargil shot into the international media limelight was in May 1965, just about the time when fighting in the Rann of Kutch had all but stopped and a ceasefire was being negotiated at the personal initiative of the then British prime minister, Harold Wilson.
Humiliated in the Kutch encounter, the Indian Army reacted at the other end of the spectrum and captured three Pakistani outposts in Kargil. The military demarche was followed up at the political level by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri when he threatened Pakistan with a war at a “time and place” of his “own choosing”.
The invasion of West Pakistan by India on Sept 6, 1965, translated Shastri’s political threat literally into a general war (at the time and place of his own choosing). Ending inconclusively for both sides, the 1965 war culminated in the Tashkent Declaration signed and sealed on Jan 10, 1966, under the vigilant eye of Soviet Prime Minister Alexie Kosygin.
The three Kargil outposts were returned to Pakistan in a mutual swap of lands lost and gained during the war. Hardly ever heard of through the 1971 war, Kargil had little to do with the origin and course of the war.
Having hibernated for over a quarter of a century since the signing of the Shimla Agreement (July 1972), Kargil returned with a shattering bang in April/May 1999 to derail the peace process initiated formally under the Lahore Declaration of February 21, 1999. Signed by two prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India and Mian Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, the Lahore Declaration mirrored the highest point of bilateralism between the two neighbours.
It was duly backed by a memorandum of understanding. As an arrangement negotiated and blessed by the two prime ministers, at their own initiative and in their own discretion with a minimum of bureaucratic rigmarole, the Lahore Declaration was way superior to the Shimla Agreement in the degree of good faith and trust reflected.
However, the raw disclosure of the Kargil episode came as a death blow to the Lahore initiative. It opened potentially the gravest chapter of mutual hostility just short of war. It opened the way for a series of low intensity conflicts that like low fever debilitate grievously without actually killing.
Now Kargil is once again in the headlines. There is news of some fresh Indian build-up in areas of Drass and Kargil as a prelude to a larger operation in the state. Mercifully, however, the Pakistani reaction to the news, though prompt, remains by and large moderate and controlled. No harsh words or threats of retaliation have been used.
As for the forces on our side of the Line of Control being put on the alert, there should hardly be anything unusual about it. Frontline forces such as those deployed along the LoC stay invariably in a state of high alert regardless of the imminence of the threat. Their motto is ‘Har Dam Tayyar’(Forever Ready).
Whether the Indian Army is actually preparing for a larger operation or merely rotating their units remains open to speculation. In view of the approaching winter, however, chances appear to be more in favour of rotation than a fresh build-up. India’s higher strategy, if any, could only be to provoke Pakistan into some precipitate action and use it as a stick to beat Pakistan with for upsetting the on-going peace process.
This Pakistan must avoid at all cost.
The writer is a retired Brigadier of the Pakistan Army.
Closest companion of the Prophet
HAZRAT Abu Bakr Siddiq (RA), the closest associate and most venerable companion of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), was the first pious Caliph. He personally was very amiable, moderate and munificent but as an administrator, he was a man of devotion, conviction and determination. In the hour of trial and tribulation, the strategy he adopted evidently manifests his extraordinary calibre, remarkable sagacity and unique steadfastness and rightly entitles him to be called the saviour of the Islamic state.
He was the first notable man and one of the four who accepted Islam at the very launching of the new faith. He as an inseparable friend of the Holy Prophet since the pre-prophethood days, had full faith and unwavering confidence in him. When the news of the event of Meraj was disclosed to him by some infidels. Ascertaining from them if the Holy Prophet himself has said so, he spontaneously vouched it without any hesitation and earned the proud title of ‘as-Siddiq’.
When Islam began to spread the disgruntled Meccans let loose all sorts of tyranny and persecution on the converts but he could not fall prey to such violence. He rather arranged liberty of Hazrat Bilal (RA) and several others.
The enmity and torment when crossed all bounds the Holy Prophet allowed his disciples to seek asylum in Yathrib, by then a safe place, even then he remained in Mecca. Later on when the Holy Prophet was ordained to migrate, he was the only person to accompany him. On the way the two stayed in the cave of Mount Thaur. The words ‘the second of two’ in the Quranic verse IX: 40 reportedly refer to his presence in the cave. Subsequently ‘Companion of the cave’ became his another proud title.
With the arrival of the Holy Prophet in Yathrib, the name of the city changed to Medinat-un-Nabi, shortly Madina, where a mosque on top priority was to be built for which the cost of land according to Balazuri, Futuh ul-Buldan, on the instance of the Holy Prophet was paid by him.
The safe arrival of the Holy Prophet at Madina enraged the infidels of Mecca who in vengeance to exterminate him left no stone unturned. In consequence a series of wars ensued. The battle of Badr, the first conflict, won by the Muslim further infuriated them and the battle of Ohad followed in which the Muslim suffered. Hazrat Abu Bakr was also wounded, even then he was one of those devoted companions who had surrounded the Holy Prophet for safety apprehending any inflicting assault on him. He was also included in the group of companions who were directed by the Holy Prophet to chase the retreating enemy at the end of the battle of Ohad.
He set an example unparalleled in the annals of history at the time of preparation of an expedition to Tabuk, a place between Madina and Damascus where reportedly Heraclius had collected a large force to invade Muslim territory. It was hard time for Madinites, however, they contributed whatever they could. The share of the sincere and devoted companions was to their capacity but he surpassed them all and volunteered all whatever he possessed
During his last illness, the Holy Prophet being extremely weak deputed him to lead the prayers in his place.
On the sad demise of the Holy Prophet when none of the companions was to believe that he was dead, it was he who appeased them, made them believe that he was no more in this world and cooled down the commotion spread there.
Consequent upon the death of the Holy Prophet the question of successor naturally arose. Its importance demanded prompt decision which was taken amicably and he by virtue of his seniority and close association with the Holy Prophet was unanimously elected and installed as Caliph. Receiving the oath of allegiance he declared in unequivocal words on his election.
“I have been made your Amir. I am not the best among you:” on his way of governance, “The weak and the powerful will get even justice:” and on self-accountability, “If I do well support me, if I err advise me. If I obey Allah and His Prophet (SAW) obey me, if I do not, I shall have no right to claim your obedience.”
Assuming the responsibilities of the caliphate he was confronted with the problems that some of the tribes who had already embraced Islam broke off, many tribes declined to pay Zakat and false prophets emerged to take advantage of the situation. Hazrat Ayesha (RA) at this is reported to have uttered that the problems faced by my father if had befallen on Jibal-ur- Rasiat it would have shattered. However, credit goes to him who with courage and resolution overcame them.
His first priority was to dispatch the expedition to Syria under the command of Osama bin Zaid originally ordered by the Holy Prophet but delayed due to his (SAW) death. It was a critical juncture for him. In the wake of alarming condition he was advised not to send, but he did not yield and without hesitation dispatched it in order to execute the wishes of the Holy Prophet. He was so much concerned that he himself came out of Madina to see the expedition off which soon returned graced by victory. It boosted the morale of the Muslims very much.
Turning towards the internal affairs he focused his attention to subdue the Murtadeen (seceders) those who had accepted Islam but reverted back to their origin at the behest of such elements which still had been active against Islam and to root out those who showed their reluctance to pay Zakat. Incidentally some companions had also developed a soft corner for the reluctant and advocated their case not to wage war against them but he remained adamant and declared they either pay Zakat or face war, exhorting that such exemption, if allowed, would provide them ground not to adhere to other fundamentals of the faith.
Simultaneously he also concentrated to deal with the false prophets with an iron hand.
The false prophets were also subjugated and their strength reduced to naught. With these steps the nascent Islamic state was consolidated under him.
He then launched campaigns beyond Arabia to deter imminent threats of potential aggressions from the Persians and the Byzentines and expand the territory of Islamic state. The first such campaign entrusted to Muthanna bin Harithah and soon reinforced under the command of Khalid bin Walid was in Iraq the landmark of which was capitulation of Hira, a place in the proximity of modern Kufa.
The other, in Syria was against Byzentines. The two armies stood face to face for two months that Hazrat Abu Bakr directed Khalid bin Walid who was in Iraq to hurriedly reach there. On his arrival the decisive battle was fought and gloriously won by Muslims but after about a week of the death of the Caliph. Actually the news of his death had reached the front but was kept secret till the victory ten days but his contribution was enormous.
During his two years three months reign he administered the affairs of the state strictly following the path set by the Holy Prophet (SAW). He neither compromised with the circumstances nor yielded to pressure while arriving at decisions on vital issues. He discharged his responsibilities with honesty integrity and sagacity till he breathed his last on 22nd of Jamadi-us-Sani 13th A.H.
Mystery shrouds encounter
A full-fledged investigation wing headed by an SP failed to resolve the mystery of the encounter here earlier this year in which five alleged bandits and a police inspector were killed.
After this incident, the Faisalabad district police officer had claimed it as a victory, adding that those who were killed in the encounter were dacoits operating in Faisalabad and other districts of the province. He also claimed that details of the criminal record of all those who were shot dead would be provided to the media. But these have not so far been furnished to media-men.
The case has become the talk of the town as it is being alleged by some circles that those killed were on a ‘special mission’ to kill former MNA Chaudhry Ilyas Jat and had been eliminated to hush up the matter.
Ilyas Jat and Warraich group of Gojra tehsil have a history of killings and over two dozen people, including the father and brother of Ilyas Jat, and the father of Warraich brothers, have fallen victim to this bloody enmity.
According to the postmortem report, Tandlianwala SHO Zafar Abbas Kalas, who was killed in the encounter, had sustained four bullet injuries and the cause of his death was excessive bleeding.
Only the weapon examiner of the Forensic Laboratory can testify to the description of the bullet which hit Mr Kalas and determine and differentiate between the arms used in the encounter by the police and the alleged outlaws. None of the weapons belonging to the officials and killers was sent to the laboratory for examination. These vital requirements were ignored which posed questions about the credibility of the encounter.
An insider claimed that Zafar Abbas Kalas was hit by a bullet fired by the police. The postmortem of all accused was conducted after a delay of 48 hours. The bodies of alleged criminals — Safdar Bhatti and Zaigham — were not received by any of their relatives and were buried by the Edhi Trust.
Legal circles also questioned the credibility of the encounter and expressed surprise as to why a judicial inquiry into the incident was not conducted which is a normal practice in such type of incidents.
A police source claimed that at the time of the encounter, one of the accused reportedly made a call on cellular phone to a senior police officer who claimed to be supervising the operation. The caller told the officer that they were not criminals and be allowed to talk to DSP (investigation) Altaf Husain. None of the investigation officers bothered to get a statement of Altaf Husain for seeking a clarification and to investigate why he was known to the accused and how they were claiming that they were not criminals.
In a progress report sent to the Punjab inspector general of police, the investigation officer claimed that from the site of the occurrence one cellular phone was taken into custody which would be got verified from the telephone company for scanning phone calls made by the accused for further investigation.
A police officer on condition of anonymity said one of the accused had links with sub-inspector Umer Draz who was then posted as Batala Colony SHO and also took part in the operation. The link of Umer Draz can be verified from the calls made by police officials through their wireless sets on the night of encounter day when Umer Draz had claimed that he had some information about the ‘suspected vehicle’ which broke the barrier of the People’s Colony police station and left the city after dropping its inmates in a house of Neamat Colony. But neither any investigating officer recorded the statement of Umer Draz nor inquired about his links with the accused.
He said the incident was not correctly reported by the DPO to the police highups and the provincial government, and a number of important facts were concealed.
When contacted, investigation officer Shaikh Waqar Nisar said the case file of the encounter had been consigned to the police record room as it required no more investigation after the death of all accused involved in the killing of police inspector and injuring of some other policemen.
The legal circles have expressed dismay over the police performance and raised questions about the fairness of the operation and termed it a calculated move to hush up the real motive behind it.