After the resolution vote in the General Assembly on declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, an overwhelming number of our allies voted against the US initiative. President Trump told the world we were taking names via Ambassador Nikki Haley’s speech at the United Nations.
It looks like the first nation on the chopping block is Pakistan, totaling $1.3 billion. To tell you the truth, I have mixed feelings on Pakistan. Those feelings wax both good and bad.
While deployed the Chief of the Air Refueling Control Team at the Prince Sultan Combined Air Operations Center, there were a couple of things I observed while trying making air refueling plans supporting the fighters, bombers, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance or ISR aircraft over the Shaihkot Valley during Operation Anaconda. Everything we did hinged on Pakistan diplomatic clearances.
In the Diplomatic realm,
On one occasion, Pakistani diplomatic approval for us to use one of their airfields literally came in a day. Two A-10 Warthogs callsign MISTY flight departed Al Jabbar Airfield Kuwait and flew to the Shaihkot Valley not knowing where they were going to land. During MISTY flight’s nine-hour mission, diplomatic requests went back and forth between the US and Pakistani governments through our Embassy in Islamabad. Even in war, it is not what you know, but who you know. Lieutenant General Mike Moseley had gone to school with a Pakistani Air Force General, who helped obtain clearance for the Warthogs to land at Jalalabad Airfield. Over the next two nights, four more Hawgs arrived at Jalalabad, performing their combat missions from Pakistan.
That event was not the norm. Obtaining diplomatic clearances for our aircraft to fly through certain areas of Pakistan remained a huge hurdle because of long lead times for airspace approval over Pakistan, many times taking days. In many cases we needed airspace quickly, taking a minimum of five days for Pakistan’s approval. We didn’t have five days because of how bad the situation was on the ground in the opening days of Anaconda. Fortunately for my refueling team, we found an area in the disputed tribal region of Pakistan the Air Force Special Operations Command AC-130 Gunships and MC-130 Combat Talons used in an area we called BIGFOOT. My team worked out a timeshare with the Special Operations folks to refuel A-10 Warthogs in BIGFOOT. My plans team would have liked an area closer to Shaihkot because of the A-10’s slow speed, but we couldn’t wait five to seven days for Pakistani approval.
In the Informational realm,
I don’t remember how many intelligence reports I read stating Top Tier Al-Qaeda and Taliban high-value targets we’re going back and forth across the Afghan – Pakistan border. We had clear actionable intelligence Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters used the border area as their “safe space.” Often Predator UAV video showed them crossing the borders. We knew the Musharraf government where allies in fighting these terror groups, but it was frustrating watching groups of enemy fighters crossing into Pakistan and there wasn’t anything we could do about it. We were not allowed to attack them while their feet were on Pakistani soil.
The cable news report all stated Pakistan were our allies in finding and capturing Al-Qaeda terrorists, but their Internal Security Service was not only hiding Osama Bin Laden in his top lieutenants, they were supporting them. Watching these news reports and hearing how the Musharraf’s ISS was helping us when we knew they were helping them was frustrating.
I was not surprised when SEAL Team Six operatives found bin Laden in Pakistan. The Pakistani government had to know he and his family were there. Who signed the building permit for his million-dollar compound, under two miles from the Pakistani Military Academy?
Now for the Military area,
The majority of US air power supporting coalition ground troops in the Shaihkot Valley flew through Pakistani airspace. Early in the war, Pakistan approved two air refueling areas were located side by side over the Balochistan region. MERCURY was designed to refuel airplanes going into Afghanistan, and APOLLO was designed for warplanes leaving Afghanistan returning to their bases in Kuwait, Qatar, and three aircraft carriers operating off the coast of Pakistan. These two refueling areas were critical to our operations during Operation Anaconda. Fighter, bomber, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft could not perform their missions without getting gas in MERCURY going in and APOLLO coming out. My team opened a third refueling area strictly for C-17 Globemaster III airlifter support for troops throughout Afghanistan over the Indian Ocean but inside the Pakistan FIR we called NIMITZ. The Pakistanis could have cut these air routes off to us at any time they disliked what we were doing.
In the Economic area,
I learned something very interesting during Operation Anaconda. I was told one afternoon my team had to move the HANNITY refueling area north of the Shaihkot Valley. We placed HANNITY in the right location to support operations over Shaihkot Valley but the Afghan Government said move it… now! The airspace folks couldn’t tell my team why. Always follow the money! We learned the International Civil Aviation Organization or ICAO was paying the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan millions of dollars to open and sustain commercial air traffic through their airspace. In the case of Afghanistan, opening the single airway close to and touching HANNITY’s boundry, ICAO would pay the Afghan government $2 million a day. Opening up the airways over the Balochistan area of Pakistan where MERCURY and APOLLO were situated afforded the Pakistan government a similar sum. The airway leaving Afghanistan to the southeast below APOLLO and MERCURY opened up because commercial airliners needed a way to reach the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. My team was shocked learning these airways afforded Afghanistan and Pakistan several million dollars a day to keep commercial airliners moving through their airspace, but Operation Anaconda was in the way. Moving the refueling areas was just another headache but the economic aid from the International Civil Aviation Organization to the poor countries was a good bargaining chip for the Americans also.
There is one last lesson I learned stretching across both the Diplomatic and Military realms of our air operations during Anaconda. India and Pakistan have been enemies for a long time, constantly disputed their east and west border. One afternoon I was asked to participate in a group developing a plan to evacuate all US and Coalition aircraft out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. The scary part about this evacuation plan was both India and Pakistan in a nuclear exchange with ballistic missiles. We always had good intelligence on when India or Pakistan was going to test their ballistic missiles. But we constantly looked over our shoulder on a number of occasions when the border dispute intensified. The plan called for the AWACS to move everyone toward MERCURY and APOLLO quickly and return to their bases.
I wanted you to know about our involvement with Pakistan in the global war on terrorism. Yes, they have been an ally, but there have been a couple times where I wasn’t sure. And it was truly scary developing an evacuation plan based on a potential nuclear war between two countries and US aircraft being caught in the middle