‘Surgical’ air strikes

By: Stephen D. Capillas June 01,2017 - 09:35 PM


It is both tragic and instructional that the deaths of several soldiers due to “friendly fire” or air strikes in Marawi City should cause so much public outrage that calls for the military to end it would mount and tie their hands from ending the siege of the Maute terror group in that area.

Anyone who’s a casual observer of military warfare would readily admit the advantage of air strikes in any armed conflict. The Gulf War and the campaign to kill Osama Bin Laden and decimate Al Qaeda in the mid-2000s involved not only ground troops but the so-called “shock and awe” tactics employed by the US military in battering ground defenses into a pile of rubble and reducing the population of enemy bunkers to zero.

One of these include tactical air strikes and contrary to what the US military would present in their press conferences covered around the world, it is anything but “surgical”, at least to those troops in the ground who make it possible for the Air Force to successfully carry out their bombing runs.

Looking through the records of the Gulf War in the early ’90s — that war was then a showcase to the world of US military might at an era when CNN was first making its mark as a global TV cable network — we see that there were lots of deaths including those of forward air controllers, those personnel who guide the aircraft into dropping those “smart bombs” into bunkers that hold enemy troops.

As is often the case, enemy troops engage in close contact with friendly forces; hence the difficulty of targeting enemy soldiers without harming one’s troops. That’s where the forward air controllers come in to ensure that air support in the form of air strikes hit the intended target.

As said earlier, it isn’t perfect but it may be as close to surgical as possible. I remember the 1996 Michael Bay movie “The Rock” starring Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery in which the antagonist, Gen. Frank Hummel (played by Ed Harris) denounced the US government’s failure to honor and pay compensation to his US Recon Marines, 85 of whom died while lacing the bombing targets that made possible the surgical smart bomb attacks in Desert Storm.

I really don’t know much about the armaments used by the Philippine military in conducting their “air strikes” against the Maute group in Marawi City, but I really doubt if they consist of the same technology and weaponry used by the US and other First World countries, i.e., “smart bombs” and long range air to surface cruise missiles that are the stuff of every military nut’s wet dream.

More than likely and I’m just speculating here, they involve Vietnam era helicopter gunships that may be outfitted with some missiles or bombs that still need soldiers to guide them to their targets.

Hence there were videos of hostages appealing to the military to stop the air strikes to avoid hitting them too since the Maute terrorists won’t hesitate to use human shields.

That’s why though it is understandable that a lot of people would be upset by the loss of soldiers to friendly fire, it is something that is not completely unavoidable in an offensive as intense, unpredictable and protracted as the Marawi City siege.

If more people knew that deaths due to friendly fire can still happen even with the best and most advanced weaponry at the military’s disposal, then public disappointment and even condemnation may not be as widespread as it is now.

* * *

One thing I forgot to mention in last Friday’s column was that the local media in Cagayan de Oro City wasn’t shut down or anything on the night martial law was declared in Mindanao at 10 p.m. last May 23.

During my vacation break in Cagayan de Oro City in Misamis Oriental, northern Mindanao, I did notice that the broadcasters were a bit guarded in their news coverage and commentaries on the Marawi City siege, but they weren’t censored or anything by the government.

When one talks about martial law, at least for those old enough to have remembered and lived through it during the Marcos regime, one of the few elements involved the shutdown and reopening of media outlets that were then taken over by the government.

No such thing happened in last week’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao, and in fact, some commercial FM radio stations were making light banter of the martial law declaration, “warning” philandering husbands to immediately go home lest their wives report their whereabouts to the military, leading to their immediate arrest.

What was clear was the opinions for and against martial law in social media, with a lot of loud voices supporting martial law coming from the millennial generation, whose parents were kids when the first martial law was declared and who voted for President Duterte last year.

The voices of opposition came from the elders and those with left-leaning political views who remember all too well how martial law had proven to be dangerous to those critical of the Marcos regime.

It remains to be seen if martial law will be declared in the Visayas and even if martial law in Mindanao had not resulted in rights abuses so far, martial law remains a Damocles sword that should be sheathed immediately once the danger is past.

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TAGS: air strikes, Al Qaeda, Marawi City, Maute, Osama Bin Laden, peace, siege, terrorism, terrorist, The Gulf War

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