Tag Archives | raid

PGP from the raid at Entebbe

When to use force and when to negotiate a prisoner exchange?

Most of us have read books or seen movie/ TV series about the Raid at Entebbe. It was a successful hostage-rescue mission carried out by the Special Forces of the Israel Defense Forces at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on 4 July 1976, and has been held as an example of how real tough countries should deal with kidnappers. Now, here are more details on how the decision was arrived upon by the then Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

On the afternoon of June 27, 1976, Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked an Air France flight originating from Israel and directed it eventually to Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where most of the non-Israelis on board were immediately released. More than 100 hostages remained, 83 of whom were Israeli. They were held for the next six days, until an elite team of Israel Defense Force commandos freed them in the famous raid known as Operation Entebbe. The name of the mission became synonymous with Israel’s refusal to give in to the demands of terrorists and its willingness to go to extraordinary lengths, and risk many lives, to free Israeli hostages.

Despite Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s final decision to use a military operation to rescue the Entebbe hostages, recently declassified documents tell a more complex story, one that reveals Rabin’s doubts about the mission and exposes the inescapable dilemma, which has only intensified over the years, at the heart of Israel’s policy toward its own captured citizens. We now know that even as the raid was being planned, the Rabin government was making contact with various international middlemen to obtain a list of the hijackers’ demands, and Rabin himself privately said he was willing to release the 53 prisoners the terrorists had named. During the secret discussions prior to the Entebbe operation, Rabin, who agreed to the mission after much persuasion by intelligence and ministry planners, effectively established the principle that is still followed by all Israeli leaders facing hostage situations: if the necessary intelligence is available and the operational circumstances allow, force — even a great deal of it — will be used to free hostages; if not, Israel will negotiate a prisoner exchange.

Rabin signed off on the Entebbe plan only after intelligence agents assured him that aerial surveillance showed Ugandan soldiers guarding the terminal where the hostages were being held, indicating that the building was not booby-trapped. (These same documents also reveal the orders to follow if the commandos ran into Idi Amin himself. “He isn’t a factor,” Rabin said. “If he interferes, the orders are to kill him.” To which the foreign minister, Yigal Allon, added, “Also if he doesn’t interfere.”)

Amos Eiran, who was then director general of Rabin’s office, told me recently: “On the morning of the operation, Rabin summoned me and went over the wording of the resolution he was going to propose to the cabinet on the subject of the operation. He was wearing a dressing gown and was very tense. He accompanied me to the elevator and said: ‘Prepare for me a draft letter of resignation. I give the operation a 50-50 chance. If it fails, I’ll accept all the responsibility and resign.’ I asked, ‘What will you see as a failure?’ and he replied, ‘Twenty-five or more dead.’ ” When the mission was completed, three passengers and one Israeli soldier were killed.[NYT]

…if the necessary intelligence is available and the operational circumstances allow, force — even a great deal of it — will be used to free hostages; if not, Israel will negotiate a prisoner exchange.

That is PGP for Indian government to follow in any hostage crisis. PGP, as in Pretty Good Principle.

From the archives: Chest-thumping as hostage policy

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Nationalism is not an epithet

Why is Nationalism an anathema to some Indian commentators?

After the Americans took out Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan in a stunning military raid, the mainstream Indian reaction has been one of vindication — telling the world “I told you so” about Pakistan. After all, having suffered for many decades from the terror unleashed by the Pakistani state, schadenfreude would be a perfectly acceptable emotion among Indians.

Within a couple of days of the Abbottabad raid, India’s army and air force chiefs were asked a straight-forward question by the journalists about India’s capability to conduct a similar overseas raid. Their answer was an honest one — Yes. It was a perfectly valid response to a direct question posed to them. We should not expect it to be any other way.

Since then, Pakistani media has chosen to highlight the above themes in its coverage of Indian reaction to the Abbottabad raid. This is understandable because it allows India to be portrayed as one aggressive big-brother with evil and nefarious designs that only the Pakistani military (and its jehadi proxies) can effectively counter.

However, even more amazingly, there is a section of Indian commentators, writing in both the Indian and Pakistani media, which has copied that line. These commentators (and this blogger is deliberately avoiding taking any names in order to avoid a controversy) blame the Indians for being vocal about their feelings of vindication, and criticise the service chiefs for their straight-forward answer. They suggest that Indians need to be more considerate and sympathetic towards the feelings of the Pakistani state, where the army and the ISI feel outraged by the violation of its sovereignty by the US.

Of course, these commentators are entitled to their opinion and have the utmost freedom to express their view. They have been able to establish this viewpoint as the fashionable one, and the influence they wield via the mass media has allowed them to implant these thoughts in many impressionable Indian minds. Unless countered vigorously, it has debilitating consequences in the offing for the Indian society.

These commentators are usually christened as liberals or left-liberals in public discourse. Liberals or not, these folks seem completely dissociated from our past, our history, our people and from our very existence. Their disengagement has become so extreme that everything alien is their fashion of choice. And the more alien, the more fashionable it is. It seems that advocating an adversary’s line is being used by the commentator to bolster her independent credentials.

Observed closely, all their arguments flow from the presumption that India and Indians can never be right. As India and Indians are not right, the corollary then is for India to come up with solutions — making one concession after the other — till it meets the approval of the adversary.

Nationalism seems an anathema to these commentators, an epithet which they shouldn’t be tagged with.

For the first fifty years of the previous century, nationalism was the mantra of public and intellectual discourse in this country. The foundations of India’s independence and its continuing journey as a Republic were laid in that discourse. The word has unfortunately been devalued since. It is now used by joining it to other pejoratives  — communalism, fascism, chauvinism, jingoism and fanaticism. Once nationalism becomes a dirty word, synonymous with fascism, it is explicable that these commentators feel the need to strike a pose — a pose which conveys that they are not Nationalist (any by extension, neither fascist nor communal).

As my colleague Nitin Pai has explained (here), automatically equating nationalism with intolerance is wrong. And dangerous, if I may add, as being witnessed in the current instance. Nationalism must be liberal, and that is what we should aspire for in India. As Nitin articulated in his essay on Liberal Nationalism:

Liberalism (or libertarianism, in its American usage) is concerned about individual freedom. To enjoy freedom in practice, the individual gives up some of it to the state. The state, a nation-state in India’s case, exists to ensure the rights, freedoms and well-being (yogakshema) of its people. So ensuring the survival and security of the Indian state—by maximising its relative power internationally—is wholly consistent with allowing its citizens to live in freedom.[Acorn]

There is no reason for anyone among us to be apologetic about Indian nationalism. Indian Nationalism is fully consistent with the values enshrined in the preamble to the Indian Constitution — our Constitution, which is the lodestar of modern Indian nationhood.

Nationalism is about putting the interests of India and Indians first, without compromising on any of our constitutional ideals. Let us not allow it to be any other way.

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Did Pakistan cooperate?

Whether Pakistan cooperated with the US or not, India must accept the dark reality.

Osama Bin Laden is dead. The Americans got him inside Pakistan. The official US version says that Pakistan was neither involved nor informed about the raid on the house at Abbotabad. Many others say that Pakistan was involved and it helped out in the military operation but is maintaining silence because of “a possible backlash from Islamist insurgents or Pakistan’s strongly anti-American public”.

Either way, it should be a salutary warning for the Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh who would only consider his job “well done” if ties with Pakistan return to normal before he leaves the office. Despite any lack of movement by Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack to book, Dr Singh has pushed his government back to the pre-2008 composite dialogue with Pakistan, albeit without specifically christening it so.

So how does Pakistan’s role in the US military operation to get Bin Laden matter for India?

If Pakistan was not even informed of the operation by the US, it shows US’ complete lack of trust in Pakistan army and intelligence agencies when it comes to fighting jehadi terror. In effect, it conveys that the Pakistan army is hand-in-glove with the jehadis. As Pakistan army is the sole repository of that nation’s policy towards India — with its strategy against India predicated on using terror as an instrument of state policy — India can not expect to see any change of heart from Pakistan. The status quo shall thus prevail.

If Pakistan was actually a party to this operation and is unwilling to acknowledge its role, its doesn’t make things any better for India. It means that a large section of Pakistani  society, and perhaps even the rank-and-file of its military, do not consider jehadi terror to be a menace that the Pakistani state should confront. And the Pakistani political and military leadership do not have the courage to tell their people even this truth, let alone convince them. Talking about peace with such a weak state and a duplicitous military will not save India from the wrath of jehadi terror emanating from Pakistan.

This may sound harsh but it is a reality that Indian political leadership needs to confront. There is no glory in pursuing a course of action which is doomed for failure.

Where does the answer lie for India then? To quote Carl Jung, “All the greatest and most important problems are fundamentally unsolvable. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.” India needs to learn to outgrow the problem called Pakistan.

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Terrorists better than Navy seals — Kilcullen’s thesis

“This was a lot like a special forces raid,” said David J. Kilcullen, departing special advisor for counterinsurgency to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a  principal architects of the surge strategy in Iraq. “A [Navy] SEAL team would have had trouble mounting this mission.”

Kilcullen, however, later told Security Management that he wasn’t sure ISI had the capability to train the terrorists. It’s instead possible that elements within the Pakistani military, possibly retired, trained the terrorist commandos. He also wouldn’t rule out that whomever trained the Mumbai terrorists may have received military training from the United States. The U.S. government has given enormous sums of money and training to Pakistan’s military, such as its Special Services Group, to fight jihadist insurgents and terrorists inside the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

“It’s just too early to say, but it is a possibility,” said Kilcullen.

During the panel discussion, Kilcullen said the attacks had all the hallmarks of a commando raid. The terrorists were armed with good technology, such as GPS and cell phones. They entered Mumbai from its most vulnerable gateway: the sea, after launching from a Pakistani ship they pirated. The initial attacks against hospitals, the train station, and other locations were diversions, a ruse to draw first responders away from the terrorists’ real target: the Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotels and the Mumbai Jewish center. The terrorists in at least one hotel had knowledge of its security, says Kilcullen, suggesting detailed reconnaissance and other co-conspirators. Inside the hotels, terrorists booby-trapped bodies with grenades and kept moving during the hotel hostage situation to make themselves harder to kill.[SM]

David Kilcullen is one of the most respected names among counterinsurgency experts today, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian army with a doctorate in political anthropology. You can check out a very interesting biography of Kilcullen here and also watch the video of Kilcullen on An hour with Charlie Rose.

Kilcullen has not unearthed something earth-shattering here but his views are significant. While Kilcullen might have spoken at the panel in his personal capacity, his thoughts are likely to be reflected in the thinking of the US state department and General Petraeaus. With this, the insidious theory of Kashmir-solves-Afghanistan is likely to be consigned to the place where it really belongs — the trash can.

It is the Pakistani army and ISI and their umbilical relationship with jehadis that drives terrorism in South Asia. A solution to this global problem of jehadi terrorism has to involve defanging the Pakistani army and the ISI. The incoming administration in the US would have realised it by now. After January 20 next year, it would be time for Obama administration to acknowledge and act on this fact.

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For internal consumption only

Zardari’s warnings to Petraeus are aimed only at his domestic audience.

First, the “democratically elected” Pakistani government took offence to the cross-border raid by US ground forces inside Pakistani territory. There have been no further reports of cross-border raids by the US ground forces since. That may have been done partially to cater to Pakistani sensitivities, but certainly the main reason was because the US military might be finding such operations riskier and of limited tactical benefits vis-a-vis aerial strikes by unmanned drones.

Then, on October 29, the Pakistani government summoned the US Ambassador to Islamabad, Anne W. Patterson  to demand a halt to air strikes on its soil by American forces, saying the operations weaken the ability of the government to fight terrorism. A missile from a US drone killed 27 people in Kari Kot in Pakistan’s South Waziristan district on October 31, signifying that such démarche did little to alter US military strategy in the border areas of Pakistan.

President Zardari has repeated these warnings to General Petraeus during his maiden visit to Islamabad as the head of the US Central Command.

“The focus should be more on enhanced coordination and intelligence-sharing,” Zardari told the U.S. officials today when they met at his residence during a visit to Pakistan, according to a Pakistani government statement. The cross-border raids from Afghanistan have killed Pakistanis and destroyed property, “creating a credibility gap” as members of the public pressure their leaders to explain the U.S. actions, Zardari said.

And Petraeus’ reply was nothing more than a polite acknowledgement.

“In fact, we got certain messages with each of those we talked today and some of those were very clear and we have to take those on-board,” Petraeus said Monday, adding later, “The tone of the conversation was very frank and very forthright, as it should be.”

President Zardari and his government have little  control over the actions initiated by the US forces in Pakistani territories bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani state and its military are so dependent on US dole that any belligerence by the Pakistani security forces inviting the US wrath is likely to bring the Pakistani nation at the brink of an existential disaster.

Unlike Musharraf, Zardari is the head of a political party that runs the federal government in Pakistan. He has to per force make the right noises to address the concerns of his domestic constituency. However rather than pacifying the anti-US sentiments in the country, such publicly reported warnings by Zardari only tend to strengthen the public portrayal of the US as a satanic state that cares little for Pakistan and its elected government.

So will the drone attacks inside Pakistan by US military stop now? They may stop, but that will have nothing to do with Zardari’s warning to Petraeus and Boucher. It will only result due to a dramatic, but unlikely, shift in the US military strategy for tackling insurgency in the region. President Zardari would be hoping against hope that Dave Petraeus is the catalyst for that change in the US strategy.

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