SHER KHAN The crash of the a AH-1F Cobra helicopter in Waziristan, resulting in the loss of two precious officers and a valuable military asset, followed by the loss of a brigadier and several other officers and men in the search and rescue effort, was reminiscent of the crash of a US army/Marine Black Hawk helicopter in Somalia about two decades ago. A book and a successful movie followed soon thereafter. However, the chain of events that followed led to the rapid withdrawal of US forces in Somalia in short order, the Somalis and Farah Adeed were abandoned as the US beat a hasty retreat, although they had arrived in grand style under the glare of the TV cameras as the marines hit the beaches from their landing craft as if on the sets in Hollywood. It was the Clinton era, and in the wake of the lessons learnt in Somalia, Clinton was very wary of committing US ground forces in Bosnia, even as the Muslim population was being massacred by the Serbs in wanton acts of ethnic cleansing. However, in the long-term, no lesson was really learnt from the bad Somalia experience, as George W Bush and his advisors launched their offensives in Iraq and Afghanistan in what was projected as a walk in the park but where the US now finds itself mired in a quagmire. As in Somalia, so too in Afghanistan: the US is expecting and urging the Pakistan government to bale it out of the mess in Afghanistan, which throughout its history has proved to be the graveyard of all invaders. Because of the compulsions and follies of leaders in the last decade, the Pakistan army has lost over 3000 precious combatants, while uncountable thousands of civilians have been killed in collateral damage and wanton mistaken American drone air strikes. In the ongoing conflict in FATA and Swat, the outlook appears grim, with no end in sight, the toll of Pakistans best and bravest continues rising by the day even as the USA treats us as a rentable country, invades our airspace at will, makes a visible footprint on our soil in the garb of trainers for the Frontier Corps, as Xe and Dyncorp, never mind the tall claims of our politicians that we are a sovereign country and will brook no invasion of the sacred soil of Pakistan. Let us revisit the events that took place on Somalia. About two decades ago a US Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by Farah Adeeds militants when it was flying over Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, and the bodies of the pilots were dragged through the streets in a wave of jubilation. A hasty rescue effort was mounted by the US ground forces, but to their horror they too took casualties and were surrounded by the Somalis. So who did they turn to for help? None other than the Pakistani peacek-eepers also located in Moga-dishu. Men of 7th Battalion Frontier Force Regiment, with which the writer served for a year and a half during 1965/66, were launched to help get the Americans out, which they succeeded in doing only after losing about a score dead and several wounded. Did the Americans say thank you? Just barely; they have always treated us as a rentable commodity, and seem to be doing so to this day, as evidenced by the fact that any two-bit American official or delegation is given a warm welcome and VIP treatment by the president and prime minister alike when they troop into Islamabad. A few words about the Cobra helicopter, which has been a very effective weapon against the militants in Swat, Waziristan and elsewhere in FATA. The need for a dedicated attack helicopter was first felt by the American force commanders in South Vietnam, which till then had been using Bell UH-1 Huey helicopters fitted out with a variety of weapons, such as door-mounted machine guns and rocket pods in support of ground operations against the Viet Cong, North Vietnamese forces, etc. Bell Helicopter Company, located in Fort Worth, Texas came out with a AH-1J by replacing the cockpit and passenger compartment of the UH-1 utility helicopter with a sleek two-man fore and aft tandem cockpit while retaining the power plant, rotor and dynamic components, tail boom, etc. Over time, various improvements were incorporated, culminating in the AH-1S version for the US army and a twin-engine variant AH-1W for the US marine corps. It was produced in large numbers, and was also offered to some selected allied countries like Jordan, Japan, Korea, etc. The AH-1S, later designated as AH-1F, was offered to Pakistan after the sanctions against arms exports were hastily lifted when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The initial offer was of 10 helicopters, followed soon afterwards by another batch of 10. They were formally inducted into the Pakistan Army Aviation in 1985 at an impressive ceremony at Qasim Army Aviation near Rawalpindi by the then VCOAS General K M Arif. An American delegation was also present at the ceremony. One of its members, Ms Grace Rose, whom the writer had met during three programme reviews in St Louis, Missouri, said that we must be very proud that day with the induction of the Cobras in our fleet. The writers reply was that neither he, his children, or his grandchildren will be able to pay for these very expensive helicopters; she was left quite speechless. Some more, refurbished Cobras seem to have recently been given to the army for operations in FATA. Cobra helicopters have seen a lot of action in the last few years, both for internal security and the war on terror. They are operated and maintained by the best pilots and technicians of the army, who are as good as any men in the world, if not better. Armed with up to eight TOW (tube launched, optically tracked, wire guided) anti-tank missiles, 2.75 rockets and a 20 mm cannon, the Cobra packs a lot of punch, and compares favourably with Soviet origin attack helicopters such as the Mi-24 Hind. Although several improvements have been incorporated into the Pakistani helicopters over the years, but it has become obsolete in the US military having been replaced by the AH-64 Apache. However, it is destined to stay in service in Pakistan for many years to come. The writer is a retired brigadier. Email: msherkhan.40@gmail.com