India has a long and distinguished history in UN peacekeeping, participating in most major peacekeeping exercises since the Korean conflict in 1950. As of August 2000, India is the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping efforts with 4238 soldiers and civilian police participating in various UN peacekeeping operations around the world. The largest deployment of Indian peacekeepers is in Africa in Sierra Leone where over 3000 Indian troops form the backbone of the UN Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). India has no strategic interest in Sierra Leone. The presence of these Indian peacekeepers is thus a reflection of India's historical ties with Africa and our commitment to assist any process or initiatives that are aimed to bring peace and development to the continen The Indian presence in Sierra Leone consists of Infantry troops, special forces, logistic and engineering groups, force headquarter personnel, as well as a fully functioning and independent aviation unit.
Role The role of IAF Contingent 2000 is determined by the mandate given to UNAMSIL.The rules of engagement stress that the helicopters may fire only in self-defence or to provide protection for UN troops or personnel in the carrying out of the mandate of UNAMSIL.
Activity From day 1, IAF Contingent 2000 made its presence felt and carried out invaluable service in the form of casualty, evacuation, medical, armed rescue , communication and logistic support besides gaining the goodwill of the peacekeepers of different nations. IAF Contingent took active part in welfare activities by looking after the sick and wounded of the local population and earned goodwill of the local population.
Special Achievements Rescue Operation - Makeni 07 May 2000, the contingent was tasked to evacuate three Kenyan battle casualties and 11 UN Military observers from the besieged garrison of Makeni, a major town in the north east of Free Town at a distance of about 150 kms.Immediately after landing at Makeni helipad, the helicopter piloted by Sqn Ldr TA Dayasagar and Flt Lt MK Yadav, encountered heavy firing from the RUF rebel positions around the helipad. Sqn Ldr TA Dayasagar, undeterred by the firing, offloaded the supplies and helped the casualties and the terror stricken Military Observers in the helicopter and took off with the rebels still firing at the helicopter. As soon as the helicopter was airborne, it developed very heavy vibrations as a result of damage caused by enemy firing and almost became uncontrollable. At this point of time, the helicopter was flying over populated and forested areas with no force landing field in sight. Sqn Ldr TA Dayasagar, using his exceptional skill, continued to fly the crippled helicopter for almost 10 Km before putting it down on the first available clear patch. The emergency "May Day Call '' of Sqn Ldr TA Dayasagar was picked up by another helicopter on a similar mission, piloted by Wg Cdr RK Negi, who immediately headed for the force-landing site. Wg Cdr RK Negi soon landed his helicopter next to the crippled helicopter and quickly shifted all the casualties and military observers to his helicopter. During this period, the rebels were seen approaching the helicopters from all directions. Under the developing precarious situation due to imminent threat of rebel attack, Wg Cdr RK Negi, perforce, had to take the decision to abandon the crippled helicopter and subsequently rescued the crew, casualties and the military observers safely to Hastings. This daring and well coordinated rescue operation has earned wide scale appreciation including from UN HQs, New York.
Emergency Supply of Ration and Ammunition On 10 May 2000, an emergency call was received to supply rations and ammunition to Kenyan Battalion, which was moving from Makeni to Kabala. In the absence of any landing site in the area, the Force HQ was obviously in a predicament to reach the much-needed supplies to the Kenyan landed the supplies safely into the hands of Kenyans in the rebel dominated area. It will be relevant to mention here that the aircrew were given only approximate coordinates of the place of rendezvous with the Kenyan troops who were on the move and it was quite difficult to locate them in the thickly wooded terrain. Notwithstanding the numerous odds, the contingent aircrew lived up to their high professional standards and located the place without wasting time and earned the admiration of the Kenyans.
Modification to Mi-8 and Chetak for Armament Role IAF Contingent aircrew have always risen to the occasion and undertaken tasks beyond the scope of their mandate when dictated by extreme emergency conditions. During the crisis situation created by RUF rebel attacks on UNAMSIL positions, both Mi-8 and Chetak were modified to provide cover effectively from the air. All these modifications, innovations and challenging high risk missions were undertaken by the aircrew, at a time when the UNAMSIL forces were under extreme pressure from the strong rebel attacks. It would not be out of place to mention here that the fire support provided from the helicopters created panic among the rebels and at the same time boosted the morale of our forces, which finally blunted the rebel's offensive. The contingent aircrew also took up another challenging task of providing aerial reconnaissance and acting as aerial platforms and mobile command posts in sensitive mission areas.
Operation Khukri For 75 days, the rebels had held 222 peacekeepers hostage. The situation had become precarious. The UN Force Cdr in consultation with his sector Cdr took the military option. The IAF contingent was tasked to execute the extraction with a host of restraints placed on them. This mission was brilliantly accomplished along with UNAMSIL forces which consisted largely of Indian Peacekeepers. The IAF Contingent was led by Gp Capt BS Siwach AVSM VM on 15 & 16 Jul 2000. During the operation, the IAF Contingent flew a total of 98 sorties utilising 66:05 hrs. A total of 08 helicopters were utilised for this mission. The IAF assets employed for the operation were as follows :- 3 X MI-35 Gun Ships 3 X MI-8 2 X Alouettes
Appreciation by the Visiting Dignitaries The high professional standards displayed by the IAF contingent have been appreciated by the Force Commander on a number of occasions. During his visit to the contingent on 06 Jun, Lt Gen Manfud Elsek, the Head of UN fact finding delegation to Sierra Leone commended the Contingent for the daring rescue mission of the Kenyan casualties and 11 UN Observers from Makeni and conveyed his appreciation for maintaining 100% serviceability of helicopters under such difficult conditions. During the briefing of the UN fact finding delegation, Jordanian Sector Cdr Brig Gen A Serhan availed the opportunity to inform the Head of the UN Delegation that he has been highly impressed with the prompt response and professional approach displayed by the IAF Contingent, and in his opinion, it is the best Aviation Unit he has seen so far. The DGMO and his delegation members highly appreciated the outstanding performance of the IAF Contingent during their visit. The Chief Medical Officer from UN HQ, New York during his inspection visit to the contingent spoke very high of the quality of medical services provided by the contingent. The remarks of the visiting dignitaries are reproduced below : (a) Lt Gen NC Vij PVSM UYSM AVSM, DGMO (10 Jun 2000). "Great Meeting you all. Well done. You have done the country proud and earned tremendous goodwill. Wish you, the very best of luck and adventure and glory in days to come". (b) Maj Gen VK Jetley UYSM, Force Commander (10 Jun 2000). "You all have, in a short span of time, worked wonders and earned a niche for yourself internationally. As the force Commander, I am extremely proud of having such an outstanding professional outfit under my Command. Keep up the good work and God bless". (c) Shri BS Lalli, JS(G) (10 Jun 2000). "It was a great pleasure to be in the midst of our brave officers and men who, indeed, are doing a splendid job. I wish Group Captain Siwach and his team all the best". (d) Shri DP Srivastava, JS(UN) (10 Jun 2000). "I was very impressed by our officers and men, who are discharging their duty under trying circumstances". (e) Air Cmde S Sah AVSM VM, Director Ops (T&H) (10 Jun 2000). "A very well established IAF Contingent camp despite constraints. It is nice to see the morale of all personnel very high. Operationally the contingent has made the IAF proud. Thank you for the hospitality". (f) Dr. C Halle, DPKO, UN HQ, New York (16 Jun 2000). "I am deeply impressed by the ability of your staff to see solutions and not problems and so perform their tasks in the true spirits of the United Nations". The mission was executed under extreme adverse weather conditions. The MI-35 gunships led by Wg Cdr AT Samtani provided accurate suppressive fire power which broke the back bone of RUF resistance. This enabled the MI-8 helicopters led by Wg Cdr RK Negi to make an ingress and outmanoeuvre the rebels by inducting and re-deploying the troops. The DZ in the mountainous terrain was encircled with RUF troops, notwithstanding this the MI-8 helicopters carried out a quick ingress and egress with the stranded troops on board. The Chetaks as an aerial platform led by Sqn Ldr Gab Babu were utilised as mobile command posts directing fire and co-ordinating MI-35 and MI-8 helicopters on targets and DZ with accuracy. Throughout the operation, IAF Contingent drew heavy fire. The Chetaks were also instrumental during the operation in cas-evac of two Army casualties. The whole operation was well conceived, coordinated and executed with surgical precision.
Conclusion The IAF played a pivotal role in enabling UNAMSIL to achieve its Mission with bare minimum casualties on the ground. Force Commander, UN HQ at New York and the world at large lauded the role played by IAF.
UN PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS IN CONGO
UN PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS IN CONGO
INDIAN AVIATION CONTINGENT - II (IAC-II) The tragedies of the civil war in Democratic Republic of the Congo forced the United Nations to send in an international peacekeeping composite body named MONUC in 1999. A resurgent India was committed to send its military forces for MONUC. Consequently, Indian Aviation Contingent-I (IAC-I) was inducted at Goma (with four Mi-25 attack helicopters and five Mi-17 utility helicopters) in 2003 as a part of this mission. The contribution of the Indian Aviation Contingent was so exemplary, that the UN approached for another aviation contingent from India.
INDIAN AIR FORCE OPERATIONS IN CONGO (MONUC) MONUC (GOMA) MONUC was the third major contribution of the IAF under the UN flag. As the situation in North-East Congo was turning grave with repeated massacres and killings of innocent civilians; international community decided to strengthen its military presence. India contributed armed helicopters and utility helicopters to the Congolese provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. The IAF unit in Goma/Bunia was called the Indian Aviation Contingent (IAC-I) and the major lodger units included one Mi-25 Squadron and one Mi-17 squadron. These squadrons were equipped with four Mi-25 aircraft and five Mi-17 helicopters respectively along with aircrew and ground support personnel. This invaluable asset increased the MONUC's sphere of influence in the Eastern DRC and UN forces were able to reach areas that had hitherto been outside its sphere of influence. In addition to this enhancement of the sphere of operation, the arrival of IAC 1, followed by IAC2 and 3 also conferred upon MONUC a high degree of firepower both in North Kivu and Ituri province. This firepower in turn conferred upon MONUC an ability to deter various rebel groups who now feared retribution from the skies. IAF IN THE CONGO (ONUC) The first time when an IAF squadron was led in the volatile situation of Congo was in the sixties. The unit had six Canberra B (I) MK-58 fighter aircraft with aircrew and ground support personnel. The Squadron was commanded by Wing Commander AIK Suares. India inducted these aircraft through a long haul over the Gulf countries and Africa commencing their long flights from Agra on 09 Oct 1961. After arriving at Congo, the Canberra team started their mission by adopting an intensive flying programme. The Squadron was given its area of responsibility over southern Katanga province aligned with the Indian forces. The Canberras practiced low level (500 feet) and night flying over the area of operations. This also enabled the UN to show their robust presence with a show of UN flag.
In August 1961, the Indian Brigade Group had launched 'Operation RUMPUNCH' against the foreign mercenaries creating law and order problems in Katanga province. These mercenaries were instrumental in the declaration of secession of this province and creating an impasse in the peace process. The Canberras started their operations in 1961 by attacking and destroying certain mercenary positions in the strategically significant town of Kolwezi. The rebels had a substantial air element composed of old aircraft which posed a great danger to UN freedom of movement in the area. The Squadron was given the task to locate and destroy this element. IAF operations commenced in Leopoldville and Kamina and within a short time rebel air forces were incapacitated. The Canberras repeatedly raided Katangan targets and were instrumental in providing much needed long range fire support to the UN ground forces. At times the targets were at a distance of 1000 km with an intense cloud cover over the way points. The Indian pilots used many ingenious methods to lead themselves to the targets. They intensively used a lake, which was a prominent mark to the west of Kolwezi and then used good old map reading over the final leg to the airfield, using the Green Satin airborne navigation aid. Wing Commander Suares was the first to carry out the daring yet risky engagement profile using a 20 mm cannon. This was followed by another attack by Flight Lieutenant Gautam, thus destroying the Fouga Magister aircraft. By the efforts of these two officers, the IAF was able to establish a near air supremacy over the skies of Elizabethville and Kamina. Wing Commander Suares and his team persisted with their offensive air support over Kolwezi, based on the requirements of UN forces in the area. After locating rebel positions, the Squadron carried out a show of force by low level flying over the main target area and also engaged the rebels with cannon fire. After testing rebel reaction capability, a deliberate offensive action was taken by Flight Lieutenant Dushyant Singh, who raided the rebel hideout in a post office area. The Canberras were welcomed by a strong anti-aircraft firing from the rebels. The distraction by the leading aircraft allowed other Canberras in the same attack to destroy road convoys, ammunition dumps and other key locations captured by the rebel forces. In the weeks following these attacks, the Squadron made many such operational sorties around Elizabethville. In the next few weeks, the Canberras also carried out armed reconnaissance sorties, engaging rebel lines of communications. The Squadron had an added capacity of photo reconnaissance, which was made full use of by the ground forces. This included both photographic and visual reports on the conditions of bridges in rebel held territory; movement of the rebel forces and their concentrations. INDIAN AIR FORCE OPERATIONS IN CONGO (MONUC) INDIAN AVIATION CONTINGENT-I The personnel of this contingent were rotated every 12 months. A total of five rotations were made. The contingent undertook simultaneous operations from two bases i.e. ex Goma for 2 x Mi 25 and 5 x Mi 17 while a permanent detachment operated ex Bunia for 2 x Mi 25 aircraft. During its deployment IAC-I had achieved an elderly status among the various contingents deployed in Goma, being the oldest and most battle hardy. It saw the conflict moving in its characteristic sine curve manner wherein the fighting and peace alternated almost every month. The environment for operating in such a complex scenario called for a range of innovative operational SOPs and survival strategies. In fact, the majority of validation of helicopter combat tactics against ground threats were achieved through the lessons learnt in this foreign theatre. IAC-I was successfully led by the following Contingent Commanders: Name From To Gp Capt KS Gill VM 13 Jul 03 12 Aug 04 Gp Capt DS Ahluwalia 13 Aug 04 25 Sep 05 Gp Capt Ajith Kumar VM 26 Sep 05 28 Apr 06 Gp Capt A Guru VrC 29 Apr 06 15 Sep 06 Gp Capt S Neelkantan YSM VM 26 Sep 06 17 Oct 07 Gp Capt NJS Dhillon 18 Oct 07 24 Oct 08 Gp Capt Ravi Bhate 25 Oct 08 02 Dec 09 Gp Capt AK Nabh VM 02 Dec 09 04 Oct 10
Mi-17 Helicopter Squadron Mi-17 Squadron formed the utility helicopter component of IAC-I and its tasking included troop insertion/extraction, casualty evacuation, disarmament, demobilization and resettlement (DDR) support, logistics supply, search and rescue, observation and reconnaissance. Their span of control passed over the Equator and they flew more than 13000 sorties and 8000 flight hours during their operations. These helicopters were also exclusively responsible for the induction and extraction of UN troops. The IAC also assisted various DRC/foreign troops including troops from Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Uruguay, and Guatemala in their ground operations. On 26 Oct 08, One Mi 17 mission of IAC was involved in a daring Casevac of a Portuguese lady from Rutshuru in the face of heavy enemy firing all around the helipad area without the basic support of ATS services at either of the locations. This act was well appreciated by the SRSG of MONUC, Mr. Alan Doss. Workhorses of IAC-I have been led by the following Commanding officers: Name From To Wg Cdr R Isser VM 13 Jul 03 12 Aug 04 Wg Cdr SS Kothari VM 13 Aug 04 25 Sep 05 Wg Cdr N Santosh 26 Sep 05 04 Sep 06 Wg Cdr RK Chauhan VM 05 Sep 06 17 Oct 07 Gp Capt RA Maslekar 18 Oct 07 26 Oct 08 Wg Cdr HS Kulkarni 27 Oct 07 02 Ded 09 Wg Cdr S Srivastava 02 Dec 09 04 Oct 10
Mi-25 Helicopter Squadron The MI 25 squadron formed the cutting edge of IAC-I and was instrumental in restoring peace and stability in North Kivu and Ituri regions of DRC. The roles of Vipers included Armed recce and surveillance, Fire support to heliborne forces during critical phases of flight and Armed escort to UN aircraft and ground forces. The span of operations of Vipers spread across the jungles and inaccessible regions of eastern DRC. During their deployment the unit clocked more than 5000 flight hours. This bunch of aggressive professional have been led by the following commanding officers over the years:
Wg Cdr Sunil Kumar
01 Aug 03
12 Aug 04
Wg Cdr TS Sareen
13 Aug 04
21 Sep 05
Wg Cdr MC Mishra
22 Sep 05
04 Sep 06
Gp Capt J James
05 Sep 06
01 Oct 07
Wg Cdr P Maheshwar
02 Oct 07
26 Oct 08
Gp Capt NN Reddy
27 Oct 08
02 Dec 09
Gp Capt AS Pathania
02 Dec 09
04 Oct 10
Achievements IAC-I was at the forefront of all the offensive support and humanitarian tasks of MONUC during its deployment. The number of operations undertaken to handle battlehardy rebels exceeded more than 30. The following are the indicators of the professional performance of the IAC-I over the years: The major operations in which the IAC-I took part were Op North Nationalism, Op North Necktie, Op North Nuclide, Sake Ops, Regular Casevac, Mounting of HOBs, Helicopter landed Aerial Domination Patrol Missions (HLADP Missions) and Ituri engraver. These operations ensured time and again that the vital towns of eastern DRC did not fall to the negative forces. More than 18000 accident free sorties were flown in the inhospitable terrains of DRC. Search and Rescue. One UN Russian Mi-8 crashed on 18 Dec 07 at Rubaya while on a routine mission from Goma to Walikale. The Contingent immediately launched two Mi- 17s for search and rescue of the crashed ac. The first heptr located the crash site, winched up the critical casualties including one dead body. The second heptr picked up the remaining six personnel in a low hover. The rescue effort was executed in a precise manner and was indeed praiseworthy as both the heptrs hovered at high altitude for long durations. To increase the presence of MONUC troops inside the negative forces controlled area, Bde HQ felt an urgent need to establish a few helicopter operated bases at Ngungu, Rubaya, Osso Farm, Mushake, Nyabiondo and Kashuga. To establish and maintain these HOBs, the Contingent flew more than 1000 sorties carrying close to 2000 personnel and 1500 tons of load. During the Ituri Engraver at Bunia, Mi-25s played a key role. This Operation was launched to flush out FRPI militias by providing aerial cover to MONUC ground forces. Towards this Ops, Mi-25s flew more than 1000 hrs. The action turned on LRA rebels in Ituri region and FDLR in Goma region. In Nov 08 IAC-I received a request from a few rebel FDLR soldiers to surrender their arms. Generally, these kinds of requests were made to humanitarian agencies of the UN, but this act of the rebel groups shows the confidence in IAC-I in handling such complex humanitarian tasks. IAC-I regularly took on humanitarian tasks through personal contributions like distributing books and sports gear to orphans to build up goodwill among the local populace.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT Correct identification of the target No friendly troops/civilians in the vicinity No collateral damage Ascertaining hostile intent Indian Aviation Contingent-II ( IAC-II )
The Indian Aviation Contingent-II ( IAC-II ) with its fleet of six night capable Mi-17 helicopters at Kavumu Airport in Bukavu and four night upgraded Mi-35 helicopters at Goma, alongside IAC-I was inducted in Feb 2005.Though it was not the first time that Indian Air Force was fielding a contingent abroad, it was certainly the biggest, with 10 heptrs, 36 vehicles and a strength of 285 personnel. The MoU between the UN and Govt of India this time necessitated a fully self-sustained environment in terms of electricity, water supply, communications, transport and any other possible requirements. It was indeed a massive task at hand. The logistics for the contingent were packed in 56 air and sea containers and it took a formidable effort of 13 sorties by super transporter AN-124 to transfer the ten helicopters, contingent equipment and self-sustainable assets. The first batch, aptly referred to as "The Pioneers'' had the daunting task of preparing a mini India on African soil. They had to work under the heat and torrential rain, obviating discomforts to make a home away from home. The MES element, consisting of six personnel spent many a night without any sleep or rest. Starting from the 'Bhoomi Poojan', levelling of ground, laying the foundation and erecting the tents for initial shelter, construction of messes, ablution units, securing personnel and UN property were some of the basic requirements. All this was in addition to performing branch duties to keep the 'Bukavu Titans' flag flying high. The journey had been breathtaking, indeed. Besides, the basic amenities like a telephone exchange, satellite TV, gymnasium, sports complex, community hall, place of worship, etc all were created later. It was because of the efforts of this team that today the Indian 'Tri-Colour' is flying with pride, upholding our national values in the foreign land and international environment. The work ethos was so aptly described in the words of the then Contingent Commander, now Air Cmde AC Bharali VM (Retd), "Keep the UN flag flying high which will ensure the 'Tri Colour' flies high".
Successive Rotations The first rotation of IAC-II Contingent arrived at Bukavu on 26 Feb 06 and became operational in Mar 06. The successive Rotations 2 and 3 had commenced their journey for MONUC on 29 Mar 07 and 29 Mar 08 respectively. During the 2 Rotation, political negotiations with armed rebels were at a frantic pace. MONUC requirements increased at Kalemie base in Tanganyika region. A new detachment was necessitated at Kalemie which is located 218 nm south of Kavumu. This led to the induction of 18 additional air warriors at Bukavu / Kalemie in Oct 07, raising the strength of IAC-II to 303 personnel. This additional manpower is now co-existing at the main campus at Bukavu and supporting the MONUC's cause. Despite multifarious constraints and ever evolving scenarios, the successive rotations continued their bit of endeavours and produced noticeable changes both at the workplace and living areas. These changes included the erection of prefabricated shelters for almost all offices and living accommodation, general improvement in the landscape and assets building for better quality of life. These have furthered the spirit of jingoism and added feathers to the cap of IAC-II over a period of time. A closer look, to discover the existing contingent, through the capabilities and capacities of its three main pillars of strengths (Operations, Maintenance and Administration), would be in order.
OPERATIONS The Rules of Engagement (ROE) The Security Council Resolutions 1565 (2004) of 01 Oct 04, 1592 (2004) of 30 Mar 05, 1596 (2005) of 18 Apr 05 and 1621 (2005) of 06 Sep 05 defines the specific actions that the Commanders are to take, if they are judged necessary including use of force to achieve the aim of the Mission. The Military Planning Service of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations further issued a comprehensive document on 14 Feb 06 containing the entire rules which govern the use of force, formally known as the ROE. While the former category of resolutions was predominantly defensive in nature, the ROE allows for the potential need for offensive action, if necessary. It complies with the international legal principles of proportionality, the minimum use of force and the minimum collateral damage. Air Warriors of the IAC-II have always maintained a balance between the use of force and 'Winning the Hearts and Minds (WHAM)' of the local populace. Task MONUC is one of the largest and most robust peacekeeping operations ever undertaken by the UN. The Aviation Contingents are by far the key elements in the arsenal of MONUC in achieving its mandate of maintaining peace in this huge country, the second largest in Africa. The tasks required by the UN from the Mi-35 Sqn were to provide armed escort, fire support, anti-armour support, reconnaissance, information gathering and MEDEVAC, all these both by day as well as night. The Mi-17 utility helicopters were to undertake tasks including troop induction, cargo carriage, under slung operations, SAR, CASEVAC and MEDEVAC, reconnaissance and surveillance, both by day and night.
Terrain Congo vindicated the popular image portrayed in books of yore like Tintin, Tarzan and Phantom to more recent popular movies like 'Congo', one of the 'Wild' places on earth. This was what the Contingent had expected and were prepared for thick virgin triple-canopy forests with unbroken cover, the Broccoli Forest, in which an aircraft could be swallowed without a trace; a country with hardly any road network. However, there were surprises too the troubled Eastern Congo, has several large freshwater lakes, large tracts of grassland, extensive 'Slash and burn' farming (back home our own 'Jhoom' cultivation in the East), mountains and volcanoes towering beyond 2500m- 3000m above sea level.
Weather Though straddling the equator, the elevated attitudes in this part of DRC ensures a salubrious climate throughout the year, interestingly despite high relative humidity. The helicopter aviators in IAF are well trained and have a wide exposure of operations in similar weather conditions in our Indian region. However, it is a different ball game altogether for them here. Unpredictable, rapid in development and movement and highly inimical to aviation, that's how a Congo Veteran would describe the weather. Most of them would blanch white, if reminded about the nasty surprises thrown by the vagaries of weather such as thunderstorms, squalls, low clouds and severe turbulence. In this 'Equatorial Wet' type of climate, Bukavu and Goma enjoy mean max and min temperatures of 250 C and 130 C respectively, with an average annual rainfall of 2000 mm.
Flight Safety As can be appreciated from the terrain, weather and ground realities, all the odds were stacked heavily against safe aviation, what to speak of military aviation operations. This fact is well evidenced by the large number of accidents, mostly fatal, which regularly occur in DR Congo among its civil aviation sector. The Indian Aviation Contingents stand tall and shining in this arena too, their record untarnished by any accident. Emergencies have occurred aplenty, but professional and skilful handling of the Indian aircrew and supporting staff always saved the day. To operate at these elevated altitudes, most of the times out of single engine performance graphs, over such inhospitable and rugged terrain, with inimical and unknown ground situation, unpredictable and rapidly changing weather patterns and with few and far force landing field, entails courage of a distinctly higher magnitude. Undertaking sustained and successful military operations safely has placed these veterans in a different league. Multinational Environment Some of the most interesting and enriching experiences for our Air Warriors have been the interactions with military staff from other countries like Uruguay, Bolivia, Morocco etc. It also gave a rare opportunity of interacting closely with military personnel of our immediate neighbours like Pakistan, China, Bangladesh and Nepal. In addition, the civilian staff of the UN, who form a mosaic of citizens from various nations, also provided insight into various cultures.
Mi-25 Helicopter Squadron
It was in the month of Sep 2004 that this oldest Helicopter Squadron of IAF located in the hot yet serene environs of Rajasthan learnt of the likely move to DRC. Equipped with Mi-35 upgrade helicopters, they were finally inducted in Feb 05 to endow MONUC with the much needed night fighting capability. The oldest helicopter unit of the IAF was given this singular honour and thus became the first squadron of IAF to be deployed on foreign shores. The squadron soon saw their first live action on 30 Jun 2005 in the Ituri Bde AOR, where they had to open fire to help extricate beleaguered UN troops of Bangladesh and Pakistan battalions who had been ambushed by the militia. Since then, this squadron has been employed in more than a hundred Operations all over the length and breadth of Eastern DRC and have always displayed a high degree of professionalism. The notable ones among these have been 'Op Songolo', where an offensive engagement by the squadron delivered a telling blow to the militia that had laid siege on a section of Pakistani APCs. This operation also saw the first ever night area domination mission being flown in DRC. In 'Op Falcon Sweep' during Jul-Aug 05, the helicopters of this squadron escorted a formation of more than ten Mi-17 helicopters to deploy troops for Cordon and Search operations against FDLR in South Kivu. 'Op Eastern Eagle' during Oct 05 in Ituri region saw the squadron in action along with Guatemalan Special Forces and Uruguayan Riverine unit to address illegal arms smuggling through Lake Albert. Firebirds were also instrumental in getting rid of the FDLR militia operating in Virunga National Park as part of Op North Nexus. Through extensive and effective show of force and area domination over remote locales in the hinterland, they greatly assisted the peaceful conduct of landmark elections in DRC in 2006. The most notable contribution from this squadron came during 'Op Sake' in Nov 06. In a swift move, a large number of disgruntled soldiers of the Govt army 'FARDC', led by one of the most powerful warlords in the region, General Nkunda took control of Sake, a town 25 km from Goma, and made deep inroads towards Goma. With the imminent threat of Goma falling to rebels, the squadron was tasked to spearhead the defence of this strategically critical town, the HQ of North Kivu Brigade. The ensuing operations saw the attack helicopters in action incessantly by day and night for four days. This squadron successfully engaged the militia and their command centres with rockets and guns, in the face of sustained fire by the rebels with small arms, mortars and RPGs. This timely and effective attack crippled the rebel assault and resulted in securing Goma and regaining control of Sake. The stellar contribution of the squadron has been well appreciated by MONUC and civilians, winning many plaudits for IAF. The latest action this attack helicopter squadron saw was in Oct 08 when Rebel forces led by Gen Nkunda began a determined and well planned advance on Goma town in Eastern DRC. By 27 Oct, rebels had overwhelmed FARDC Brigade HQ located 20 Km North of Goma and directly threatened the town. With the situation so critically poised, Mi-35s flew a total of 14 sorties and 21 hrs, providing cover to the MONUC and FARDC and halting the advance of CNDP. The squadron fired 84 rockets, often in difficult circumstances, under continuous retaliatory fire from CNDP. All this was achieved without any battle damage and ensuring flight safety. The effectiveness of the Firebirds is borne out by the fact that after the ceasefire, the first military demand made by Gen Nkunda was an immediate cessation of Mi-35 Ops against his forces. Through their professionalism and dedication to the cause of peace in Congo, the Firebirds have earned the gratitude and respect of MONUC, keeping IAF and the country's flag always flying high in this international arena. This is reflected in the number of commendations that the Sqn personnel have earned from Force Cdr, Div Cdr and Bde Cdr in MONUC. The Squadron has an enviable record of more than 3200 hrs of accident and incident free employment in more than a hundred operations with nil fratricide and collateral damage. It has enabled them to build an effective deterrence for the militia. It is said that Congolese militia are afraid of only two things - God and the attack helicopter. They have aptly nicknamed the attack helicopter 'Sura Mbaya' in Swahili language meaning 'The Ugly Face'.
Mi-17 Helicopter Squadron
In the last quarter of 2004, immediate and effective communication of MONUC forces to remote areas of DRC was the need of the hour. The inaccessible terrain with poor infrastructure of roads and non-existing communication lines only strengthened the demand for transportation by air. Hostile elements and presence of rebel groups precluded use of civilian effort. The flexibility of launching air effort by night was one of the pre-requisites and IAF did have this unique capability. In Feb 05, six Mi-17 medium-lift, multi-role and Night Vision capable utility helicopters were inducted in Bukavu. The Squadron was armed by the air warriors from the time honoured helicopter squadrons of IAF. The pride of IAF had one common goal i.e. keep Peace in the strife torn nation.
It was no surprise that from the very first day, the Squadron was at home! As they spread their wings in the pristine locale of God's own land, the sheer majesty was a cynosure of the entire Peace keeping force in the area. The flying tasks ranged from mundane passenger and VIP flights to exciting SHBO missions, search & rescues and air dominations. Within a week of induction into the area, a SHBO mission was flown over the stronghold of rebel forces. Op 'Falcon Sweep' had thus signaled that the helicopters had come to roost for a long time. It also demonstrated a show of strength and resolve in the remote and inaccessible areas in The shortest time frames.
It provided the long desired fillip to MONUC forces. Soon, these op missions became a routine affair. Not once the painstaking planning and intelligence gathering was sacrificed. The landing of a rapid action force numbering 380 in a compressed time frame and at an unknown zone was a sterling example of the professional ethos. Surgical precision and attention to details ensured that the missions were completed without an incident or accident. The region is volatile and literally sitting on a powder keg. Periodic violations of the peace accord by rebels have always been the spark for widespread fighting, looting, arson and wanton killing for the sake of revenge, vendetta and many other intangibles.
In one such recent string of hostilities during August 08, the fragile peace accord was almost shred to pieces by the rebel forces lead by Gen Nkunda. Almost a decade long progress in normalizing the situation in the country was jeopardized. The rebels captured a few posts in the Minova- Numbi axis. The SOS message was inevitable and the helicopters swooped in support of the Govt Armed Forces (FARDC) under Operation code named 'South Shrike'. Undaunted and swift, the helicopters deployed the Pakistan Battalion in the area amidst cross fire, inclement weather and under fog of war scenario. Incidentally, supporting troops of Pakistan in the area is also one of the 'first's' in contradiction to affairs back home.
In another recent event, the helicopters were quick to rise to the occasion. On 01 Sep 08, a fixed wing was overdue at Bukavu airport. The SAR mission launched to rescue the ill-fated passengers was blunted by the weather god. Recovery of bodies and all the material evidence could provide inputs to establish the sequence of events that led to the unfortunate accident. The landing spots on a wind-blown, turbulent 10,000 ft AMSL ridge was a challenge in itself. There was a sense of great achievement and satisfaction among the supporting rescuers from South Africa, that the job was well done with no injuries to any personnel. It spoke volumes of professionalism and resolve of the contingent.The Hawks have amassed over 5000 hrs accident free flying since induction in 2005. More than 5000 passengers and 2,50,000 kgs of cargo have been transported in the hostile environment of DRC. The Squadron is actively and continuously involved in some of the most challenging op scenarios such as Op South Sable, Op South Santlino, Op South Sailboard and Op South Shrike. It significantly facilitates the peace keeping operations and achievement of the overall aim of the MONUC forces.
Administration activity in a contingent environment is a multifarious and demanding task primarily due to working in an international environment away from the country and somewhat detached from the parent organisation. Recognition of this contingent's practice and philosophy of responsive and effective administration can be gauged from the fact that the MONUC international staff falls back on IAC-II for support during times of crisis. IAC-II has left an indelible impression on the minds of MONUC staff / Congolese Civilian Officials / NGOs and local populace both by its professional conduct as well as social interactions. The contingent also fulfils its responsibility towards the Indian Diaspora by interacting with the large Indian community settled in DRC as well as by making them proud of the ambience of the Indian contingent in their region. The Administration at Bukavu is solely looked after by the Contingent itself. The Mi-35 element at Goma is also supported by IAC-I for some of the former's administrative requirements.
Since the inception of IAC-II, the Air Warriors had put in tireless efforts of bringing up their "Home away from home" at Bukavu and Goma. Progressively, through concerted efforts of successive rotations, both these locations boast about excellent infrastructure and offers an aesthetically pleasing look thus achieving the status. The Indian contingent Camp at Bukavu is located near Kavumu airport, 40 Kms from Bukavu town on a rectangular plot of 275 X 73 m to which another plot of 100 x 70 m has been added recently. The practice of upgradation of infrastructure continued in present rotation too when the additional adjoining plot was obtained from UN for decongestion and space for Mi-35 detachment at Bukavu. This additional area has enhanced the ambience and quality of living area, accommodation and existing sports facilities. The rear side of the camp overlooks a lush green meadow. The view from the living area is aptly called 'Valley View'. Various shades of green serve as a great stress buster and help in alleviating home sickness which is more pervasive than boredom. Similarly, the camp at Goma, in the backdrop of the beautiful landscape of Nyiragongo volcano, offers a photogenic and heartwarming view.
Security Security is yet another important aspect for a self sustained contingent. The poverty ridden condition of the locals makes anything available in the camp very lucrative and hence makes the camp more vulnerable to even petty thefts. The contingent has devised a three tier system for the internal security, which is looked after by contingent personnel at both the camps. The external security is the responsibility of Pakistani troops in Bukavu. As a result of good liaison with the local security agencies in Bukavu, additional deployment of Congolese policemen and army soldiers for external patrol has been made possible.
Accommodation and Messes During the initial induction, the UN authorities had forewarned that the contingent would have to be self-sufficient in all aspects for a field area deployment for the first six months. The initial induction set high standards in the setting up and organisation of an ideal military camp, albeit with tents and makeshift structures of plywood and corrugated sheets. The major engineering support services are provided primarily by the UN, but camp management is done by a small group of Army personnel from the Corps of Engrs. The first and second rotations further improved on that template, adding prefabricated accommodation for offices and Officers Men Complex. With the passage of time, the tent type temporary accommodation has transformed into re fabricated structures supplied by the UN. The entire set of offices, accommodation for officers and majority of warrant ranks is in these structures. Besides, the contingent has also managed to get an additional 12 units of prefabs for the Mi-35 detachment at Bukavu. Decongestion of Personnel below Officer Rank (PBORs) accommodation has been achieved through expansion of camp area.
Level-I Hospital The Level I hospital is well equipped in providing comprehensive medical care and promotive, preventive and specific protection. The hospital also extends emergency medical services to the MONUC Civilian staff and members of other contingents as well as members and families of the local Indian community. Two doctors and six medical assistants, in case of an emergency are capable of splitting up into two Forward medical Teams. It has the capability to provide primary health care to a force of up to 700 in strength, with at least 20 ambulatory patients per day. The Laboratory conducts most of the necessary biochemical and hematological investigations. A well equipped emergency room with modern resuscitative equipment is also available to ensure adequate initial medical support. Modern physiotherapy facilities are also available. High stress level endemic to such an operating environment is the biggest challenge. The recent proactive measures like improving individual awareness about their parameters viz, weight, BP, heart rate and skin conductance on a monthly basis, along with remedial suggestions have gone a long way in containing the onset and improving it subsequently. Family Group competitions have been promoted factoring in remedial measures to promote healthy living. Besides, routine preventive and prophylactic measures as well as indoctrination of air warriors have been under taken. Consequently, the sickness pattern has remained confined to mere sport related injuries.
Goodwill Measures Awareness of Social obligations towards the society in which we live is inborn characteristic of Indians. The contingent too has been undertaking various measures. A school for Congolese children from nearby villages, whose parents cannot afford to send them to school, is being run. The services of locals are being utilised as teachers for the school. The children are being provided absolutely free education, uniforms, books, etc and midday meals. 16 Jun, the African Children's Day is celebrated by the contingent every year, wherein parents of these children and village heads, civil, police and military heads are invited to witness games and sports, followed by lunch. The contingent celebrates Congolese National day in a befitting manner on 30 Jun every year. Inspections and Operational readiness The success of a contingent can also be judged by the UN and inspection profile of the contingent's own equipment inspection (COE) and operational readiness inspection (ORI). These inspections are basically meant to conduct the stringent verification diligently for authorised reimbursement to the state Time and again, IAC-II has familiarised itself well to the working methods of UNO, COE standards and kept its operational readiness to the highest standards. The past COE and ORI inspection reports are evident and indicative of sustained efforts and high morale of the successive rotations. It has been due to the exceptional standards shown during the inspection of Indian Aviation Contingent-II during its induction phase and thereafter that it was decided by UNDPKO to do away with the pre-deployment inspection of the Indian Aviation Contingents. Reflections of An Indian peacekeeper The IAC-II has sublimely merged itself with the peacekeeping activities of the United Nations at DRC. It just occurred to us collectively, why an Indian peacekeeper is special or different. This had been because of often received compliments from an outsider that he could see commitment towards the peace written all over the faces of the air warriors of the IAC peacekeepers. Well, if one dwells a bit deeper into the Indian psyche, one would find that adhering to the principles of peace and humanity as basic values has always been a second nature. This itself, gives him greater conviction and even more firm resolve to carry out the peacekeeping mission with continued fervour. The Indian Peacekeepers see a ray of hope that this state of transition and turmoil will surely pass and the Congolese, too, would embark on a path of eternal prosperity and peace. This hope gives the Indian Air Warrior a sense of commitment and realisation that they eventually would be part of the history in which they achieved their own ideals.
IAF Contingent in Somalia
IAF Contingent in Somalia
The IAF took part in peacekeeping duties in Somalia from 01 Oct 93to 21 Dec 94as part of the Indian contingent supporting UN operations.
Historical Background The downfall of president Said Barra in Jan 91 resulted in a power struggle and clan clashes. By Nov 91, the situation had deteriorated to an extent where death and destruction forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes and caused the need for emergency humanitarian assistance. Added to this severe malnutrition and related diseases caused the death of approximately 3,00,000 people.
On 22 Apr 92, in response to a recommendation by the Secretary General, the Security Council adopted resolution No. 751 (1992) by which it established UNOSOM. Indian Contingent The first batch of troops landed in the capital city of Mogadishu on 28 Aug 93. The induction was completed by 22 Oct 93. The Indian hospital and aviation was operational immediately. The Indian contingent formally took charge of its area of responsibility on 13 Nov 93. Air Operation IAF helicopters were utilised for the following tasks :-
Road opening and convoy escorting.
Battle Casualties On 08 Dec 94 at 1730 hrs a rocket propelled grenade fired by Somalia militia during inter clan fighting exploded on the roof of the barrack which housed IAF officers. In the explosion, two officers and an airman were injured.
Brief Diary of Events Prior to departure the two Anti Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) helicopter fired 12 missiles at Pokhran and the results were encouraging. The pre departure planning had to be meticulous. It started with the Govt sanction for IAF personnel to participate in the UN mission. Various items had to be brought like unit diary, visitors book, stamps for office appointments, stickers, unit mementoes, DO Pad, uniform, overall stitching with unit badges. The list was endless which needed many rounds of brainstorming at various levels. The two helicopters along with the first batch of fifteen personnel were ferried out in an AN-12 from Delhi to Mogadishu on 01 Oct 93. The remaining personnel went subsequently on 06 Oct 93and 10 Oct 93. The two helicopters were provided by 111 HU. A special Army train carried all the stores of the IAF element along with stores of the Indian Brigade. One officer and four airmen were sent along as escorts. At Bombay the stores were containerised and shipped to Mogadishu. The IAF detachment had 9 Officers, 22 other ranks and 3 NCs(E). Two Gypsies, One Nissan mini coach and a Nissan truck comprised the MT support. The first sortie in Somalia was launched within an hour of their arrival from India when Helicopters were ferried to a helipad in the Indian camp named "Lal Quila". On 12 Oct 93the first operational sortie was undertaken with the Brigade Commander and his Deputy on board to recce the area of responsibility in and around Baidoa which was to be the Bridage's permanent location. The pilot must have thanked the people in Air HQ who provided them with the GPS (Global Positioning System) which is a navigational aid. Without this aid it would have been difficult to navigate in the featureless Somalia country. Republic day was celebrated with much pomp and show. The flypast put up by the IAF and Air OP was much appreciated and they had to do it all over again. In February the unit gave air cover to the Mahar battalion who were escorting 500 refugees from Mogadishu to their villages. In March, some bandits attacked a convoy and the soldiers of the Mahar regiment fired back and killed some. In a twist of circumstances the Indian helicopters had to save lives of the bandits by providing them casualty evacuation services. The Indian contingent had its share of tragedies trying to stem the war in Somalia. On 22 Aug two dozen Mahar soldiers were ambushed. Seven including a JCO lost their lives. On 28 Aug 94three medical officers of the Field Ambulance unit were killed.
Deinduction The first batch of 10 IAF personnel were de-inducted on 14 Dec 94. The last batch left on 20 Dec 94. Cpl Nasir was left as a lying casualty due to injuries sustained in the RPG explosion. Critical stores were de-inducted on 19 Dec 94by AN-124 contracted by the UN. Bulky stores were brought by ship Mogadishu.
Conclusion The Indian contingent used a humanitarian approach. They took various projects like vocational training, Vet training, food for work, adopting an orphanage, organising cultural functions, and shorts events with local teams. This had an effect on unemployed population and they channelled their energies from banditry to useful work. Indians took pains to learn the Somalia culture, customs, language and respect their religion. Without taking sides all conflicts within the Indian AOR were settled amicably by discussion rather than force. Indian Brigade formed a musical group consisting of both Indian Army Band and Somalia singers. This created a sense of pride in the Somalies. The IAF took part in a UN peacekeeping mission after a gap of 30 years. Owing to good planning and foresight the mission was well executed and the IAF element was able to keep the IAF flag flying high.
SUDAN (UN MISSION)
SUDAN (UN MISSION)
CONFLUENCE OF BLUE AND WHITE NILES AT KHARTOUM Sudan is the largest country in North Africa. It lies directly south of Egypt. Much like Egypt, the Nile river and its tributaries are the life of this very hot desert country. People have lived in Sudan for thousands of years farming by the Nile and herding livestock. Pyramids tell of a time when the Pharos made Sudan their home. Today, with a population of about thirty five million, Sudan is a developing modern country attempting to somehow find its place in the international community.
THE LAND Sudan is a huge country. It is about the size of Western Europe. The marking feature of the country is the Nile river, formed by the White Nile and the Blue Nile which meet in the capital city, Khartoum. In general the country is flat. The exceptions are the coastal mountains in the east, the Nuba Mountains, and the far western mountains. There is also a marked distinction between the north and south. Northern Sudan is very dry, consisting of large expanses of desert and arid planes. Southern Sudan contains large areas of rain forests and swamps making it much more adaptable for farming.
CLIMATE Sudan is hot, very hot. There is a dry season and a rainy season. The length of the rainy season is largely determined by how far north one lives. The extreme south of Sudan normally has a nine month rainy season while a city like Atbara in the North is lucky to get more than a week of showers. Khartoum usually has a two month rainy season lasting throughout July and August. Temperatures in Sudan are highest in May and June, which is also the common season for sand storms. Average daily highs range between 37oC and 43oC with an occasional day in the 48oC. Because the country is mostly desert there is usually a large difference between day time and night time temperatures. In Khartoum a January day might have a high of 27oC and dip to 7oC at night.
POPULATION & CULTURE Sudan has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world. Over four hundred ethnic groups have their own language which they use alongside a trade language such as Arabic. The population has two major groups, the Muslim people living in the north, and the darker skinned people of the south. Because of famine and war, almost three million southerners live in the north, which now is home to about 75% of the country's population. Greater Khartoum, the largest city in the country, has a population of about six million. Sudan's current total population is around thirty five million people.
FOOD The main food items such as meat, river fish, eggs and milk (which should be boiled if it is not bottled) is available throughout the year. Fruits like bananas, orange, grapefruits, mangoes, melons and dates are also available in season, and other kinds of fruits (apple, apricot etc.) are imported. While various imported tinned food items are available at the Government-run duty-free shop and private groceries, they are comparatively expensive. Other special food items have to be imported. The city water in Khartoum and other towns is treated. However, it is preferred that tap water be filtered and/or boiled before use. Bottled mineral water locally produced is available on the market at suitable prices SD100 for 1.5 lit. Bottle. Uncooked food should be avoided.
THE GOVERNMENT It is difficult to give an accurate picture of the Sudanese government. In theory, Sudan is a federal republic of twenty six states led by a directly elected President who works alongside a national assembly. Sudan is led by President Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir. Since 1989 he has headed the national assembly.
THE WAR The civil war between the North and the South started in 1984 when the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) was formed and began fighting the Khartoum government. The South does not support the Khartoum government which tried to impose traditional Islamic law on the entire country. The North sees the war as a holy war against the unbelievers who threaten the "true faith". War between the North and the South dates back many years and resulted in genocide. But the war is not only between the North and the South, fighting is also common between the southern tribes. In Sudan, war was part of everyday life, but the situation is fast turning towards normalcy with the intervention of the UN. At present potential local threats might include violent actions from militias aligned with the GoS, the SPLA, non-aligned armed groups, foreign armed groups, criminal elements and land mines. It is important to appreciate that these threats may vary significantly during the transition process and the post transition period (referendum and post referendum).
HISTORY OF SUDAN Sudan's history goes back thousands of years before Christ and is almost as old as the Nile itself. The Cush kingdom of the Old Testament was located in present-day northern Sudan, and for thousands of years the center of power along the Nile shifted between Egypt and Sudan. The sixth century saw the rise of Christianity in Sudan. The Christian faith officially remained until the Islamic Conquest in the thirteenth century yet many people kept their faith until the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Islamic rulers from the Ottoman empire led the country for several centuries until the 1880's when the British, alongside the Egyptians, took control of Sudan. The conquest was part of an effort to control the river as well as a response to the Mahdist Islamic revolution seen as a possible threat to the stability of the area. On December 19, 1955, the Parliament voted unanimously that Sudan should become "a fully independent sovereign state". British and Egyptian troops left the country on January 1, 1956; the same day a five-man Council of State was appointed to take over the powers of the governor general until a new constitution was agreed. From 1956 to 1989 several governments tried to rule the country but frequent drought and the constant clash between the north and the south brought them all down. In 1989 a coup brought into power a military regime led by Lt. General Umar Hassan Ahmed al-Beshir which was dominated by the National Islamic Front led by Hassan al Turabi, Speaker of the 400 seat National Assembly. Following the 1989 coup the war against the SPLA intensified. Internationally sponsored attempts to negotiate a peace settlement between the two sides, such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) sponsored negotiations made little progress until June 2002, although the Government, and the SPLM/A agreed in 1997 on a Declaration of Principles (DoP). The DoP held that the unity of the Sudan should be given priority, provided that the social and political system was secular and democratic and that resources be equitably shared. In the absence of these principles, the South would have the right to self-determination through a referendum. The Naivasha agreement was signed in Naivasha, Kenya on 25 Sep 2003. During pre interim and interim period 6 1/2 years SAF and SPLA will separate and distinct. Joint integration unit (JIU) will be formed. Joint defense board would be chaired by Chiefs of Staff of SAF and SPLA alternatively. After 2 years SAF and SPLA will withdraw the remaining force. Forces allied to either of the parties shall be offered the opportunity to join those forces or shall be integrated in civil services. All stated agreements took effect from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on 09 Jan 2005. The UN Security Council passed resolution No.1590 on 24 Mar 2005 to establish its peacekeeping presence in Sudan.
EVACUATION AND REINFORCEMENT OPERATIONS Abyei is located southwest of Kadugli at a distance of about 120 miles. Due to its location on the ceasefire line between the north and the south, and also the discovery of large reserves of oil, it has been the bone of contention between the two warring parties in Sudan. The IAC flies regular sorties to Abyei where Sector HQ is located in a UN Camp adjacent to Abyei town. Though the flying environment has been peaceful till now, Abyei is a sensitive area and minor tribal fights and road closures have been occurring necessitating additional air effort.
On 14 May 08, a minor altercation flared up and resulted in pitched battles all over Abyei town between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army(SPLA) and government’s Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). The fighting intensified and involved the use of Medium Machine Guns and Mortars. An IAC heptr that had gone to Abyei on a routine passenger sortie was stranded and subsequently tasked to evacuate the UN civilian staff there as they were under fire. After assessing the security situation and the direction of fire, in consultation with the base the crew made a safe escape along with the evacuees. This was followed by a request for another helicopter the same evening, which flew into Abyei avoiding ground fire and evacuated more UN staff by night, much to the delight of UN officials. Such operations involving evacuation of UN civilians had been accomplished for the first time in the UN Mission in Sudan.
The following day, the IAC flew seven more shuttles into Abyei , evacuating a total of 109 UN personnel as sporadic firing continued, at all times ensuring the safety of the helicopters and passengers. By the end of the day the firing had ceased and with warring groups being brought to the table a sense of calm prevailed.
On 16 May 08, doing routine commitments were forced to make a halt at Abyei due to enroute bad weather. Their unscheduled night halt due to bad weather was again interrupted by some heavy firing which had again started. The crew was tasked by the UN to evacuate the remaining UN personnel as fighting had intensified and the UN camp was under threat. Due to enroute bad weather it was decided the evacuation was completed the following day at first light. Having evacuated all the UN civilian staff out of Abyei, the UN camp needed to be reinforced with additional troops. The UN again turned to IAC for flying Force Reserve Battalion troops. This was carried out in a four heptr Special Heliborne Operation which inducted 60 fully armed troops with their equipment and supplies in a precisely timed operation carried out with efficiency, stealth and speed and the mission included the COO/CO in the lead aircraft.
The UN Mission in Sudan was to operate under Chapter 7 (Peace Enforcement) mandate of UN Security Council, but till now it has been operating under Chapter 6 (Peace Keeping). This is the first time that UN heptrs have had to operate a hostile helipad under threat of fire and have been involved in emergency evacuation/ troop reinforcement in Sudan. It is noteworthy that for the first time the UN was convinced that passengers should be carried along with an internal fuel tank as it reduces ground time on helipads and increases the range of the helicopters. Thus a precedent has been set for carriage of passengers in UN helicopters along with internal fuel tanks.
The missions accomplished by the IAC between 14 May 08 and 17 May 08, wherein all the UN civilian staff have been moved to safety from Abyei and reinforcements have been inducted, have been praised by the highest quarters in the UN Force HQ. The aircrew earned accolades for their professionalism, bravery and sense of duty from none other than the Force Commander who had personally come to congratulate and show his appreciation for valiant effort by the Indian Air Force. Indian Air Force also won the gratitude of scores of UN staff who were evacuated from the troubled team site of Abyei.