Operation Badaber, Fog of War
Peshawar, Pakistan 1965
As I mention before, upon arriving in Pakistan we found that there had been another series of ongoing skirmishes between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. However this was considered a war beginning in August because of the size and intensity of the armies involved. It lasted until September of 1965 with the largest tank battle since World War II being fought. Both sides claimed they were gaining superiority when the U.N. negotiated a cease fire. Historians believe the Pakistanis were gaining the upper hand though, despite being out numbered. The Tashkent Accord was signed in January of 1966.
Prior to 1947 and the partition of India and Pakistan the area had moved from mostly Hindu to Moslem population. Both sides laid claim to it and it has been in disputes ever since. It’s quite mountainous and very fertile. It is part of the Hindu-Kush, the foothills of the Himalayas. The majority of the war was fought in and around Jammu and Kashmir not the isolated bombing we had in Karachi. The border in and around Kashmir had a pretty substantial air war taking place. Peshawar was a major military target because of its proximity to Kashmir and the Khyber Pass. We were under black out conditions and interrupted supplies for the duration of the conflict. The black outs weren’t too bad since we worked rotating shifts anyway but the lack of fresh food was. Because of routine flight interruptions we’d been on a diet of WWII C rations, powdered eggs and recombined milk for several weeks so the morning after the hostilities ceased we got our first load of real food. Everyone was lined up at 0500 at the chow hall doors for real eggs and fresh milk. It was delicious.
There is a way to determine how long you’ve been in Pakistan. Let’s see if I can remember it. If you’re eating your rice and you see a fly in it and you get sick you’ve been there two days. If you’re eating your rice and you see a fly in it and you take it out and continue eating you’ve been there two months. If you’re eating your rice and you see a fly in it but continue eating anyway you’ve been there two years. However, if you are eating your rice and you stop to kill a fly and put in your rice you’ve been there too long.
During the time of the “war” there were only a couple of incidents. We did have to dig bunkers next to the barracks for cover if bombed, but never had to use them. Someone from outside the wall fired a bullet through a widow in the dependent housing area. It seems someone had a light on during the black out and they thought that was the best way to extinguish it. The biggest problem though, was our water towers. Military installations always have water towers. We had two rather large silver water towers that the Indian Air Force was using for landmarks at night to line up with the Pakistani Air Force base.
Well of course that was a problem for the Pakistanis. Their solution? A contingent of men was assigned to climb the towers and using large reed brushes cover the towers with mud. I don’t know how effective it was, partly because hostilities ceased a few days later.
Then there was the issue of protecting the operations compound. The Air Police didn’t have the clearance to be in our compound so it was up to us to provide our own protection against possible insurgence by Indian forces.
There were a couple of problems with this. Not least of which was the lack of combat training by any of us. Essentially we were geeks guarding the castle from the Huns. We had all fired the M1 carbine in basic training but that was the extent of it. And here is the real wisdom of our hierarchy. In order to keep us from harming ourselves or others we had the rifles but no bullets.
Of course this raised the question, “What do we do if we see Indian soldiers coming over the wall?”. Our instructions were, “Holler halt three times and then go tell your immediate supervisor.” Yeah, that was going to work.
Some brave soul wrote his mother and told her what they said and she immediately contacted her congressman who contacted our command and managed to get us at least one clip for our weapons but with the instructions to keep it in our pocket unless we needed it. It was sort of the Barney Fife solution. Of course you could hear the actions being cycled as soon as we cleared the door.
There were some spooky but not necessarily dangerous nights though. I was on guard duty one night when I heard a soft hissing sound coming from above. Looking up I could just make out the shape of a British Canberra bomber gliding overhead sort of dead-sticking towards the airport. It was more of a blank in the stars than the bomber that I could see. Kind of a Klingon moment. A few minutes later I could hear the explosions in the distance.
And of course there were a couple of drills when we had to run outside and dive into the trenches we had dug adjacent to our barracks. They were only about three feet deep with plywood sheets and sandbags over them. I don’t think they would have been much protection from 500 pound bomb.
Things got pretty much back to normal as soon as the U.N. cease fire was called.
With the cessation of hostilities we could finally venture downtown and experience the bustling activities of beautiful Peshawar.
Medium Readers: These stories are my experiences during my 14 years in the U.S. Air Force Security Service. They will be related in serial form, each one a different Air Force assignment. Please forgive me if a story ends awkwardly, it will be continued. Thanks