Sunday, 28 December 2008
The Difficulty in Recognising Friends from Foe in the Jungle.
The Difficulty in Recognising Friends from Foes in the Jungles. We were in our third day in the swamp. It was January 1973. It was raining cats and dogs and no sign of letting up. The sky was forever overcast with dark, heavy rain clouds. We hadn't seen a piece of dry ground since we left the helicopter landing point, cleared by a Section of Engineers. I always hated making the first step into the swamp in my clean camouflage uniform and dry jungle boots. I knew, though, once we were in and up to our knees in the swamp, that revolting feeling would go away. Anyway, what choice did we have? It was a duty that we must do for our beloved country. We were in the middle of a raging monsoon season in Sarawak. The area we were in was called "Nonok!". What a coincidence and what a name! Today it is called Asajaya - a necessary name-change to save Sarawakians the embarrasment. The name might not mean anything to Sarawakians but to Malaysians from Semenanjung it has a "dirty" meaning. On the morning of the fourth day, we came across a patch of drier ground. With our feet out of the swamp, it gave us a sense of cozy feeling, even if it was just for a short while. We noticed there had been some cutting of tree saplings - sawn at ground level to avoid detection. I knew then, the CTs must be close by. Only CTs cut trees by sawing in order to avoid making the tell-tale noises - besides the locals wouldn't venture this far. Half an hour later my leading scout LCpl Peter Bat Wan, a Kenyah from Upper Rejang River in Sarawak gave me a signal to come forward to him. He heard the sound of an empty tin - most probably an enemy sentry warning the rest of his comrades of our presence. That must have been very naive of them to use that kind of signal. What they could hear we could also hear, definitely! Just as I had mentioned in my autobiography MY ADVENTURE, we shook out to investigate. We were right. An enemy sentry was seen running away. He attracted a few bursts from a soldier's 5.56mm Baretta (Italian weapon). I quickly hastened my pace and met up with the soldier who fired the shots. He pointed to the direction the CT was running. As we reached the edge of a resting place, I heard more bursts of fire to my right flank. On the far end of the resting place, about 30 to 40 yards infront of me, I saw a dark figure darting behind a huge tree. I knelt down and took aim. The figure came out a fleeting second - just enough time for me to release two short bursts. My bullets found the target and I saw the figure fell into the swamp. Just as I was getting to my feet, I saw splashes made by bullets from an automatic weapon, just inches to my left. They were fired by someone slightly behind and left of me. I knew it couldn't be the CTs because we were chasing after them and there were no strange sounds from any strange weapons (we knew the CTs had a few AK 47). After we had searched and counted the dead CTs, one of my Section Commanders came to me with his jammed 9mm Sub-Machine gun (SMG). I was lucky. If his SMG had not jammed, the bullets would have found me. I believed, my time was not over yet. I knew, in the heat of battle, it was difficult to differentiate friendly forces from the enemies. Both our wet uniforms looked the same colour - dark. In our subsequent operations, I tried many methods that could help us identify one another in a flash in battle. We wore our jungle hats with a broad red band and later we changed to beret and wore bright red mufflers, which later became a trade mark which the Battalion wore in its farewell parade when we left Serian, Sarawak at the end of 1973. Identifying friends from foes had been a major problem in operations such as cordon and search. A classic example of this was Operation Jala Aman in Sibu, Sarawak in the early 80s. Perhaps driven by fear, some soldiers simply shoot on sight and sound - only to find out later they had shot at friendly troops. I believe, today, it still is a problem which has not been addressed as no major problems had arisen from it. Or perhaps no one had ever experienced and raised it. I have experienced it and knew it could pose a momentary hesitation which we must avoid because that fraction of a second could mean life or death for you or your men. So, I would like to leave the thought for you to ponder on and hopefully find the answers to overcome the problem.