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.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Bobby Traps Nuisance

The Bobby Traps Nuisance
Casualties from bobby traps laid by the communist terrorists (CTs) were many but not alarming. If their intention was to inflict casualties on us, then they had somewhat met their objective.On the other hand, if they were trying to stop us scouring the jungles looking for them, then they had failed, because we were everywhere! No bobby traps could hold us back. Getting blown by a bobby trap could be a nightmare to any soldiers, as it could mean getting one of his feet blown off. Enevitably, it would have to be amputated. He would be maimed for life and it would be the end of the road for him as a combatant. We were fortunate that the CTs in Sarawak didn't use that tactic on us. It was either that they didn't have the expertise or couldn't lay the bobby traps in the jungles for fear of inflicting casualties on the local populace who went into the jungle to hunt, fish and look for jungle products such as rattans. Turning the local population against them would be their last option. So, in my many battles with the CTs in Sarawak in 1973 and the 80s, we didn't encounter a single bobby trap. This had helped us greatly when we pursue them. I can recall some instances of bobby trap incidences that involved me and my men, as well as other men in the Battalion (3rd Rangers)
Operation Kota Echo, Perak, 1970
Hardly a year after being commission as a Second Lieutenant in 3rd Rangers, and fresh from our one-year tour of duty in Serian and Sibu, we were engaged in Operation Kota Echo in Kroh (now Pengakalan Hulu) sector. It was an Operation that was still vivid in my mind. C Company lost 7 men in an ambush in Sg Kuak near Kroh. At about 9 a.m. on that fateful day, acting on an information given by some locals about the sighting of a group of CTs in their area, a Section of men from C Company went to lay an ambush. On the way, they were ambushed by a group of about 30 CTs. The Section Commander didn't have the chance to retaliate. He dived for the nearest tree. He was impaled by a few "panjis" (sharpened bamboo stakes) in the chest and died on the spot.

We learned a lesson from the CTs. From then on, we always carry "panjis" with us and our jungle bases were always well guarded.

The two men at the rear, though wounded, managed to retreat to their base to ask for reinforcement.
That was our first taste of "panjis". Looking back now at the incident, I couldn't help noticing the absence of bobby traps.

We had our first casualty from bobby traps in Operation Gonzales 1 in 1974. It must have been the CTs first attempt too, as they were not powerful enough to blow off a foot.

Op Gonzales 1 in 1974
In 1974, after our one-year tour of duty in Serian, Sarawak, 3rd Rangers was deployed in the Kinta District with 1st Rangers as the neighbouring Battalion. However, hardly two weeks later, we were told to regroup at the Battalion Headquarters. We were going to be pulled out of the operation area. 3rd Rangers was due to undergo two months of intensive Conventional Warfare retraining in PULADA, Ulu Tiram, Johore.

During this time, after the fall of South Vietnam to the Communist North, the "Domino Theory" propagated by the Americans was a hot issue and had all South East Asian nations worried.

According to the Americans, the North Vietnamese war machines would continue its march - southwards. According to the prophecy, Thailand and Malaysia would fall. Concerned, the Malaysian government beefed up the Malaysian Armed Forces. More infantry and supporting units were raised. All infantry battalions had to undergo the compulsory conventional warfare retraining schedule at the Army Training School (PULADA) in Ulu Tiram, Johor - an aspect of warfare we had not been keeping in touch with, due to our ongoing counter-insurgency warfare against the communist terrorists.

While waiting for the day we were to be pulled out, some elements from the Assault Poineer platoon were tasked to clear and construct a helicopter landing point where we would be pulled out by helicopters. While clearing the area, a few of them stepped on bobby traps laid by the CTs. Injuries were however light as the explosive charges were weak, indicating that they were new to it. Other Units also suffered the same fate.

Operation Cahaya Bena, Southern Thailand.
In July 1977, 3rd Rangers was again one of the major units involved in a divisional-sized operation to flush out the CTs in the District of Betong. Our area of operations were, however, too far North - about 40km away from Betong.

For the next one week I patrolled and searched my area of responsibility. We were warned about bobby traps in areas which were planted in terrains of 1000m or more above sea level.

One day, while we were on the move, my leading scout saw exposed red and blue wire on our path. I called my Booby Trap Clearing (BCT) team forward to check it out. I was behind them. A short while later, the quietness was shattered by a loud explosion just a few feet to my right. The first thing I did was to see whether my feet were intact and after that I inspected my limbs and body. Miraculously, I didn't have a scratch. If the explosive had been under my foot, it would have been a different picture. Syukur Alhamdullilah. God is Great.

Although there were indications that the CTs had been using the area, they were nowhere to be found. In retrospect, they must had known of our operation and moved deeper or gone under ground or simply stayed indoors and became parts of the local scenes.

When I discovered their farm, it was deserted but by the traces and tracks they had made in the area indicated they had been moving in and out of the area for a long time. The next morning, one of my platoons made another sweep of the area and one of the men stepped on a bobby trap. He was evacuated by a helicopter to Pulau Pinang Hospital.

Aided by a BCT from the Engineers, I followed a very well-trodden track that was heading into the mountains nearer to the Malaysian-Thai International border, close to Gubir in Kedah. After about a kilometer, the BCT found and neutralised no less than 6 bobby traps. I was very confident the track was leading to a big camp. I was perplexed, when I was told to stop the follow up. A couple of days later, the operation ceased and 3rd Rangers was withdrawn to Kroh and eventually back to our base in Taiping, Perak.

The Naga Line
In retaliation and to prevent the CTs crossing the border into Malaysia, the "Naga Line" was deemed necessary (A belt of anti-personnel mines /bobby traps made and planted by the Engineers along the border in our territory.

However, we do not know the statistic of casualties it had inflicted on the CTs.
After the Peace Accord Agreement with the CPM in 1989, the "Naga Line" was diffused/neutralised for fear of inflicting casualties on innocent people.

A Poetry: Silence is Not Golden

Poetry: Silence is Not Golden ( For two years now, we, the former classmates and schoolmates of the premier Tanjong Lobang School in Miri, Sarawak, where many of the country's leaders came from, have formed a cyber forum, where we reminisced the good Tanjong days, talked just about anything, including politics and religion with an open mind. To date, about 30,000 postings have been exchanged. Some hardcore members remained committed, some came for a short while and disappeared and others have registered but have never been heard. Understandably, the tempo has been erratic - there has been a low and a high intensity. I noticed it has been unervingly quiet the last one week. So I decided to write this poem to remind members. For poetry enthusiasts, I hope you enjoy the poem. )                                                               

Silence is Not Golden 
The silence is deafening.
My ears are ringing.
My heart is aching.
O this nostalgic feeling.

Where art thou O Earthly beings?
Busy in thy Kingdom working?
Don’t you feel what I feel?
Couldn’t our bonds remove the chill?

Two happy years have we shared.
Sharing, laughing and emotions frayed.
Members come and members go,
seemingly as visitors in a world of limbo.

The spirit and the love of Tanjong
was the main reason for us to come along.
It was the call that touched the Dinosaurs’* hearts.
No mountains and oceans could hold us apart.

The crimson sunset of Tanjong is always there.
Though the place has turned into a nightmare.
It is a reminder to us all that it is still THE PLACE.
Where we once played and studied in solace.

Members, don’t you fade into oblivion.
Let this forum we enliven.
Come one and come all.
Let’s contribute big or small.

Note: * Most of us are about 60 years old now and we affectionately call ourselves "dinosaurs".

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Me, The Landless Pensioner

Me, The Landless Pensioner
The knockout answer to my land application
                              My land application I initiated in 2003

Today, December 16, 2008, just a day after my 36 years wedding anniversary, I received a numbing blow - my land application for a housing plot in Kuching, Sarawak was rejected/tidak dapat dipertimbangkan. It had taken my home State more than 5 years to tell me that I'm not fit to be considered and own a housing plot in Kuching. Well, what else can I do but to make an appeal that I'm truly fit to be reconsidered. I will tell you why I said I'm fit

Sometimes, it doesn't pay to be nice to everybody - not even brothers and sisters. When I was with the Malaysian Army (1967 - 1992), I had told my brothers and sisters they could till the land our father had left us. I didn't have any use for it for the time being. They needed it more than I did. That was my biggest mistake. Between them and their children, the lands had been divided and sub-divided. Many were sold. Now, it is just too cruel to wrest away whatever land is left. Now I don't have any piece of land in my own village to call my own! I'm landless!

Although now settled down in Taiping, Perak - my wife's hometown, my heart is still in Sarawak. Despite being in a far away land, I still want to maintain some link with my home State and to ensure my children maintain the link as well.

When I heard of the government housing scheme in Damak in 2003, near Kuching, I immediately applied. What happened after that was history. Today, December 16, 2008, I was told I was not eligible to be considered.

What must I do to make myself eligible? Apparently, what I had done in 1973 to get rid of the communist terrorists from Sarawak was considered as not enough. (You can read my exploits in Sarawak for that year in my blog) - I don't want to repeat them. Perhaps, I had chosen the wrong profession and the wrong side - I should have been one of the surrendered CTs. They were given land by the State government after their surrender - not a housing plot but agricultural land by the acres!

Anyway, as I have said, I will keep on fighting, even if it means till my last breath.

Someone quoted this line: "In Malaysia, you will not get what you deserve. You only get what you fight for!" How very true! Perhaps, I should fight this case too!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Second Book Launch

My Second Book Launch
December 10, 2008.
After the successful first launch by the Chief Minister of Sarawak on November 6, 2008 in Kuching, Sarawak, I had been contemplating a second launch in KL, just to advertise the books to Malaysians in West Malaysia.
My initial inquiry from Markas ATM was not promising as it would incur quite a large sum of money which I couldn't afford.
A few friends promised me they would "inquire around" for opportunities. While this was going on, I received an invitation from the Ex-Services Association to a fund-raising dinner. I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to launch the books. I proposed the idea to its Secretary General, Brig Gen Dato' Nik Zaaba, who happened to be my colleague in RMC. After an initial reluctance, they finally bought my idea.
The PM was initially supposed to be present for the dinner but at the last minute he had to attend another function overseas. So the launch was officiated by Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah, his wife, who was also the patron of the fund-raising campaign for the Ex-Services Association.