(culled from the Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna, Defence Studies Journal, Special Issue on ECOMOG (1996)
Excerpted by Beegeagle’s Blogger, Air
Between September and December 1990, the four Alpha jets deployed by the NAF in support of ECOMOG operations in Liberia were equipped with 30mm cannons, 68mm High Explosive and Armour-Piercing rockets.
First Phase of Air Operations :
September – December 1990
* destruction of enemy convoys retreating along the Ricks Institute axis on 28th and 30th October 1990 respectively
* During the first few days, Alpha Jets destroyed the NPFL troops and supplies inbound to Monrovia from Robertsfield International Airport (RIA)
* a significant mission was the rocket attack on gun emplacements at Robertsfield International Airport by a formation of three Alpha jets. During this mission, one A-Jet sustained aslight damage by anti-aircraft artillery (AAA or triple-A as it is called by pilots)
* At Kakata, rebel leader Charles Taylor’s Headquarters was also bombed forcing him to move his HQ further north to Gbanga
* During the 3rd week of November 1990, ships that were offloading cargo were sunk at Buchanan seaport while ammunition dumps and oil installations were destroyed.
According to the then Commander ECOMOG AIR DETACHMENT(EAD), Group Captain Gana “these missions were so successful that Time Magazine of 1 December 1990 wrote: ‘ The firepower of NAF fighter aircraft has finally dealt an incalculable blow to the war effort of the NPFL leader’
Phase II of the Air Operations
(Jan to Sept 1992)
On 15th October 1992, NPFL rebels broke the Ceasefire Agreement and launched an offensive on Monrovia code-name ‘Operation Octopus’ aimed at completely rooting out ECOMOG Forces from Monrovia.
According to the then Field Commander, Maj General Tunji Olurin, while reflecting on the situation, observed with satisfaction that ‘but for my darling NAF,the situation in Liberia today would have been different’.
Phase III of Air Operations
Oct 1992 to July 1993
The ECOMOG Air Detachment was redesignated ECOMOG AIR TASK FORCE(EATF) with the Task Force Commander now directly responsible to the ECOMOG Field Commander.
The Beluga cluster, penetration and general purpose bombs of various sizes in addition to existing rockets and cannons was used to equip the Force comprising six(6) Alpha Jets.
Intelligence reports comfirmed that the NPFL had acquired ZSU Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery, radar guided rapid-fire machine guns and short-range surface-to-air missiles.
During the first week, 33 close air support sorties were launched using the area advantage and the overwhelming firepower of the Beluga cluster bomb was generously employed to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy, beating back the rebels at Caldwell,Somalia Drive, Samuka Junction,Gardnersville and Wood Camp.
The NPFL trenches and gun emplacements were fished out and attacked with rockets at Johnsonville and Mount Barclay area.
As the intensity of the air raids increased, search and destroy recce missions were sustained to make life even more unbearable for the rebels until the capture of Robertsfield International Airport and Kakata, with the roads from Monrovia to Kakata and from Monrovia to Harbel littered with destroyed enemy trucks and light vehicles which fell victim to NAF fighter jets on recce missions.
Initially, all Alpha Jet missions were conducted in daylight. The rebels later resorted almost completely to nocturnal activities causing unacceptable casualties to ECOMOG troops, hence the need for A-Jets to conduct some form of night activity into the battle area in order to check the NPFL nocturnal confidence.
The Alpha jet is not designed for night attack roles as the basic navigation equipment onboard depends on information from ground stations which were not usually operated on 24-hour basis. Nevertheless it was decided to give night operations a trial.
Safe parameters and procedures to govern night weapon delivery on the A-jet were established and this was incorporated into NAF A-jet recurrency programme and shortly after,a few of the “most experienced fighter pilots were cleared to undertake night attack missions.
The first of these attacks was at Caldwell base during the battle for Monrovia. Also night attacks were conducted at Gardnersville and Samuka Junction and vehicle convoys were also attacked at Harbel and Gbanga, making life unbearable for the rebels day and night.
The 70km advance to Buchanan from Robertsfield International Airport and its eventual capture in April 1993 is reported by Group Captain Gana to have presented most of tactical problems encountered in a conventional operation. The A-jets prevented the NPFL not just from placing huge obstacles along the roads but also from blowing up the bridges en route.
One significant achievement of the fighters in this advance was the prevention of the demolition of Saint Johns River Bridge. This 100-meter long bridge was observed from the air to have been loaded with high explosives in preparation for demolition on the night of 31 March 1993.
The successful march to Buchanan depended on the use of this bridge,so the A-jets quickly established a combat air patrol(CAP) over it as early as 0500hrs. All attempted movement towards the bridge by rebels on the ground in a bid to detonate the explosives were promptly checked by heavy cannon fire from the fighters overhead until ECOMOG troops arrived and crossed safely after the bridge had been demined by NA Engineers.
Buchanan town was already deserted by rebels before its capture, due to A-jets raids on their positions.
A-jets interdiction missions in this phase were designed to interrupt Taylor’s sources of revenue and war resources
As such, bombing missions were targeted on the following installations:
– Robertsfield International Airport and other airfields at Zwedru and Sanniquelle;
– Buchanan, Greenville and Harper seaports
– Military installations and ammunition dumps in Gbanga
– Inbound vessels with confirmed military cargo or petroleum products
– Notorious border posts along the border with Cote D’Ivoire particularly the one at Loguatou.
At the end of the interdiction missions, 6 merchant ships and several boats were destroyed.NPFL military and economic activities were almost paralysed. It was time for Taylor to once again agree to a ceasefire conference.
These achievements were fortunately without Air Force casualty. The fighters flew well over 1000 combat sorties and the rebels could not bring down one aircraft.
However, some jets sustained airframe damage from high calibre machine guns but none of the heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles from the rebels found its target.