If you’ve watched the movie PASKAL last year, you may remember a scene where a soldier was on a military mission with no weapons. In that scene, the soldier was engaged by militants, and had a hard time trying to fight back – since he had no weapons. It was literally a case of bringing nothing to a gun fight.
The scene wasn’t based on fiction, but it was a dramatisation of a military mission in Angola. And just like in the film, Malaysia sent our soldiers there for missions without weapons. But why would Malaysia do such a thing in the first place, especially when it would be dangerous to do so?
Well it wasn’t because they were incompetent (nah, they’re one of the best in the region) or under budget, but they were they were ordered to do so.
Which basically means it was an active decision to send our troops unarmed. And here’s why Malaysia did such a dangerous thing in the first place...
We sent them to keep the peace
If we were to use the words “military mission”, we’d probably conjure up images in our heads of patriotic soldiers defending the country from a villainous invading force – these missions would involve fire fights, tanks, and fighter jets blowing up buildings. But, this isn’t always the case. As we’ve mentioned before, sometimes soldiers are even ordered not to carry weapons on missions.
Such missions are known as peacekeeping missions, and it basically defines itself – they’re military missions for keeping the peace or creating the peace. And it’s purpose isn’t the only distinguishing factor of peacekeeping military missions, but what peacekeeping soldiers wear are very different from normal soldiers.
Normally, soldiers wear camouflage uniforms which allows a soldier to blend into the environment. That’s why soldiers wear green in the jungle or they wear brown-ish colours in the desert – blending into the environment with the help of such unique colour blends and patterns helps soldiers avoid detection by the enemy.
But in peacekeeping missions, soldiers are required to always wear bright blue berets or helmets. Why? So that they’re easily identified. But isn’t that counter intuitive since the enemies can spot them?
Well not exactly, because these soldiers aren’t always sent to fight...
...they are sent for 4 types of missions:
- Observation missions. These are basically missions where soldiers are tasked to only observe what’s going on and report it back. This would be like when a country just got out of war and they’re having elections for a new leader. The peacekeeping soldiers would observe what’s going on (whether there are commotions in the polling centres, or maybe there are some corruption going on), and then report it back to the UN.
- Bufferzone missions. These are missions where the peacekeeping soldiers act as buffers between two opposing factions. They are basically acting as a very passive referee in essence.
- Rebuilding missions. This would be where peacekeeping soldiers have a more active role. In addition to observing and reporting, they are tasked with helping to rebuild the country. So missions could include helping a country to set up new security forces, build infrastructure etc.
- Peace enforcement missions. Here’s where things get heated up. In these type of missions, instead of maintaining peace which is existent, soldiers are tasked with actively trying to create peace.
But out of all these 4 missions, soldiers are only sent without weapons for observation missions. --- remember the Angola mission we told you about at the beginning? That was an observational peacekeeping mission, that’s why the soldier we mentioned earlier (Leftenant Commander Anuar) wasn’t carrying any weapons.
We also send our forces for peacekeeping missions with weapons
We don’t always send our troops for missions without weapons. We do send our troops for missions which aren’t merely observational.
In such missions our troops are allowed to carry weapons for protection and to conduct missions. But they can only use their weapons according to well established rules of engagement.
For example according to International Humanitarian Law principles, attacks are only allowed against military objects (buildings, equipments and/or soldiers), and if you wanna know more about these rules, just read this guidebook here. Oh and sometimes in the case of peacekeeping, the rules of engagement could depend on what the United Nations says.
Malaysia has actually sent our troops for armed peacekeeping missions before. In 1993, Malaysia sent soldiers from our Royal Malay Regiment to Somalia. The mission was called the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II), and it’s purpose was to restore order in Somalia because of a civil war. To achieve that purpose, American soldiers conducted a mission to capture a warlord, and during that attempt the American soldiers were pinned down.
Fortunately for the American troops, our soldiers from the Royal Malay Regiment was at a base nearby – and they were sent into the middle of a fire fight to rescue them. To give you an idea of how dangerous that mission was, we actually lost one soldier named Corporal Mat Aznan due to a strike by a rocket propelled grenade.
If you’re thinking “Eh wait, this story sounds familiar”, it’s probably because it was the plot of the movie Black Hawk Down. The movie while may be a cinematically well directed film, but it drew criticisms from Malaysians – especially because our rescue efforts and sacrifices were not depicted in the film.