Operation Rah-e-Nijat (path to deliverance), commonly described as the Mother of all Battles, commenced over the weekend, with PAF jet fighters attacking caves, tunnels, training camps, ammunition dumps and hideouts used by the militants; thus softening the targets in South Waziristan, enabling the army to advance and secure the area. The army started the campaign with 28,000 troops entering South Waziristan against the miscreants on October 17, from three directions - Razmak in the north, Jandola in the east and Shakai in the west, converging towards the Taliban strongholds of Makeen, Spinkai, Raghzai and Tiarza. A day before the launch of the operation, the military high command briefed the government and leaders of various political parties, who unanimously gave the go-ahead to launch Operation Rah-e-Nijat. The action has been timed before the winter since the cold weather causes snow to block roads, but with the advent of winter, the cold weather would force Taliban forces from their hideouts. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), led by their new leader Hakimullah Mehsud, are estimated to be between 10,000-20,000 along with 500-5,000 Uzbek supporters. The commencement of the massive operation was imminent in view of the fresh wave of terror in the country, which had taken a toll of more than a 100 lives from Kohat to Peshawar and Rawalpindi to Lahore. On the eve of the operation, a positive development occurred on October 14, when the US unveiled the first batch of the latest 18 F-16 C/D Block-52 combat fighter aircraft being produced for Pakistan, to commence delivery by December this year and complete the process by late 2010. Chief of Air Staff of Pakistan Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, accepted the first advanced F-16 Block 52 aircraft on behalf of Pakistan at a solemn ceremony, which brings some cheer in Pakistan as the new F-16s are expected to play a major role in the raging war against terror. Speaking on the occasion, John Larson, vice president of F-16 programmes for Lockheed Martin, describing the fresh delivery said that it is the latest configuration of the best 4th generation multirole fighter available in the world today. The 18 aircrafts order, which includes 12 F-16Cs and six F-16Ds, was scaled down from the original 32, due to paucity of funds. Pakistan Air Force has had a chequered history as far as the F-16s are concerned. At the height of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, when Pakistan was a frontline state, it was offered by the US President Jimmy Carter, $325 million and an inferior fighter aircraft from F-20, F-5E/F or A-10 aircraft. Then President Zia rejected this as peanuts, while the PAF stuck to its guns in demanding the F-16s. Eventually the new Republican administration of Ronald Reagan approved the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, and in 1981 an agreement was made to supply Forty (28 F-16A and 12 F-16B) to PAF, which were launched into action directly on receipt to deter the Soviet and Afghan Air Force from intruding into Pakistani airspace. Resultantly, PAF scored 10 confirmed kills in the period, four Su-22 bombers, three air transport aircraft (two An-26s and one An-24), and one Soviet Su-25 bomber. Most of these kills were achieved using the AIM-9L Sidewinder. PAF lost one F-16 during the period. In December 1988, Pakistan ordered 11 additional F-16A/B Block 15 OCU (Operational Capability Upgrade) aircraft (6 Alpha and 5 Bravo models) as attrition replacements, which were fully paid for. In September 1989, Pakistan decided to acquire 60 more F-16A/Bs. The Pressler Amendment was passed in 1985 with the intention of ensuring that the US aid would not be used to further Pakistans nuclear ambitions. Since the US needed Pakistan in its war against the Soviet, subsequent US administrations provided waiver to Pakistan. However, in 1990, after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the US decided to invoke the Pressler Amendment. Although 28 of Pakistans fresh order of 71 F-16s were ready and paid for, an embargo was placed on their supply and the provision of spare parts for the existing fleet. PAF was in a bind and remained so till the invasion of Afghanistan by the US-led allied forces in 2001. Pakistan again became a frontline state and close ally in the War on Terror. On March 25, 2005 the US government agreed to Pakistans request to sell new F-16s. As a measure of goodwill, the US decided to release the 28 embargoed F-16s and on September 30, 2006 the contract was signed between the Pakistani and US government for the acquisition of 18 new F-16C/D block 52 aircraft and an option for another 18 more. It was also agreed to upgrade the embargoed aircraft - and the remaining F-16A/B fleet - to MLU (mid-life upgrade) standards. The F-16C (single seat) and D (dual seat)-Block 50/52 F-16 aircraft are equipped with improved GPS/INS, and the aircraft can carry a further batch of advanced missiles: the AGM-88 HARM, JDAM, JSOW and WCMD. Block 52 aircraft are powered by the F100-PW-229 'Power Plant. Currently, Pakistani F-16s typically carry two all-aspect AIM-9L Sidewinders on the wing tip rails along with a pair of AIM-9P-4s on the outermost underwing racks, while the Matra Magic 2 can be carried as well. In the strike role, they can deliver Paveway laser-guided bombs. Pakistani F-16s are also capable of firing the French AS-30 laser guided missiles, while PAF F-16s are equipped with French-built Thompson-CSF ATLIS laser designation pods. The ALQ-131 pod is carried as ECM protection. Lockheed Martin had confirmed the supply of Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods (ATP) for PAF F-16s. Block 52 has the additional support of conformal fuel tanks (CFTs), dorsal spine compartment, APG-68 (V9) radar, and JHMCS helmet. The easily removable CFTs are mounted above the wing, on both sides of the fuselage. They provide an additional 2,045 litres of fuel for increased range or time on station and free up underwing hardpoints for weapons. Let us hope and pray the additional weapons enable the armed forces to defeat terrorism. The writer is a political and defence analyst.