Posted on October 24th, 2009

Media Release Embassy of Sri Lanka Washington DC


A set of fishermen turned smugglers operating across the Palk Straits in 10 foot dinghies with OBMs, in the late 70’s progressed over a period of time to transform into a formidable and ruthless terrorist outfit by the late 90’s. This terrorist organization was eventually capable of operating and launching attacks from the jungles, towns, beaches, coastal waters, underwater, in the high seas and even from the air. How did they achieve this? They developed the Diaspora support, International financial potential, transnational logistical network, Global Transportation and trained cadres mainly through direct and indirect support of some foreign countries, agencies and interested individuals. None of the military equipment and other commercially off the shelf (COTS) items used by these terrorists were made or manufactured in Sri Lanka.

How did these items reach an island nation? Your guess is as good as mine. Such terrorist action with International support, very nearly destroyed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. An independent sovereign state, But yet the International community watched this scenario unfold without extending effective support or collective counter action, perhaps not realizing the gravity.

However, a committed, democratically elected, fearless executive leadership with the right attitude, aided by a few friendly countries and equally committed brave, professional, disciplined and well-trained armed forces supported by the general public defeated a terrorist group, at one time the most feared and ruthless in the world.

Sri Lanka was compelled to respond to these terrorists aggressively on all fronts for the survival of the nation and its peace-loving citizens, irrespective of community. This triumph was an unprecedented achievement, at a very heavy cost in terms of human life and resources at the expense of peace, economic progress and national growth of my country. Had this victory not taken place, I would not be here before this distinguished audience to share over 30 years of experience in countering terrorism at sea and on land.

Ladies and gentlemen, with this preamble, let me now alter course to the classic naval role and the lessons learnt from this protracted conflict, and focus on the theme of this prestigious and important 19th sea-power symposium “”…” Leveraging Cooperative Effort to Enhance Maritime Security Operations.

Navies today see a newly emerging threat forcing them to concentrate on the littorals. This has brought about a transformation in contemporary naval forces to come to grips a new form of Naval warfare “”…” that of the asymmetrical or I prefer to call irregular kind. The Sri Lankan Navy is a small force but is an experienced battle hardened robust one that has met this challenge and decisively defeated a terrorist group that was at the cutting edge of maritime terror. A group which used ‘suicide’ as its main weapon and became a model for other terror groups around the world. A group well funded, running an international logistical network and its own shipping organization.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Sri Lanka Navy used her limited resources to go after the terrorist gun-running shipping network, which took advantage of the freedom of the seas, using the global commons for their criminal purpose. Results were achieved after many long painstaking searches, good intelligence & mutual cooperation with friendly states. These enemy ‘Floating Warehouses’ that were systematically interdicted and destroyed carried an cache of weaponry, explosives, under water equipment, dual use off the shelf equipment and aircraft – an arsenal capable of sustaining full scale combat operations for years in Sri Lanka, had they reached our shores. On the other hand the question still remains, as to whether the complete consignment of warlike material carried onboard was to create terror in Sri Lanka alone, or was the surplus destined to fuel terrorist activity elsewhere?

Some of the ships that spearheaded this task group, were gifts received from friendly nations without which this task would have been impossible. What better example can I offer for ‘leveraging cooperative efforts to enhance maritime security operations’?

The Sri Lanka navy is possibly the only navy today that has experienced the maritime terrorist threat from every dimension in every form and learnt its lessons the hard way – at the expense of good men who paid with the ultimate sacrifice – that others may one day live in peace. I can proudly declare that my navy has the experience and what it takes to fight this irregular threat, be it suicide craft, swarm attack, semi submersible vessels, low profile high speed explosive laden craft including jet skis. We have also experienced the deceptive suicide fishing craft and the suicide under water saboteur. The Sri Lanka navy also formulated the concept of OBST “”…” On Board Security Teams which were deployed on board merchant ships for security whilst transiting through dangerous waters “”…” these well trained teams were successful in being an effective deterrent against terrorist attack. This is the answer to the problem of piracy we are experiencing, and properly trained OBST teams could mitigate this issue in a short period if deployed now.

The way ahead is for navies worldwide to focus their resources in enhancing maritime security operations & adopt cooperative efforts to deny unlawful elements and non state actors from exploiting the freedom of the seas. To achieve this we need to share intelligence, resources & above all have the right attitude and commitment to get the job done. Our adversary who loiters in open seas is a master of deception; and will make use of the loopholes in International maritime law to appear legitimate. How prepared & more importantly how committed are we in dealing with this developing threat? I believe this is the real Challenge. Are we, strong enough to provide our Commanding officers realistic ROE’s required to meet today’s irregular threat or otherwise?

The strategy Sri Lanka adapted to meet & counter this threat was to hit the COG of the terrorists, which was their well established logistic chain. To achieve this, the Sri Lanka Navy followed a seven-step strategy. The first being to deter the desire & potentials:

a.    The desire for undemocratic action comes from the creation of an opportunity structure that emanates from the standing of economic, social and political conditions of a state. This desire has to be countered by deep understanding of the problem, where the root causes of the problem have to be positively addressed by targeting the grievances of the affected group. This aspect received the highest priority of my Government’s agenda. Another area where the potential could be addressed is to break the desire for a political objective, in this case a separate state. To achieve this, insurgency and terrorism must be fought on two fronts, both physical & psychological.

b.    The second step is to disrupt the organization & the network: A terrorist organization with maritime capability needs to operate from foreign soil or a safe base; the prevention of the use of foreign soil for all illegal activity particularly on remote islands and isolated coastal stretches needs to be addressed. Secondly, propaganda and fund raising for the group should be effectively curbed. This includes Proscribing the organization, Arrest of leaders, Probing large bank transactions neutralizing active cells, disturbing cover up organizations and preventing the use of state & private mechanisms for terrorist propaganda. Making use of liberal opportunities for such activities must be stopped, if detrimental to another country’s national security. The atrocities committed by these terrorists and their supporters both local and abroad are now coming to light through surrendered and captured terrorist leaders and it is unfortunate that some countries had harboured well known Sri Lankan terrorist cadres including leaders and permitted them to function within their borders promoting escalation of violence and terror in Sri Lanka.

c.    The third step is to deny terrorist acquisition & point of origin: Any terrorist group will require the right connections to purchase military hardware, and denying such acquisitions is a key factor. This is a difficult task, but the best way to achieve it is by close regional and international intelligence collaboration.

 On continuing the third point”¦ it involves denying the enemy his point of origin: It is a well known fact that the Asian region especially that of south-east Asia has become a safe heaven for illegal arms shipments and smuggling. Therefore thwarting the use of foreign ports and the coast line for such activities at the point of origin is paramount.

 d.    The fourth step involves enhanced surveillance, intelligence & monitoring: Superior maritime domain awareness (MDA) in monitoring activities at sea and an integrated information sharing mechanism is a viable option in deterring this phase. This is a one point where regional or for that matter international cooperation is found lacking.

 e.    The fifth step involves search & detect: Detection by effective local level surveillance is a must for homeland defense. It is at this stage that an effective Navy on surveillance with maritime air surveillance plays a decisive role.

f.    The sixth step is the arrest, prosecute & destruct:

When detected and confirmed as a rogue ship, the ROE must be robust enough to give commanding officers the leeway to act decisively. It needs clear political-will and military resolve to neutralize the potential threat.

g.    The seventh & last step would be the securing the landing point: The landing point of enemy logistics must be denied by effective coastal and ground domination operations.

The threat posed to maritime security through the transportation of large consignments of sophisticated equipment and lethal cargo to provide logistical support to terrorist groups requires our urgent attention. In recent years the Sri Lanka Navy has experienced and exposed to the world the most unprecedented and dangerous forms of maritime terrorism, this trend calls for a revision in the existing laws on visit and search of vessels on the high seas. We need to revise the legal framework in addressing all aspects of safety and security of maritime navigation paying particular attention to ships flying flags of convenience, registration of rogue ships and the rights of warships. This would make a distinct contribution to securing global peace and security. United Nations organization has an immediate role-play in this regard & International Maritime Organization needs to break the shackles and act now.

The survival of the global population is dependent on maritime trade. SLOCS today are highly vulnerable to terrorist and pirate attacks, which threaten this critical lifeline. Transportation of weapons of mass destruction, and container terrorism are also possibilities that further complicate the issue. Preparation to counter maritime terrorism cannot be undertaken alone, and needs transnational support, unlike combating terrorist activity on land. Use of one’s land, infrastructure and institutions to perpetrate and propagate terrorism in another state must never be condoned. The artery of financial and logistic support is the centre of gravity of maritime terrorism, and this must be countered by decisive action in keeping with the obligations of a recognized and responsible sovereign state. These actions should transcend boundaries, and override the common human tendency to react only when one’s own interests are at stake. We all need to go that extra mile. This is the only way to isolate terrorists and criminal groups at sea, halting them from shifting their support block from one place to another.

In fulfilling counter action, strengthening naval forces, in numbers and capability for superior surveillance and offensive action is mandatory. Effective protection of choke points and harbours from suspected high risk vessels need special attention. Managing a database of regional merchant traffic by a multilateral regional/sector authority is what is needed today. The importance of dominating and controlling ones coastline needs to be emphasised particularly in the case of an island nation. Last but not least the human related aspects of men behind these valuable maritime assets deployed for counter action matter most and must be highly motivated, adequately equipped, professionally trained, and provided with a clear ROE’s and unwavering leadership.

Maritime terrorism is global and asymmetric. Our response must be global, appropriate and pre emptive. We can deter, and defeat terrorism at sea if the right steps are taken at the right time in a cooperative effort. Hence a global/regional agreement on cooperative maritime security supported by stringent laws and aggressive diplomacy must be immediately pursued. The need of the hour is to formulate required action and implement the same without delay, led by regional maritime powers with the collective support of regional navies and relevant non military agencies.

It is proposed that such regional forum must meet within 3 months from today, to formulate the action plan on the way ahead. To begin with, a heads of operations (HOD) meeting focusing on newly evolving threats, the efficacy of ongoing naval operations, improvement to collaborative effort, enhanced port protection measures, Interoperability and intelligence sharing will set the course and speed. Sri Lanka is willing to host this first meeting and coordinate operational level aspects in the Indian Ocean region.

Dear colleagues, Heads of Navies, Senior military officers President of the Naval War College and Chief of the US Navy, you and I being the closest to the political leadership of our respective countries could and should make such convincing authoritative and professional recommendations to the executive political leadership so that their focus will be only to defeat terrorism. This is the leverage I propose to you in using your authority and power of influence either through maritime assets and mechanisms at sea or to convince political circles of the importance of dealing with this evolving threat now.

The proposed regional cooperation can be achieved only by changing the attitude of decision makers that matter most and unconditional support by all members of the UN towards all those sovereign states that are being challenged and attacked by terrorists through their global terror network. Rationalizing terrorism and double standards, inaction, discrimination or indifference against those fighting terrorism in any form is wrong and needs to be reconsidered for the betterment of future generations. Such action invariably conveys a wrong message and encourages terrorists and their supporters that they have sympathy and a support block, no matter what violence they perpetrate.

Let me take the liberty to quote from the US national strategy for combating terrorism “”…” and I quote

‘For the enemy (terrorist), there is no peaceful coexistence with those who do not subscribe to their distorted and violent view of the world. They accept no dissent and tolerate no alternative points of view. Ultimately, the terrorist enemy we face threatens global peace, international security and prosperity, the rising tide of democracy, and the right of all people to live without fear of indiscriminate violence.’ (UNQUOTE)

I believe and I am satisfied that we have constructively contributed to the war on terror and will continue to fight all elements that advocate violence as a means to an end. Let me also quote former President George W Bush, and I quote

‘We will not rest until terrorist groups of global reach have been found, have been stopped, and have been defeated. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.’ (UNQUOTE)

It should be noted that the former prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair was also onboard and was of the same view on combating all forms of terror.

Together, trust, collaborative action, dialogue, talk, share, coordination, breaking barriers, common understanding, unity of effort are the words that reverberated in this auditorium during last 3 days. Secretary of the Navy used the word together many times in his opening address. So my dear friends, our collective obligation is crystal clear. We need to put those words in to practice.

We in Sri Lanka have done exactly that and given a strong message to Insurgents and terrorists worldwide that they can be decisively defeated. The Sri Lanka navy in this regard has done her duty in eradicating a maritime terrorist group supporting terrorists on land. Now the ball is in our court in supporting Sri Lanka and other countries in denying them from raising their ugly head again. In conclusion let me wind up by leaving you with this message which I formulated in 1998.

‘Nothing weakens the Enemy strength more than detaching or exploiting the detachment of enemy’s allies, communication and support network. Then he sees that power and ability now arrayed against him, and his morale is endangered by the obvious thought that the support bloc is falling apart, and he is isolated and that defeat is probable or inevitable.’
Capt. TSG Samarasinghe – SLN – Sept 1998.

In closing let me take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude and thanks to all those who contributed in helping Sri Lanka defeat terrorism…….. and we Sri Lankans, will never forget the part some of you played in supporting us in achieving peace in our motherland “”…” we could not have done it without that leverage “”…” the theme of this historical 19th sea-power symposium. I also take the opportunity to thank the Government of United States, Chief of United States Navy & President of War College for this opportunity.

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