ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY Part 13B
Posted on January 21st, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

(Revised 22.1.20, 9.2.20)

Sri Lanka’s armed forces were praised and admired for their work, long before the Eelam victory of 2009. The US Pacific Command team which evaluated the Sri Lanka army in 2002 said the soldiers were well motivated and were confident as a team.  They were well trained, knew their weapons, and were proficient in the skills expected of them. ‘Maneuvers in close proximity to automatic weapons fire were rapid,’ they noted.

Soldiers had a good understanding of LTTE warfare and knew how to defeat the LTTE. They had maintained a fighting spirit amidst tremendous hardships and it was this spirit that had prevented more drastic defeats.  The army would have succeeded better if the entire system were committed to that end, they concluded. 

The deputy head of the Naval Monitoring team of the SLMM, Lars Bleymann was on board Pearl Cruiser II” when it was attacked by the LTTE in 2006. He wrote to the Navy high command   thanking the navy, from the bottom of his heart, for saving his life. He said that the officer in charge and his crew behaved in exemplary manner. The OIC was calm, collected, never wavered, and never lost coolness.   His crew carried out his orders. They are a credit to the navy and the Sri Lanka Navy is in very good shape, he said.

On another occasion, the head of the International Committee of Red Cross had written to Rajiva Wijesinha ‘Your men either at sea or on land, carried out their tasks in an exemplary manner. Whether it be to protect the state and its citizens or the care of the sick and wounded they displayed a strict discipline and respect for rules of engagement and at the same time a very respectful and kind attitude to help those in need.’

The world watched with interest as Sri Lanka defeated the LTTE in Eelam War IV. Wall Street Journal announced ‘for all those who argue there no military solution for terrorism, we have two words: Sri Lanka’.  Washington Times editorial of 25.4.2009 said ‘Sri Lankans are winning; we should let them finish the job. Obama administration should mind its own business.’

After the Eelam War IV victory, the Sri Lanka military forces received much praise and recognition. In 2010, Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, Commander, Security forces headquarters, Jaffna, was awarded the Gusi Peace Prize, Manila. In 2011, Indian Military academy at   Dehra Dun, India’s most prestigious military school honored the Sri Lanka Army by inviting its commander, General Jagath Jaysuriya as chief guest of the passing out parade. This is the first ever Sri Lanka Army Commander to have been invited to the occasion as Chief Guest.

Sri Lanka was unanimously granted Dialogue Partner status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June 2009 .This is an important regional group, which pays special attention to terrorism and security. Its members then were China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Dialogue Partner status is given to a state which shares its objectives and wishes to establish a partnership with the Organization. There was only one dialogue partner, Afghanistan, before the inclusion of Sri Lanka and Belarus. India, Pakistan, Mongolia and Iran have observer status. USA’s request for observer status was rejected.

The Sri Lanka armed forces found that other countries wanted to learn the military techniques perfected by the Sri Lanka army. The ‘Joint war gaming centre’ at the Defence Services Command and Staff College, Sapugaskanda held annual training courses. In the 2014 course there were 101 middle grade officers from Sri Lanka and 16 from Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan Rwanda, Senegal, and Vietnam. The newspapers showed a photograph of the group examining a large map of Vanni west and Gulf of Mannar.

 Sri Lanka army’s field training exercise, ‘Cormorant strike’ was started in 2000 and had been held each year thereafter. This is a mock field training exercise designed for joint special operations working as one team. The purpose was to share the skills the Sri Lanka army had acquired in the May 2009 operation.

The Strike was conducted at Kokilai in 2015. This was a mega exercise with commandos and Special Forces of the army, 245 sailors, and 140 airmen. There were 53 foreign participants and observers from Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, and USA. In 2017, Cormorant Strike VIII was held at Infantry Training Centre, Minneriya. It had 69 foreign participants from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kenya, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, Turkey, and USA.

In 2017, Yahapalana government had suggested that the Defense seminar be held every other year. Sri Lanka army did not agree. We insisted that it should continue as an annual event. The Navy holds its own Galle symposium annually.

Cormorant strike IX 2018 was held at Minneriya. The army said that there was a definite increase in participation with Middle East and Africa joining.    China, India Pakistan Bangladesh, turkey Indonesia Nigeria Nepal Sudan and Zambia were among the counties participating.

We are gaining a name for having a strong armed force. We are considered for a formidable force, said Mahesh Senanayake, Army Commander.  Every year the foreign interest in Cormorant strike increases.  Foreign countries now insist that we hold this event. The top brass always send representatives if they cannot attend.  These representatives s are officers who will become army leaders eventually.  We see this when we see the names,”  

Cormorant Strike 2019 was held at Kuchchaveli with 85 countries participating. . Mission oriented training was conducted for foreign participants by Commando and Special Forces under their respective Brigade Commanders. The exercise concluded with a spectacular mock operation on the Kuchchaveli beach, simulating a scenario where Special Operations Forces (SOF) of the Sri Lanka Army, Navy and Air Force attack on an insurgent base.

A six-member high-level delegation of the Nigerian Army came in 2019, to study the comprehensive training modules of the Special Forces (SF). They were shown mock urban terrain operations, combat rider firing skills, close quarter combat training sessions, drill and combat shooting demonstrations, ongoing squadron training modules, camouflage and concealment demonstrations, and presentations, submitted by the Officers at the SFTS . They wanted to know more about the exceptional jungle warfare techniques and skills of the SF. They also discussed training for Nigerian soldiers. Two Nigerian Officers are already under training in Sri Lanka following, the Junior Command Course and the SF training in Maduru Oya. 

Sri Lanka Navy said it was more than happy to share its hard-earned asymmetric warfare experience with military counterparts across the oceans. Sri Lanka navy organizes the ‘Galle dialogues’, an annual maritime conference on safety in Indian Ocean region. At the first conference in 2010 only 11 countries had come. There were 35 participants in 2013  and 42 in 2016.

The 5th Asymmetric Warfare Course of the Sri Lanka Navy, was conducted in 2017, the course was attended by 20 foreign military personnel from Bangladesh, China, India, Maldives, Netherlands, Nigeria and Pakistan. Galle Dialogue 2019 had over 150 participants from 55 countries, heads of 12 international agencies and 3 defence industries.

 The three-month course comprised a wide range of Asymmetric Warfare related affairs viz. weapons training, combat shooting, small group operations, jungle warfare, clandestine maritime operations, small boat operations, field training exercises, survival at sea etc. The Special Boat Squadron, the elite force of the Sri Lanka Navy facilitated the proceedings.

The Colombo Naval Exercise (CONEX) organized by the Sri Lanka Navy  with the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) , started in 2019 as an annual exercise of the seagoing force. CONEX  has two phases – Harbour and Sea in which a wide range of naval exercises including passage through mined waters, Replenishment at Sea (RAS) approaches, Towing Exercises (TOWEX) and Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) exercises are undertaken. The Offshore Patrol Vessels and Fast Attack Craft of the Navy as well as MI 17 and Bell 412 helicopters of the Sri Lanka Air Force participated.

The Sri Lanka Air Force has conducted Colombo Air symposium from 2015. The symposium is organized by the Sri Lanka Air Force on an annual basis with the objective of developing a wider perspective on global air power, and increasing cooperation, understanding, and goodwill among the represented nations.

Colombo Air Symposium 2017 was on the theme ‘Air Power in Addressing Asymmetric Threats,’ Colombo Air Symposium 2019 had participants from over 25 countries. The theme was” A small Air Force: Way forward in achieving future vision”. The symposium created a forum for small air forces such as Sri Lanka Air Force to share experiences and to explore future challenges and possibilities.

The government started a website, “Defence.lk” in order to obtain public support for the war. This website was a great success. It became the most visited Sri Lanka website, with a daily average of 8 to 13 million hits. It provided hourly updates on the progress of the war.  ‘Defence.lk” was the subject of a MBA research project.

The armed forces had to innovate if they wished to win the war. In 1983 Sri Lanka had created a Special Task Force (STF) of hand picked police officers with para military training.  STF is the only paramilitary organization in the world which   has police powers. STF officers were trained ‘jungle warfare techniques’ and handling infantry weapons. They were given special training in counter insurgency and counter terrorist operations. They could combat terrorism and insurgency with minimum casualties. The STF operated in teams of eight or less and could fight in a variety of situations such as built up areas, and close quarter battle. 

The STF was effective in Eelam war IV and the LTTE assassinated the head of its training school in order to halt its operations.  STF was mainly deployed in the eastern theatre. It destroyed 24 LTTE bases in Kanchikudichchi Aru jungle while the army went into Thoppigala. .This combined campaign continued till Thoppigala fell in 2007. In 2009, STF went after the LTTE in Yala and then took over the A9 road from Omanthai to Kanagarayakulam via Pulyankulam.  STF also protected the Sinhala villages around Kebethigollawa.  STF has been recognized internationally. It has trained military teams from Maldives and India.  It was one of the few agencies invited for security assessment duties at the Olympics at Beijing.

 The main tactic used by the LTTE at sea was the ‘swarm attack’   of 20-25 boats with 5-6 suicide craft and sophisticated equipment. Each boat had about 15 persons, with each combatant donned in helmet, body amour and carrying a personal weapon. Swarms were used to attack isolated naval craft, to escort LTTE craft coming from deep sea carrying ammunitions, and also terrorists moving along the coastline. To counter this, the Navy decided to create its own ‘swarm’.

 Navy engineers designed three types of small, high-speed, heavily armed inshore patrol craft, suitable for operations in different types of sea (Wave Rider) .These boats were built at Welisara where there were rudimentary facilities for boat building. 150 boats were manufactured in three years .It took just 8 days to complete and fully equip a single craft.  We manufactured these boats through day and night because we needed them quickly .

 They manufactured more than one hundred 23 feet long, fibre glass ‘Arrow’ boats, powered by Japanese 200 horsepower outboard motors. ‘Arrow’   was very effective in shallow waters where Dvora could not go. There was also a 17 meter long command-cum- fighting boat. All boats were manned by highly trained sailors   from elite units, such as the Special Boat Squadron.

In 2007 the navy was able to launch a flotilla of Arrow” boats which outnumbered the LTTE boats. When LTTE launched 20 boats, the navy launched 40. It was ‘swarm against swarm’. The boats operated in groups of four. Squadrons consisting of 25-30 craft were kept at strategically important locations  Squadrons could be shifted from place to place in a very short time. They were combined when necessary and about 60 boats were   available for some battles. These boats used infantry tactics. They went in arrowhead formation or in three adjacent columns in single file so as to mask their numbers and increase the navy’s element of surprise.

Sri Lanka’s ‘Small Boats project’ was given an unprecedented 6 page write up in the prestigious ‘Jane’s Navy International” in March 2009. Jane’s International’s maritime reporterTim Fish noted that the western media had completely ignored this project.  He said that other navies should study the Sri Lanka Navy’s modus operandi, in particular its strategies for defeating a four-dimensional insurgent group, operating on land, air,   surface of the seas and underwater.In 2017, Nigeria bought 06 Arrow Boats and 03 Inshore Patrol Craft.

The Navy also created On Board Security Teams (OBST). These were deployed on merchant ships to provide security when the ships transited through dangerous waters. These well trained teams were an effective deterrent against terrorist attack.  Navy authorities said these teams could be used to combat modern day piracy.  Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative, Palitha Kohona in 2010 pointed out to the UN Security Council, that the dense shipping lanes south of Sri Lanka had been free of any piracy in the past 28 years, despite heavy traffic. This was due to the On Board Security Teams.  They were a visible deterrent, they could react immediately to attacks. He said Sri Lanka was ready to share its expertise and personnel regarding the OBST with the rest of the world.

Sri Lanka Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) production facility (SLEME)  is able to design and develop in-house the necessary protected vehicles for military requirements,. SLEME began developing local armored vehicles in 1983. The first vehicle based on a commercially available TATA 5-ton truck chassis  was named ‘Yaka’. SLEME had supplied the armed forces and police with over 300 armoured and mine-protected vehicles during the Eelam war.

The latest in  this long line of locally fabricated armoured vehicles developed by SLEME is the new MPV is a 6×6 wheeled armoured vehicle, called ‘Avalon’. It seats 12 troops and a crew of 2, and can mount a range of weapons as per mission requirements. The MPV is built on a rugged, commercially-available chassis which will enable high operational availability and cost effectiveness.

It is designed to have significantly better survivability characteristics than the current fleet of armoured vehicles in service. It comes with enhanced protection against anti-tank mines, IEDs, small arms fire, and offers greater payload carrying capacity, mobility and endurance, which are needed for the  long range convoy duties which Sri Lankan peacekeepers perform. 

The first batch is due to roll out by the end of June and have been earmarked to be sent to the Peacekeeping Mission in Mali,” said the army in February 2019. Each Avalon is estimated to cost Rs21 million, which the army claimed was 1/3 the cost of a similar vehicle of foreign make.

 In 2019 SLEME is  also refurbishing nine ‘Unibuffel MK II’ MPVs with new locally-designed blast shock absorption seats and better protection as an urgent operational requirement for Peacekeeping duties. The seats had been identified as an urgent requirement in-order to prevent life threatening spinal injuries that occupants face when an MPV is caught in a landmine or IED blast. The locally made seat was developed with assistance from the Moratuwa University. ( continued)

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