Posted on September 27th, 2017


Yahapalana government said that it wants to convert the Sri Lanka armed forces into a professional body quipped with modern technology and knowledge of warfare. In December 2016 it was reported that Yahapalana was going to buy multi combat aircraft. The ‘entire cabinet’ had approved the purchase of multi combat aircraft which could be used in any type of war. Sri Lanka is going to purchase American fighter jets at a cost of US $ 400 million and military equipment amounting US $ 300 million,   complained Tissa Vitarana. What is the use of purchasing fighter jets at this time, when the country’s security is not under threat, he asked. It was also reported that Yahapalana was going to buy deep water ships. This is the first time such ships have been bought for Sri Lanka. They are deep water, not off shore patrol craft, observed critics.

The armed forces of Sri Lanka are quietly coming under the influence of the American military. The first US- Sri Lanka operational level bilateral defense dialogue took place in August 2016. The purpose was to develop a programme of bilateral training and exercises for the next three years.

A contingent of 33 US Army Cadets, from US Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AROTC) came to Sri Lanka in June 2017, on a familiarization tour. They were given an initial training in weapon handling, field practices, physical training, by the Sri Lanka Army. The Cadets visited the Sri Lanka Military Academy, Security Force Headquarters, Sri Lanka Light Infantry Headquarters, Regimental Headquarters of the Sri Lanka Engineers and the Army School of Artillery at Minneriya.

A two-day workshop conducted by US Army Pacific Command Officers was held in September 2017 at Security Force Headquarters, Kilinochchi. It dealt with psychological operations, information management, target audience analysis, and propaganda. Captain Kelly John and Staff Sergeant Steve Partisan, both from the US Army Pacific Command were the resource personnel.  43 officers representing Jaffna, Wanni, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Security Force Headquarters attended the workshop.   a similar type of seminar, organized jointly by the Army and the US Embassy took place in Colombo, earlier ,  with the participation of 30 representatives from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and the Maldives..

The US and Sri Lanka co-hosted the biennial Pacific Air Forces-sponsored Pacific Airlift Rally in Sri Lanka in September 2017. This Rally brought together participants from the United States, Sri Lanka, and 12 other Indo-Asia-Pacific nations for an airborne training exercise that focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

The main interest of the USA however, is the Sri Lanka Navy.  The Head of the US Pacific Command Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr. attended the Sri Lanka Navy’s Galle Dialogue 2016”.   Keynote address at the Colombo defense seminar 2017 was by Admiral (retd) W.J. Fallon of the US navy. US Captain Brian Andersons peaking in 2017 ‘expressed his contentment over a range of matters including bilateral cooperation, training and ports of call made over the past years’. Officers of the US 7th Fleet and Sri Lanka Navy met for the     second time at the Naval Headquarters in May 2017 for discussions, with emphasis on furthering mutual cooperation between the two navies. In November 2016, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit engaged in a Theatre security Cooperation (TSC) project with the Sri Lankan Navy’s newly formed marine force, In Trincomalee.  ‘We are expanding our navy-to-navy relationship with Sri Lanka,’ said USA.’ our first-ever naval exercise is set for October 2017.’

The Non-Lethal Weapons Executive Seminar (NOLES), the second segment of the US Pacific Command’s premier multi-lateral theatre security cooperation event, was held in 2017. 41 military personnel representing 18 foreign countries and six (06) representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), senior officers and other ranks from the tri services and Police were present. This seminar provides a common platform for all stakeholders to deliberate on issues related to peace support operations.

The Field Training Exercise (FTX), conducted jointly by the US Marines Forces, Pacific Command (MARFORPAC) and the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) as part of the 16th Non-Lethal Weapons Executive Seminar (NOLES) was held at the Welisara Naval Complex in 2017. 140 Sri Lanka Navy personnel took part. This training focused on force orientation, communication skills, Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) techniques, manning vehicle check points and searching procedures. It was held under the supervision of 17 US Marine Corps Forces personnel.

Sri Lanka Navy facilitated the preparation of the first ever Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) in Sri Lanka in 2017. The project from Colombo to Negombo was successfully completed with the collaboration of the Sri Lanka Navy, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and other Sri Lankan stakeholders,

The ESI maps provide a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs. The Sri Lanka Coast Guard (SLCG) made a formal request to the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) and the USACE, as the primary US Department of Defense element, was assigned accordingly to partner with Sri Lanka on the project. The Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) acted as the focal point and facilitator of the project. The project was started in July 2016 and conducted in three phases.

The U.S. Department of State’s Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) Program trained 18 Customs and Coast Guard Officials from Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, and Bangladesh in seaport interdiction in 2017. The training was conducted in Colombo.

The first US-Sri Lanka naval exercise ‘Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training’  ‘CARAT 2017’, will take place in October at Trincomalee. It will deal with surface, underwater, air and jungle warfare.  The US Seventh Fleet will conduct the exercise   and littoral combat ship USS Coronado will participate.

Ships belonging to the American 7 Fleet, stationed in the Pacific, visit Sri Lanka regularly.  The first US navy ship to arrive was    its flagship, USS Blue Ridge,   on a goodwill visit in March 2016, with over 900 sailors. President Sirisena visited the ship and was received with a US navy military guard.  USS New Orleans visited   in July 2016. US war ship USS Frank Cable, a submarine tender vessel in August 2016. It does maintenance and support for US Navy submarines in the 5th and 7 fleets.

Operation Pacific Angels”, held a week long assistance programme in Jaffna in August 2016. The US navy Poseidon aircraft, an advanced US maritime patrol aircraft, left Mattala in December 2016 after a week of consultation and expert exchange with Sri Lanka military personnel. US guided missile destroyer USS Hopper arrived on   a goodwill visit in January 2017.   It conducted training for the Sri Lanka navy and also played cricket, baseball, volley ball and basketball with them.  In March 2017, USS ‘Comstock’ arrived  for a four day training workshop at Colombo harbor and US Pacific Fleet’s transport ship USNS Fall River visited Hambantota on a Pacific Partnership goodwill mission. It held joint exercises with the navies of Sri Lanka, Japan and Australia.

The Yahapalana government is also taking an interest in its navy. 25 senior sailors received interest free loans from the Navy amount to Rs 500,000 in July 2017. Since the launch of the project a total of 1000 senior sailors have received this facility, reported the media.

USA is the only country in the world which has built a military empire, without first creating a territorial empire. Instead of conquering countries, US    entered into military agreements with them. US has military agreement with 130 countries and more than 20 Central Commands all over the world.  UN started this in the 1950s as part of the Cold War with Russia. USA said it was establishing military bases to counter Russian threats. The Cold War is now over, but the US still has military agreements, complained critics.

Sri Lanka    entered into a ten year Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement (ACSA) with the US in 2007. It provided inter alia, for logistics, supplies and re-fuelling facilities. It was signed surreptitiously without even informing the Cabinet. It may have been better for the country’s interest during the war, but now, there is no such situation and we will only be serving the interests of the US through the renewal of the pact, said JVP.

Yahapalana government is now considering signing another agreement with US, known as SOFA.   The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)   deals with the legal issues that inevitably arise when US with United States establishes a permanent military presence in a foreign country. SOFAA set out the terms under which the foreign military is allowed to operate in the host country issues such as entry and exit of service personnel tax liabilities and such like.

SOFA decides the civil and criminal jurisdiction that will apply when offences committed by US service personnel. Usually SOFA ensures that U.S. courts will have jurisdiction over crimes committed by a member of the US services against another service member or by a service member as part of his or her military duty, but the host nation retains jurisdiction over other crimes. SOFA does not deal with locations of bases and access to facilities.  These are dealt with by other agreements.

The Yahapalana government     appointed Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake   as Commander of the army in July 2017 and Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah as Navy Commander in August 2017. They were clearly handpicked. Both officers had left the service some years ago. Both were invited back, given senior positions and then elevated to the top position. Senanayake was made Jaffna Commander in January 2016.  When Sinniah was called back into the navy and made Eastern Commander of the navy in June 2016, replacing the incumbent Eastern commander, it was obvious that he would be the next Navy Commander.

Both commanders had open, straightforward links with the USA. Both worked for the US on leaving the armed service in Sri Lanka. Senanayake   went to the US and worked as an officer serving in the US-led Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) until he was invited back to Sri Lanka. Sinniah on retiring from the navy, worked for the US Embassy in Colombo as a Security Specialist, a position which needed to be filled by a retired military officer, since it included liaising with the Sri Lanka defense ministry and the armed forces. This post fell vacant in 2011 and Ambassador Patricia Butenis   persuaded Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to release Sinniah so that he could take up the post. US Embassy had wanted Sinniah for the job. After some time, Sinniah left this position and migrated with his family to Australia, on his own merit.

The media observed that there is nothing unusual in retired armed services officers serving in various embassies as Security Specialists or in other capacities. But it is certainly unusual for an officer who was working for a foreign embassy to be appointed to a responsible position in the armed forces said the media. Sinniah in his first interview as Navy Commander stated firmly that he was not an agent for the United States government. These people don’t know what it is to be an American agent”, he remarked. However, he thought that Sri Lanka would benefit from an alliance with USA.

Army Commander Senanayake    says he and 13 of his Army fellow-officers, including five senior officers, had to leave the country in the aftermath of the 2010 Presidential Election.’ All of us were abruptly discharged, because we were considered a bunch of ‘Fonseka’s henchmen’. Our service, salaries, ranks, housing, pensions and all other facilities were denied overnight. We had to go into hiding with our families, in far remote areas, in some instances, even into jungles to escape pursuing ‘ghost’ squads.  Our fear-stricken families with accompanying children had to be referred afterwards for psychological counseling. In his first interview as Commander he made special mention of General Janaka Perera and General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, but his highest praise was for Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and his techniques which he said, won the war in 2009.

Senanayake said he saw how humane and impressively concerned the Sri Lanka Army was in its approach to the fleeing Tamil civilians and LTTE combatants surrendering. Despite adverse and malicious propaganda highlighted largely by overseas LTTE sympathizers, our rehabilitation of 12,000 odd LTTE combatants in this regard was amazing, and would go into history as a unique humanitarian operation, he said. The LTTE is now completely away from thoughts of armed struggles, violence, robbery, he continued. So, we also have a commitment on our part to care for them without forcing them again into the same old habit”.

Senanayake   said that no attempt whatsoever had been made to politically interfere with the Army or its administration after President Maithripala Sirisena and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were voted into power in 2015. This is a healthy development. His short but ‘most   productive’ tenure of office as the Jaffna Commander (January 2016 – March 2017), won plaudits from every layer of Jaffna populace and also from his peers.

Senanayake achieved the feat of completing the housing project at Nallinakkapuram, adjacent to the perimeters of the Palaly Security Force cantonment in Jaffna within a record period of 2 ½ months. Security Forces under his command put up 100 new houses and vested them in the IDPs. The release of civilian lands would continue, wherever possible, in Jaffna as well as the closure of Jaffna IDP centers as early as possible after finding suitable alternative houses and locations, said Senanayake in an interview. We are maintaining a broad welfare network for the benefit of many ex-combatants, widows, students, disabled persons and kids in the peninsula by way of distribution of milk powder packets, nutrients for pregnant women, scholarships, school accessories with patronage from private donors.

Navy Commander Sinniah is an officer who would have in any case been well on his way to becoming Navy Commander if he had not retired around 2011, said the media. This is one officer whose reinstatement in the navy after he retired should not be grudged by anybody. There would be few officers in the navy more suited to hold high office than Sinniah,   the media concluded. Sinniah is a front line officer who served in all the Squadrons in the Navy and held the prominent appointments including Flag Officer Commanding Naval Fleet, The Commandant Naval and Maritime Academy and Deputy Area Commander East.  He is a battle hardened officer who has been awarded and re-awarded for valour and gallantry.

Sinniah has the distinction of being the commander of the successful mission that the navy launched in 2007 to destroy the LTTE’s weapons smuggling ships in international waters off Indonesia and Australia. This was Sri Lanka navy’s proudest achievement. This operation Sagara Balaya” was the turning point of the war against the LTTE   it reduced LTTE capacity to supply weapons to their cadres in Sri Lanka and was the beginning of its end.

That alone would have made Sinniah a natural choice to be Navy commander when his time came, observed the media, but Sinniah had been involved in other historic naval operations in his youth as well.  As a young naval lieutenant he had played a major role in the operation that captured the Eastern LTTE commander Kumarappa and Pulendran along with more than a dozen other LTTE terrorists in the seas off Kankesanturai in 1987.  According to Shamindra Ferdinando’s account of the capture of Kumarappa’s boat named ‘Kadalpura’, Sinniah had been the deputy commander of a Dvora fast attack craft P 457, and it was he who had made the detection of the LTTE boat at around 2.45 am in the seas off Point Pedro.

When the LTTE boat defied orders to stop, it was Sinniah along with a Leading Seaman named Prematilleke who jumped off the Dvora into the moving LTTE vessel and confronted the 18 armed terrorists. So Sinniah has top credentials as a navy officer who has done more than his due in the fight against terrorism. Gotabhaya Rajapakse valued Sinniah and was reluctant to lose his service. Sinniah left the service because of a disagreement with navy commander Somatilleke Dissanayake,

But all is not rosy for Sinniah on his return. Avant Garde’s Senadipathy while admitting that he had great regard for the Commander Sinniah has challenged Sinniah to an open debate on the Avant Garde issue.  Senadipathy said he had the documentation to prove that the Onboard Security Operations was not handed over to Avant Garde on a platter as alleged by Commander Sinniah.

former Navy Chief Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda along with Rear Admiral (Rtd) Vijaya Bandara have sent letters of demand to Sinniah stating that recent statements made by the new Navy Chief to the CID earlier this year regarding the detention and killing of those who were detained at the gun-sites numbered 1 and 2 at the Trincomalee navy base, have been extremely damaging to both of their reputations.   (Continued)

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