Archive for April 3rd, 2008

Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers said Thursday they were resisting a major military thrust into rebel-held territory and claimed to have killed at least 25 government troops in two days of fighting.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they pushed back security forces from the Catholic pilgrim area of Madhu in the coastal district of Mannar where heavy fighting has raged in recent weeks.

“The Sri Lanka army adamantly initiated several clashes within 1,500 meters of the church premises,” a statement said. “The LTTE defenders successfully repelled the Sri Lanka army offenders.”

The separatists added that more than 90 soldiers had been wounded and placed their own losses at one killed and three hurt over the two days.

The LTTE statement came as the military said they killed 42 Tiger rebels for the loss of one soldier in the same area on Wednesday.

The latest defence ministry casualty claims bring to at least 2,562 the number of rebels said to have been killed by security forces since January.

The ministry has reported losing 152 soldiers in the same period.

The figures given by both sides in the decades-old ethnic conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives cannot be independently confirmed as journalists and rights groups are barred from front-line areas.

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“In addition there are the work conditions that take a toll of your family life – harsh, long periods of separation from families, and with PBOR, problems in getting leave that are manifesting themselves in the numerous incidents of suicide and fragging. To make up for all this, what was envisaged was a Military Service Pay (MSP) for the armed forces. In other militaries across the world, this is called the ‘X Factor’.”

The three Service Chiefs sitting as supplicants before the Defence Minister last week, asking for more, was a depressing sight. The armed services sought no favours when they asked the Sixth Pay Commission for a 50 per cent hike in their pay and a four-and-a-half time increase in their allowances. To enable them to argue their case properly, they also sought a representative of the services on the pay panel, mindful of the fact that the Fifth Pay Commission had overlooked the case of the services altogether. This demand was rejected. What they got was a 32 per cent hike, doubling the allowances and emphasis on the fact – in case any of us were in the danger of forgetting – that their rank, pay and allowances were to be benchmarked with the civil services.

The armed forces had thought that Justice Srikrishna, who seemed so receptive when they put forward their arguments, would see things from their point of view. Justice Srikrishna saw merit in their argument that there must be something to compensate the services for two things that arise out of their professional obligations: One, their constant exposure to hazardous situations and the danger to their life and limb; and, the tough physical standards that are demanded of them. Any slip up in this can cause them to lose their job, as passing the ‘medical’ is as important as a serviceman’s intellectual ability to fight. This applies to both officers and Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBOR). None of the civil services – certainly not the IAS and not the police either – have this as a ground of disqualification and dismissal at any point in their service career.

In addition there are the work conditions that take a toll of your family life – harsh, long periods of separation from families, and with PBOR, problems in getting leave that are manifesting themselves in the numerous incidents of suicide and fragging. To make up for all this, what was envisaged was a Military Service Pay (MSP) for the armed forces. In other militaries across the world, this is called the ‘X Factor’. In the US, it is called ‘Additional Pay for Difficulties of Military Life’, in Australia, ‘Service Allowance’ and in France, ‘Special Pay’.

In all these countries, MSP is a percentage of the salary. This is where the problem lies. The Sixth Pay Commission accepted the conceptual aspect of MSP. But it made it a fixed element, a kind of permanent allowance to be paid to officers up to the rank of Brigadier. All officers were to be given this allowance of Rs 6,000 and all PBOR to be paid Rs 1,000.

Through one gesture, the Sixth Pay Commission turned into a gratuity, a kind of ‘tip’ to soldiers, what should have been a percentage of their salary. What this means essentially is that while the ‘hardship’ suffered by the civil servants has been woven into their pay and allowances which has been enhanced, the ‘hardship element for a soldier serving in Siachen or fighting in the North-East remains frozen at Rs 6,000/1,000. The Government’s argument is that any changes will upset the parity of officers with the civilian bureaucracy. But wasn’t that the general idea?

This is not the only problem. Officers above the rank of Major General will continue to remain in one-pay grade no matter how young they are when they pick up their rank. In the private sector, this kind of stagnation of pay would not have been tolerated. It is the plight of PBOR that is particularly worrying. They retire relatively young, and for the sake of being offered jobs in the Central Paramilitary Organisations, will have to give up the pension they were getting from the military. This is highly simplistic solution for a complex problem.

Newspapers have gone to town about how the Service Chiefs have been equated with the Cabinet Secretary. This is not new and nothing to celebrate. What was long overdue and has happened at last is the upward revision in the pay of the Director General, Armed Forces Medical Corps.

In the Pakistan Army, the salary of a Captain is around Rs 15,000, that of a Lieutenant Colonel is Rs 20,000 and a Colonel earns between Rs 20,000 and 25,000 a month. A Brigadier gets Rs 30,000 and above. A Cadet gets around Rs 10,000 a month. The pay scale in the Army is not very high as officers are directly commissioned as officers in 17 grades. But as everyone knows, there are perks in the Pakistan Army that are unmatchable. The salary is tax free – so while everyone else in Pakistani society pays taxes, the armed forces have let themselves off on that score. The Fauji Foundation is a vast organisation that takes care of every aspect of the life of a soldier – from plots of land to building houses to medical relief. And most important of all, when you’re in service – either fighting on the front or posted in the Ministry of Defence – there are no civil servants, police or Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), breathing down an officer’s neck when he recommends a particular piece of equipment for purchase.

The older generation of officers is a content lot. Several of my friends say wonderingly that they never thought they would be so comfortably off because they are used to spending very little money on themselves. But for young, ambitious and eminently qualified mid-level officers, the prestige of being called a military officer provides as much a rush as having the money to take your family out for the weekend. This is a treat that no longer costs Rs 100 for an evening movie at the Roxy and dinner at DSOI. This applies to PBOR who are getting smarter and ambitious.

In a recent set of advertisements that is currently running on television, Shahrukh Khan says: “Thoda aur wish karo.” It is time the Service Chiefs, instead of wishing, thumped the table a little. It takes a big bang to make little men hear.

(Lt. Gen. Ashok K. Mehta)

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Troops from the 57 Division that have surrounded Madhu via Periyapandivirichchan east and west are experiencing a severe harassing fire from Tigers using the cover of the 400 year-old Our Lady of Madhu Church.

Despite a strong warning by Maj. Gen Jagath Jayasuriya several weeks ago, the Mannar Bishop has not been able to prevent this blatant violation of the rules of engagement. Gen Jayasuriya has given strict instructios not to engage the Tigers taking cover behind the Church premises for the time being.

Civilians have been held hostage at Periyapandivirichchian until troops captured the village. LTTE is also holding civilians in Karampeikulam near the Madhu Sanctuary as a human shied.

Troops of the 57 Division are moving north from their original positions south of the Madhu Road Junction (not Madhu) on the A-14 (Mannar-Anuradhapura MSR). Advancing north from Parayanalankulam Junction in the Vavuniya District (A-30 from Vavuniya and A14 from Anuradhapura meet at Parayanalankulam Junction) into Madhu Junction through the jungles of the Madhu sanctuary, the troops were bogged down by a large 2km trench, which was finally overrun this week.

In Mannar, Avenues of Approaches (AAs) from the 58 Division advancing northeast from Thirukethiswaram Kovil is now ahead of Pallaikuli. Another unit captured Ilanthivan, north east of Pallaikuli. Fighting still continues north of Manthai west area. The same Division advancing northeast along A32 is now at Veppankulam. Parappakandal and Sirikkulam, situated off the A14 MSR and west of the Giant’s Tank is also in Army hands.

In the coming days, heavy fighting is expected in Puliyankulam North and Manthai North. The Special Forces are deployed in these areas to assist regular infantry. This week, a Special Forces team launched an attack at Vannakulam in Mannar killing four LTTE field commanders.


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Faced with stiff resistance from Tamil Tiger guerrillas, Sri Lanka has ordered emergency military supplies from Pakistan, according to official sources here.

In a development noted with some concern by the Indian establishment, the Sri Lanka Army has sought 150,000 rounds of 60 mm mortar ammunition and as many hand grenades for immediate delivery, the sources said.

Sri Lanka has also requested $25 million worth of 81 mm, 120 mm and 130 mm mortar ammunition to be delivered within a month, the sources told IANS.

General Sarath Fonseka, the Sri Lankan army chief who spent six days in India last month, has conveyed the requirements to his Pakistani counterpart, General Ashraf Pervez Kayani, said the sources.

The Pakistani military has apparently agreed to supply the ammunition on an emergency basis from its War Wastage Reserve maintained in various army depots.

The SOS comes amid escalating fighting in Sri Lanka where the military is desperately trying to gain control of areas the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) holds in the island’s north.

The current fighting is concentrated mostly in the districts of Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu, which along with Kilinochchi are commonly referred to as the Wanni region, as well as in Jaffna.

In Mannar, the military has been trying for months to advance into LTTE territory. And with rains starting around two weeks ago, the military push could slow down further.

The Sri Lankan military controls most of Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna. The Tigers are in control of the whole of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts.

Despite some gains, the military is finding the going tough in the north, in contrast to the eastern wing of the country that came under Colombo’s control in 2007 after the Tigers withdrew their forces.

The resistance the LTTE is putting up is making Sri Lanka turn to Pakistan to make up ammunition it is exhausting, the Indian sources said.

Sri Lanka started buying arms and ammunition from Pakistan in a big way from 1999. The total purchases until December 2007 were worth $50 million while there has been a sudden jump in the quantity of merchandise ordered this year.

Pakistan’s main military supplies to Sri Lanka include mortar ammunition, radio sets, hand grenades, naval ammunition and tanks.

The military links between Islamabad and Colombo worry New Delhi because this gives Pakistan access to Sri Lankan defence establishments and intelligence that analysts here fear hurts Indian security interests in the long run.

India mainly provides what it says are non-lethal military supplies to Sri Lanka. And while refusing it offensive weapons, New Delhi has publicly expressed displeasure over Sri Lanka’s military purchases from Pakistan and China.

Sri Lankan officials argue that they are free to go to any country for weapons supplies since India refuses to provide lethal weapons. Colombo says that in any case it keeps New Delhi informed about their shopping list.

A section of the Indian establishment feels that with so much military hardware pouring into Sri Lanka, the war in the island is unlikely to end any time soon.

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