Archive for July 19th, 2009

Major General Jagath Jayasuriya was appointed as the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army with effect from July 15, 2009.

Q: Some experts have pointed out that one of the reasons for lack of success of the Army in battling the LTTE in the past, was that the Army had a string of commanders, who were not from the fighting units and were not conversant with battlefield requirements. But your predecessor Gen Fonseka saw this grave shortcoming, and wanted to reward those who performed in the battlefield and he got just rewards. Because of that policy you yourself was placed ahead of some seniors from other units, and made the Commander at a comparative young age of 50. What are the chances of the Army going back to rewarding mediocre officers?
As you know, I just took over the office from my predecessor and need time to review and rectify such instances as you have asked in the question. It is obvious that our former Commander has selected field commanders to suit battlefield challenges and ground requirements. In view of the gravity of the threat perception, that was the best option. Of course, the line of command and seniority is the crux of the organisation. Needless to repeat, fighting units are meant to contribute in a broader manner than other units during warfare. To answer the first part of your question, I believe, such efforts did not bear fruits largely due to political reasons. Whether the Commander would have liked it or not, it was the political hierarchy that would have taken decisions at that time.

Q: In your first media briefing on assuming duties as Army Commander, you have emphasised the importance of improving discipline, training and welfare facilities, areas which even your predecessor paid much attention to. But prior to two of you coming to the top, scant attention was paid to some of these aspects, which resulted in military men taking to a life of crime, some even while serving in the force, What specific action will you take to prevent a reoccurrence of such bad behaviour?
Due to the final stage of the Eelam War IV, our priorities took a different turn as you can understand. Our attention was very much shifted to the victory of the war away from other peripheral concerns. This is understandable in any war situation in any country. It did not necessarily mean that those areas were neglected, but of course there would have been lapses or shortcomings in the wake of budding and pressing circumstances in the theatre of operations. You have to consider general criminal acts from the viewpoint of the overall social context without isolating soldiers alone in a different corner. With the society getting amorphous and the Army getting expanded, we need to address those issues in the future as peace time would now permit that. But on the other hand, no lame excuses would cover misdeeds of the Army or overlooking the discipline aspect of the soldiers. Therefore such discipline need to be further fine-tuned and properly addressed. This is one of my priorities.

Q: An Army will not only be judged by its field performance, but also by how it looks after its veterans, and especially those who became disabled fighting for it. Therefore what new measures will you take to fulfill those obligations as announced in your first briefing?
As I said, those areas have to be well looked into, assessed and adequate remedial measures taken. My personal view is that those disabled soldiers should also be used as resources for the betterment of the organisation. Mere donations, compassion and felicitations would not help them in the long run. Instead, their different skills need to be tapped in accordance with a national plan. Ministry of Defence is already working in that direction. As of now, all welfare measures in effect will continue until a new mechanism is effected.

Q: How do you plan to keep such a large number of men and women in uniform fully occupied and out of any trouble?
You see, an Army runs on command, and each field formation commander is responsible for the troops under his command. With the ongoing government’s development plans, we are geared to provide all assistance on the instructions of respective ministries. More significantly, efficiency, commitment and hard work of our soldiers have proved again and again that large sums of money could be saved on different projects due to our involvement. That has also been largely recognised by the government too. If any trouble comes as you say, we are able to trouble the trouble and overcome it.

Q: In any country, to avoid any friction between civilians and soldiers, the latter are kept behind barracks during peace time. How long do you think it will take to put our fighting men behind barracks?
The Army, as you have witnessed all these years, has been undergoing transformation from that of a conventional and a ceremonial one. That has been smoothly done to a larger degree. Civil-Military relations, to say the least are on a better footing than ever before. We have proved it in the east and are continuing do so in the Wanni and North. At the request of the government, more and more soldiers are released to assist the civil administration. Their contribution, active participation and commitment in fact have made the Army prouder. Their effective interaction with displaced people at the moment in the North and the Wanni is a case in point. Relations of that nature are fast growing day by day. During the peak of the Wanni battles in the recent past, this bond of friendship was further strengthened. There is no need to confine them in barracks because it is time for peace, harmony and reconciliation. We will continue to do so.

Q: We have a fully battle tested Army. Are there any plans to offer more of their services to international peace keeping operations?
Such opportunities are getting wider and wider. Our soldiers feel proud to serve abroad as peacekeeping troops as offered either by UN or any other recognised agency. In fact many military chiefs in the international arena have already begun to talk about us. UN might ask for more Sri Lankan soldiers in the future too for overseas deployment in addition to our present contingents.

Q: In countries like China, the People’s Liberation Army runs its own farms and manufacturing facilities. Will the Sri Lankan Army too take a leaf from the PLA and even the LTTE, and expand its own self reliance drive.
This is nothing new to us. The Army has been running its own farms in various areas including Panagoda, Diyathalawa, Palaly, Kantale, Kuttigala, etc. Provided more and more agricultural lands could be made available to us, I am sure, our soldiers would be glad to do farming, too. In fact, in some instances we are unable to meet the public demand for agrarian products, produced by us.

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Rear Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe took over as the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy with effect from July 15, 2009 .

New Navy Commander, Thishara Samarasinghe, a great sportsman in his day, gave some of his valuable time to answer questions put forth to him . He shared some of the fresh ideas that he would introduce to the Navy during his tenure.

Q: You have set some records, which have yet to be bettered, like topping your batch at Dartmouth. You were also a formidable sportsman at Royal. Can you tell us something about those achievements?
I wish to be humble in answering this question as it describes my past. I was the first to go to Dartmouth having won the Sword of Honour being Best Cadet of the 04th Intake at the Naval & Maritime Academy after 16 years, as previous SLN officers as a batch went to Dartmouth in 1959. I passed out as the best International Midshipman with a first class pass competing with approximate 40 foreigners from many Navies. The record is that I was appointed as Divisional Sub Lieutenant (under trainee officer to be in charge of all under trainees) in the Hawke Division in the first half of the term. This record is yet to be achieved by any foreigner in the Dartmouth history.

At Royal, my biggest achievement was when I was promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major of the 3rd Battalion of the Sri Lanka Cadet Corp in 1973. I also played 1st XI Cricket(1972 under Asitha Jayaweera, 1973 under Ajitha Pasqual and in 1974 under Samuel Lawton)and Captained the 2nd XI Cricket team. I was also awarded athletic colours in 1972 and was Vice Captain in addition to being a Senior Prefect and Junior Scout Leader of 42nd Colombo. I was also the Chairman for Navy Cricket, Athletics and Rugby. The year that I was Chairman in 1989 was the Best Year of Navy Rugby where the Navy Team played in the Clifford Cup final, including being B division champions. I was also the President of the National Rifle Association for the 10th SAARC games in 2006 and inaugurated the new firing range at Welisara.

Q: There have been disparaging remarks in certain circles in the aftermath of crushing the LTTE that all top posts in the Forces will go to schools like Ananda and Nalanda in the foreseeable future, and people like you will have to retire without climbing to the top post, even though fully deserving the job. But now those fears have been proved wrong. Were you about to retire?
There was no such school connection considered when selecting personnel to high posts. Personal track record, career achievements, and above all, character, conduct and experience in the battle front will always be the criteria for the top posts. In this regard I wish to express my respect to H.E. for the opportunity given and Secretary of Defence for recommending me.

Q: What fresh ideas will you introduce to the Navy during your tenure?
Improvement of a sustainable fleet along with required infrastructure for at least the next 30 years is my prime concern. Also, total control of fishing activity on the coastal line specially emphasising on the Northwest, North and Northeast to ensure fishing activity is not exploited by undesirables. My prime role here is to protect our fishermen so that they can flourish and support the country’s economy.

Having four platforms with helicopter pads, a seaborne helicopter facility is always an added advantage of maritime surveillance, subject to financial constraints. Exploring the possibility of such a facility with direct help of the Sri Lanka Air Force, will be considered although it is not the need of the hour.

Long range surveillance from the coastal radar and maritime long range air surveillance coordinating with Sri Lanka Air Force is a necessity. SLN has already established long range radar in certain coastal sectors. Protection of harbours is of paramount important to protect maritime trade and support the economy. Any other assistance to the government in the field of maritime potential needs to be pursued. Emphasising on efficient performance, quality training, uncompromising honesty and integrity, prevention of waste and corruption will also be a priority. Last but not least, men matter most. The welfare of every serving person and those families of Naval personnel who made the supreme sacrifice will be thus foremost in my mind.

Q: Now that the proposed new Coast Guard Department will take over much of the coastal security, how will you keep your men fully occupied?
The formation of coastguards is in a very formative stage, and it will take sometime to inaugurate and establish this unit. When established, duties at sea will be shared under a single command in close coordination with Director General Coastguard.

Q: With threat levels diminishing after the crushing of the LTTE, will it be a slimmer, but more modern Navy that you will hope to build from now on?
A more a modern Navy by way of vessels for surveillance and deterrence will be a consideration that is subject to financial constraints.

Q: The Air Force will take to commercial operations like Heli-tours. Will the Navy too get involved in similar tourism related or any other ventures?
Yes, the Jetliner passenger vessel is a potential tourist attraction for voyages between Ports of Sri Lanka as well as in India.

Q: There have been recent reports that the Navy will acquire the latest range of Israeli Dvora fast attack craft. You having commanded the very first Dvora that Sri Lanka acquired in the 80s, can you tell our readers something more about this craft and other modernising programmes for the Navy.
Fast Attack Craft popularly known as Dvora was the biting tooth of the LTTE Sea Tiger Boats. Her speed manoeuvreability and weapon outfit were critical ingredients. Similar craft are being ordered from Israel to replace some of the ageing craft which are almost 25-years-old. Such FACs were also built by Colombo Dockyard Limited.

Q: The Navy has been turning out some of its requirements like armoured cars and even some craft. Can you tell us about the future of its own self reliance drive?
Yes, the critical role played by our boat building facility met the high demand of Small Boat Concept, which was very effective in the final stage of operations against the LTTE at sea. The facility not only produced boats at regular intervals, but it saved a lot of foreign exchange to the country. The situation is similar in building armed vehicles. Building larger petrol craft with local and foreign collaboration is also a possibility. This will help to improve the capabilities of our naval technical personnel as well as develop our indigenous naval industry.

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Drastic changes were effected to the upper echelons of Sri Lanka’s Security forces this week. The President, as Commander-in-Chief, made changes to the posts of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Army Commander and Navy Commander. The decision to make these changes was made known to those senior officers on Saturday (11) and the posts were officially filled with oaths being taken on Sunday (12).

Changes in Military hot seats

Accordingly, the architect of the victorious ‘Eelam War’, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, relinquished his position as Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, to be appointed as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Two years and 10 months into his tenure as Army Chief, he was able to vanquish the LTTE and end its terror campaign that devastated the country for more than 30 years.

Joining the Army on February 5, 1970, as a Cadet Officer, he was part of the Intake Three that passed out on June 1, 1971. On passing out, he was posted to the Singha Regiment. He served his regiment and the Army for more than 38 years. Always, literally leading his men from the front, he was injured thrice in battle, and returned to give leadership to the war against terror. Taking over as Army Commander on December 6, 2005, he promised that he would not leave the task of finishing the war to another Commander, and wiped out the entire terror outfit built by Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Just about to complete the second month of crushing the worst terror organisation ever created, he relinquished command of the Army on Tuesday (14). He takes over as CDS with full powers to command the Security Forces and the Police. This position equals the post of Deputy Defence Secretary. Air Chief Marshall Donald Perera, who was the CDS during the ‘Eelam War’, relinquished his post to end 37 years of military service, during which period he was Air Force Commander for four years and CDS, during the crucial period of the war for three years. He is due for a diplomatic posting.

Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, Wanni Security Forces Commander during the final ‘Eelam War’, was promoted Lt. Gen., and took over as the 19th Commander of the Army at age 50. He eclipsed seven senior Majors General for the top job. Having entered the Army with Intake Ten, he could serve as the Commander until 2014, when he will reach the retirement age of 55.
The two seniors considered contenders for the post are Maj. Gen Sumith Balasuriya and Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri. Though Maj. Gen. Chandrasiri was tipped as the next Commander, due to his being Jaffna Commander for greater part of the final ‘Eelam War’, Maj. Gen. Balasuriya had seniority over the former.

Because of his experience in the North, Maj. Gen. Chandrasiri has now been appointed Governor of the North by the President. As the Security Forces Commander in the peninsula, he came to associate with the people of the North while doing administrative work there, which will stand him in good stead in his new appointment.
Having served the Army for 34.5 years with the Artillery Regiment Maj. Gen. Sumith Balasuriya has submitted his retirement papers, and is expected to be posted as a deputy ambassador overseas.

With the appointment of Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya as the Army Chief, other seniors in the rank of Maj. Gen. too are likely to retire. Among them are Majors Gen. A.S.A. Ranasinghe, Upul Perera, L.B. Aluvihara, Vasantha Kumara and W.K. Bandara.
The appointment of the new Navy Commander too played a part in the changes effected.
Rear Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe was due to retire on July 16 on reaching 55 years of age. Earlier, he was earmarked to be given a six-month extension, prior to being made the Commander, but finally, was appointed the new Commander of the Navy instead.

With the appointment of Vice Admiral Samarasinghe as the 16th Navy Commander, his predecessor Admiral Wasantha Karrannagoda retired, and made National Security Advisor. He served the Navy for 38 years, during which, his four years as Navy Commander, he completely destroyed Tiger naval operations. The attrition the Tigers suffered at sea was such that, it finally had to hide much of its remaining attack craft on land, which consequently fell to the advancing troops.

Realigning Commands

While these changes were made to top Command positions, other senior positions too are being reshuffled.
New CDS Gen. Sarath Fonseka will have a staff of around 300 including seven Majors Gen., one Rear Admiral and an Air Vice Marshall. Maj. Gen. Laksiri Ameratunga is its Chief of Staff. Maj. Gen Mahesh Senanayaka will be Director General Joint Planning & Defence Development, Brig. Amal Karunasekera to be Director Joint Intelligence, Brig. Maithree Dias to be War Assistant to CDS, Brig. Sumith Padumadasa as War Secretary, Brig. T.H. Meedin to be Director Research & Development and, in addition, Brigadiers Prasanna Silva and Dampath Fernando have been named to fill in other positions.

Meanwhile, the new Army Commander also has made changes to many positions. To begin with he has appointed Maj. Gen. Milinda Peiris as Military Secretary with Lt. Col. Robin Jayasuriya as Military Assistant. On July 16, the new Military Secretary, by order MSB/A/6/1 (APPT) (125), signed the appointment of Maj. Gen. Aruna Jayatileke as the new Commander of the Sinha Regiment taking over from its former Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

Army Commander Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, under whom the Mechanical Infantry Regiment operated, has as its new Commander the Military Secretary Maj. Gen. Milinda Peiris. The Artillery Corps that was under Maj. Gen. Sumith Balasuriya has been taken over by Maj. Gen. Jammika Liyanage. Maj. Gen Liyanage’s departure from the Armoured Intelligence Corps has been filled by Maj. Gen. Abdul Zaheer. The Armoured Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri, has been handed over to Maj. Gen. N.A. Ranasinghe. The Infantry Regiments’ has been taken over by Maj. Gen. Daya Ratnayaka. Maj. Gen. Lalith Daulugala has taken over as Commander of the Gajaba Regiment, while Maj. Gen. L.B. Mark is the new Commander of the Gemunu Watch. Maj. Gen. Kamal Guneratne is the new Commander of the Special Forces. Brigadier Z. Abeysekera has taken over as Colonel Commandant of the Signals Corps.

By order of communication MSB/A/6/1 (APPT) (132) Jaffna Commander Maj. Gen. Mendaka Samarasinghe has taken over as the Chief of Staff ArmyHQ. Maj. Jammika Liyanage takes over as Commandant SLAVF, in addition to his present duties. Maj. Gen. Aruna Jayatillake takes over as AG AHQ. Maj. Gen. Rajitha Silva takes over as Commander Jaffna.

Maj. Gen. Mano Perera takes over as Director General Staff, Maj Gen. Kamal Guneratna is the new Commander of Wanni. Brig. Z Abeysekera is appointed Commander FMA East. Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe takes over as Chief Signals Officer AHQ, Brig. Aruna Perera is Commander 58 Division. Brig. B. Jayasundara is Director Plans AHQ, Brig. Ruwan Kulatunga is Commander SLMA. Brig. Shavendra Silva takes over as Director Operations, AHQ. Brig. Kumudu Perera is Commander 51 Division.

Brig. Chagee Gallege takes over Command of 53 Division, Brig. Duminda Keppetiwalana takes over as Commander 59 Division. Col. B.D. Dias appointed to Security Forces HQ MLT, Col. R. Palihakkara appointed Dy. Pay Master P&R AHQ, Col. Aruna Jayasekera appointed Operations Commander Colombo, Col. Rohitha Dharmasiri is Centre Commandant SLSR. Col H. Kulatunga appointed Jaffna Town Commander, Col. Mahinda Weerasuriya takes over as Commander 112 Brigade, Col. Wasantha Kumarapperuma appointed Commander 552 Brigade. In addition, it is learnt that Col. Jayantha Guneratna is to be appointed Director Intelligence.

Spoils of war

While these changes in the higher ranks in the forces took place, troops of 19 Sinha Regiment (SR) under 681 Brigade, in a search operation in the Vellamullaivaikal area, unearthed 60 unused radios. Among those found were “Vertex” of Japanese origin and “Sesu” made in the Netherlands.

In addition Sub Inspector Nishantha Hettiarachchi working under the direction of SSP Vas Gunawardene of the Colombo Crime Division, in the area under 681 Brigade, found vital internal documents of the Tiger organisation.

Among those found were related papers on missile boats, helicopter armaments, documents made out for the purchase of night vision binoculars, equipment for night diving, maps, missiles and rockets, papers connected with the purchase of ships, books in the Tamil language on Tiger war tactics and a heap of other documents were found. Through these it is hoped to discover further information on the arms dealings and their activity network.

Also found was an anti tank rocket made in China, not even found in the Sri Lankan military, in the East of Pudukudyirruppu.
Troops under Lt. Col. Athula Ariyaratna, Commanding 622 Brigade, unearthed a 130 mm artillery gun in a bullet-proof steel box from the Mankulam area.

(The Nation)

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