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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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.
A: 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.