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Archive for September 7th, 2009

With a costly and divisive secessionist war on its southern doorstep that has endured for almost four weary decades, the Philippines needs all the help it can get in order to tackle the conflict that has spawned a home-bred terrorism outfit and turned Mindanao into one of the global hotspots in the war against terrorism.

As it happened, more than a little outside expertise was neatly on hand in Camp Aguinaldo in recent months through the imposing presence of Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, a battle-hardened Sri Lankan military officer, who has been at the frontlines in his country’s own three-decade long war against the Tamil Tigers (its far more deadly version of the al-Qaeda affiliated Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao) who had been waging a brutal campaign for hearts, minds and territory in the north of the picturesque island that sits (somewhat ironically, considering the grief this charming country has been through in recent times) like a tear drop in the Indian Ocean.

General Hathurusinghe, who by all accounts cut a popular and gregarious figure during his time at Camp Aguinaldo, was in the country to attend a year-long course at the National Defense College of the Philippines, graduating with a master’s in National Security Administration (MNSA).

Geared toward preparing future defense and security leaders for command and other high positions in the armed forces, the intensive course requires its participants to undertake strategic research and special studies as the basis for the formation of policies to enhance national defense and the security programs of their respective countries.

The course was attended by several military officers from the Philippines and overseas, including India, Malaysia and Nigeria, and General Hathurusinghe’s erudite thesis entitled “Strategic military victory over Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam” bested the other 32 thesis presented in the class of 2009 and took the prestigious gold medal.

Emerging top of the class and winning the gilded prize was no easy task, since all the students were required to submit a 30,000 word thesis on a topic decided by the Faculty of the College. Each dessertation then had to undergo a rigorous defence with academics from various educational institutions including the University of the Philippines.

That General Hathurusinghe (who was assigned former Armed Forces of the Philippines Vice Chief of Staff Lt. General Rodolfo Garcia, as his thesis advisor) was able to generate such a commendable impression with his thesis should hardly come as any surprise.

As a soldier with his boots very much on the ground, he has led from the front in Jaffna which was at the epicentre of the long running conflict and saw some of the bloodiest battles, the strategic town being considered by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) as the de facto capital of the state it was trying to carve up. (Incidentally, the LTTE over there equates as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front over here).

Later, when the Tamil Tiger suicide cadres took the fight southwards and embarked on a murderous campaign in Colombo, General Hathurusinghe’s expertise in urban warfare was put to good stead when he was given the crucially important task of securing the country’s capital.

So, needless to say, the Sri Lankan General’s considerable know-how in proven tactics to fight terrorism was taken notice of by the powers that be in the seat of government at Malacañang Palace, and also at the command post in Camp Aguinaldo.

He was invited to conduct a briefing at the Department of National Defense for senior officials of the Philippine security forces, and give a first hand strategic account of how the Sri Lankan military forces were finally able to annihilate the Tamil Tigers who were ranked as one of the best marshalled terrorist outfits in the world.

General Hathurusinghe shared with his military counterparts in the Philippines that strong political will and unstinted support for prosecuting the war was essential. He also pointed out that equally important was an effective politico-military approach and sound military leadership.

Also present at the briefing session, and taking more than a keen interest at what General Hathurusinghe had to say, were top officials from the office of President Gloria Arroyo who are assigned to spearhead the peace process in Mindanao.

And the cordial meeting last week in Libya between victorious Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Philippine President Arroyo (who is determined to end the war in Mindanao before her term ends next year) would indicate that more such exchanges in the war against terrorism between the two countries are on the cards.

(Manila Times)

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