Face it; (Terrorism) Head on

Sri Lanka became the first nation to eradicate terrorism in the 21st century on May 18th, 2009. In the post war period the Security Forces, especially the Army initiated programmes and courses to share its war experience with other counterparts. The first international seminar organized by the island, ‘Defeating Terrorism, Sri Lanka Experience,’ was a success as it enabled regional and western counterparts to gather the experience in combating terrorist groups head on by protecting the human rights of civilians trapped between the two sides. Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya encouraged countries facing terrorism challenges to face it head on and said Sri Lanka experience can be used to counter them. Making the opening address on ‘Defeating Terrorism, Sri Lanka Experience,’ he said that certain alliances are fighting against terrorism in parts of the world.

“Victory came with many sacrifices. National security is no longer confined to the borders as we see in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The three day seminar, ‘Defeating Terrorism: the Sri Lankan Experience,’ was not organized to gain sympathy towards our country. What we wanted is to share our war experience and our counter terrorist warfare knowledge”, he said.

“One fifth of the countries in the world attended the seminar. It shows the importance and the attention that has been drawn by the Army by defeating the most ruthless outfit in the world”, he added.

 “As Professor Rohan Gunaratne said, we will discuss with the Ministry of Defence in establishing an Army Information Centre to share information with the public and rest of the world”, Lieutenant General Jayasuriya said. 

The role of human rights in counterinsurgency operations, rehabilitation programmes to integration of ex-combatants into society and nation building were the other main topics discussed at the seminar.  

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa speaking at the seminar said that the President went out of the way to keep New Delhi briefed about all new developments taking place in Sri Lanka during the time of the war. He said this dialogue ensured that whenever any sensitive issues arose it was resolved immediately. 

Mr. Rajapaksa also said that in 1987, the Vadamarachchi operations had pushed the LTTE to the brink of defeat but the operations could not be sustained because the Indian Government intervened. 

“From very early in the military campaign, the relationship between Sri Lanka and India was managed through maintaining a clear communications line at the very highest level. A special committee was established to engage in constant dialogue. The Sri Lankan side comprised then Senior Advisor to the President Basil Rajapaksa, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, and myself”, he added.

 “The Indian side comprised former National Security Advisor M. K. Narayan, then Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and then Defence Secretary Vijay Singh. This troika had continuous discussions and ensured that whenever any sensitive issues arose, they would be resolved immediately”, he said.

Over the years, a range of different approaches including military campaigns, peace talks, and even international mediation had been tried. None had worked. With a large global financial network, highly developed offensive capabilities and no genuine interest in peace, the LTTE was a stubborn, hostile and formidable foe. By 2005, the LTTE controlled almost a quarter of the country’s territory and nearly two thirds of its coastline. Under an internationally brokered Cease Fire Agreement, the LTTE even maintained the illusion of a state apparatus in the areas under its control.

By the time our military campaign resumed in 2005, the LTTE had killed more than 26,000 armed services personnel. This was no small band of militants, but a large, sophisticated military force comprising approximately 30,000 cadres, a very large arsenal of weapons and equipment, and thousands of civilians organized as auxiliary forces.

The combined strength of the Armed Forces in 2005 was nowhere near the number that was actually required for a serious campaign to eradicate the LTTE. This fact was clearly understood by the President, and the decision was made to expand the strength of the military.

Between the end of 2005 and the end of 2009, the Army’s 9 Divisions were increased to  20; its 44 Brigades expanded to 71 and its 149 Battalions increased to 284. This was a large, but essential expansion that increased the number of Army personnel from 120,000 in 2005 to over 200,000 by the end of the Humanitarian Operation. The Navy and the Air Force were also expanded significantly, and they were also given tasks beyond their classic role.

The LTTE did not tolerate any opposition. They assassinated the leaders of other armed groups in these areas, and wiped out any group members who refused to support its cause. They deliberately violated the Cease Fire Agreement. They attacked key military targets, including our highest ranked personnel, and continued attacking innocent civilians.

External Affairs Minister professor G.L Peiris also speaking at the event said that the International legal system has to be revamped in the context of global changes as the prevailing law deals with conflicts between two countries but whereas presently, conflicts arise within a country between the government and a non state actor.

He said that the role of the armed forces did not end after defeating terrorism. “The counter terrorist activities have to be continued”, he said.

 “When thousands of civilians were trapped in the LTTE controlled areas the government launched the largest military operation in the world to rescue them. The civilians were held at gun point and the LTTE violated the Geneva accord and our security forces rescued them. Why is no body talking about that”, Minister Peiris said.

“To carry out a military campaign for us the reasons were not conventional ones. This was an operation to rescue the Sri Lankans from fear. Tamil businessmen had to keep low profiles or else they were kidnapped by the LTTE. This was not a Tamil- Sinhala conflict; this was a conflict against a ruthless terrorist outfit”, he added.

Major General Chagi Gallage, the then Commanding Officer of the Army’s Task Force-1 said that Karuna’s cadres were not used as tactical or operational level but they were used to man a withdrawal route after the fall of Vakari.

“Their expertise was used by the Army to know about the locations of land and bases of the LTTE in the East, he added. Another question was raised by a delegate whether they were forced to support the government troops, Major General Jagath Dias, the then commanding officer of the 57th Division said that they supported the security forces on a mutual understanding.

The Operation in the North

The final and decisive years of the conflict saw the Army develop into an adaptive, flexible and professional fighting outfit, capable of executing innovative counter insurgency operations and counter terrorists warfare concepts.  The most effective method was the adaptation of the small group concept in military operations. The field commanders explained how the LTTE used the displaced civilians as a human shield and the Government declared No Fire Zones for the safety of the civilians who were hostage in battlefields.

The LTTE’s defensive positions and bunkers were observed to be among make-shift shelters of the civilians in the No Fire Zones. They revealed that the LTTE used the Udararkadu Base Hospital, the temporary hospital at Valipunam school and ICRC office at Udararkadu, the UN communication hub in Valipunam and the UN humanitarian mission safe houses in Puthukudiyirippu.

On February 2009, the LTTE carried out a desperate suicide attack on the 58 division IDP receiving centre at Puliyanpokkanai killing troops and civilians including children and an elderly people who came to the army controlled areas.

The government declared the fourth NFZ at Puthumathalan, where the LTTE moved its heavy artillery and mortars. They also explained the availability of real time battlefield information systems like UAVs, radar, real time satellite images, helped conduct effective tactical operations to minimize civilian casualties.

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