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We present below an extract from an article published in the Sunday Times of 26th August.  The author is Lieutenant Colonel sunil Pieris who is credited with raising the commando unit in 1979.  The author is a graduate of Camberly Staff College in Surrey, England.  He made a surprise retirement from the army in 1988, for personal reasons.  The article evidently reflects feelings shared by his army colleagues about the political leadership, and strikes a note of pessimism.  It also brings out the lack of enthusiasm in the country for the war and the plight of the soldier.  It can be usefully compared with our assessment based on an intellectual commitment that human rights are fundamental.  This intelligent, but hawkish, view does not old out a practical programme for a politician grappling with a worsening economic crisis.  The author is also a mission school educated Anglican Christian.


Where are we going?

The ‘war’ has been going on for nearly ten years.  From the time Inspector Bastianpillai and his party disappeared in 1979,the killing of thirteen soldiers in 1983, the war had gradually gathered momentum.

The frequency of attacks has increased.  From the safe haven of Jaffna where the separatist movement had popular support, it spread its wings of terror swallowing up district by district till finally engulfed the Northern and Eastern provinces.

The government never having mapped out a long term strategy employed the defence services with no clearly defined objectives.  The defence services on their part, were content with piecemeal, stop-gap action and this went on till plans got underway for Operation Liberation.

Two Brigades-minus took on Vadamarachchi on two fronts with the Special Forces forming the anvil.  A limited operation incurring heavy casualties finally left the army with a dozen or more detachments spread around Vadamarachchi.  The military plan was to be supported closely by the public sector machinery in restoring life back to the area.

This never happened and the entire operation was a political failure.  It wasn’t much time before the entire picture changed colour when the Indian Peace Keeping Force(IPKF) relieved the Sri Lanka Army from its role in the North initially, and long after, in the East.

What then have we achieved todate in this war which had raged the last ten years?  Today we hold Palaly and Elephant Pass, Jaffna fort Paranthan and kilinochchi,Mankulam, Vavuniya and Keyts.

Doesn’t one see an inconsistency in the political approach?  - it is compromise and negotiations in one moon, confrontation in another- EPLRF and Provincial councils during the summer, LTTE and the Indians during the winter.

The question that occurs to my mind is, does one known where we are going?

The present crisis evolves a new dimension to the military approach in grappling with the problem.  At no stage has the country lost ground as we have today.  This has brought the army to fight and capture ground or territory.

In the past, to use military phraseology, it was search and clear (destroy) and the like.  But now it is a war of attrition to regain lost territory, to restore government and exercise control.

How well equipped are the defence forces and how well prepared is the nation to face?  The defence forces in this country have never found their place in the sun.  They had to be satisfied, through successive governments, with whatever was left over after disbursement to other Ministries.  Now at the brink of war and with past experience there perhaps is an awareness of reality but would it not be prudent to phase out a build-up and make a long term plan whilst scoring in a battle of containment?

A troop build-up of a hundred thousand, armoured regiments with medium tanks, artillery with long range area bombing capacity, air support with armoured helicopter gunships and armoured personnel carries for the infantry are realities for the war of today.

The Sri Lanka defence forces have todate performed miracles compared to some of the not so sophisticated armies around the world.  With small arms, helmets and flak jackets the soldiers have performed incredibly well to achieve the results todate.

For the obvious reasons good leadership of the officers, and the will to fight by the soldiers, the defence forces have maintained the momentum of the war which broke out in June.

The question is how long can the army maintain this momentum?  How long will the regularly reported high morale last?  How many more casualties will the nation accept?  I have heard officers soldiers say this war is for a chosen few and we will never see its end.

How true is it that casualties once recovered will want to get back to the front?  What has the nation got to offer those limbless hundreds, the casualties in the hospitals, the Heroes of peace?

Is the nation still behind the armed forces?  Or is that the initial fervour in June is now fading the banners and posters that came up on the walls in the city?  Is soldiering only for the outstation lad, the less affluent and the school drop out?  Ask the question, how many from the Colombo schools have joined to fight in the front?

Isn’t it the right time for national conscription? -shouldn’t every mother feel proud to send her son to the front to fight for sovereignty and territorial integrity?- irrespective race, creed, affluence, political influence and education, every mother’s son within a prescribed age group should throw his lot in with the nation.

This will not only meet a military requirement but will unite the nation dispelling differences between political parties and other unwritten differences in society.

It is futile to attempt to dissect the economic equation, but economists would best known it is prudent to throw everything into the war and see the end of it or drag it on, bleeding the country gradually till we entre into an invocable situation.

The credit tea sales to Iraq and the loss of employment in Kuwait will not help the country to survive the crisis.  Nor to mention the possible assistance that may have been forthcoming from Iraq.

There is little doubt that the armed forces are presently locked in a stalemate.  Can the troops in Palaly break out and link up with the Jaffna fort?  It took the Indian army seven days on five fronts with 18 battalions to reach the fort.  The LTTE is probably better entrenched, now in large numbers and equipped for a protracted confrontation.

What is possible North of Vavuniya?  The area up to Paranthan is dominated by the LTTE.  Two miles out of Mankulam and Mullaitivu is enemy territory.  Can one even guesstimate the time frame, with the available resources of manpower and machinery, within which stability could be restored?  Is no change in the political requirement a consideration for the military appreciation?

Hold a line from East to West and fight a protracted was imposing economic sanctions and choking the LTTE by converging over a period of time.  It will help the government to effectively de-link the Eastern province and seek a mandate.  The armed forces will have the opportunity of buying time to reorganise, re-equip and re-motivate the men.  Above all, it would frustrate the LTTE, provided the supply lines are cut off.


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