Thursday, May 6, 2010

Undue Expansion of Sri Lanka Army

Although the first anniversary marking the completion of "Eelam War-4" is to be commemorated shortly, the euphoric talk about the war victory by the general public goes on unabated in southern Sri Lanka। On the other hand the grievances of the Tamils who were severely affected by the war are yet to be resolved. Approximately 100,000 displaced civilians are still held in welfare camps.

Furthermore, there does not seem to be any substantial evidence in the country to support the claim that the conflict is over। Emergency regulations as well as the prevention of terrorism act are very much in force. The presence of the armed forces in the north and east has not declined. High security zones are still maintained. The number of security personnel in the country is comparatively high as far as Sri Lanka is concerned while the cost of maintaining them is also very high.

Progressive Strength
As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the Army has been progressively strengthened over the last 60 years with the solitary objective of keeping the Tamil community under foot। The number of soldiers in Sri Lanka is very much more than the number in the United Kingdom.

According to the data published in June 2009, the British Army had six divisions with 146,000 men। But the Sri Lankan defense secretary had said recently that Sri the Lanka Army had 300,000 personnel. The Sri Lankan Government is also in the process of recruiting a further 50,000 soldiers.

A close look at the history of the Sri Lanka Army would reveal the fact that its growth corresponded to the growth of the intensity of the Tamil struggle। The armed Tamil struggle was born only after the nonviolent struggles of the Tamil community had failed. In the year 1970 the number of personnel in the Sri Lanka Army was increased to 8,500.

Although the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was formed in the 1970s there was a notable increase in the attacks launched by them in the mid-part of the 1970s। However, the LTTE started to launch serious attacks only in 1981.

In the first attack launched by the LTTE on the Kankesanturai road in Jaffna two soldiers were killed। When the LTTE gradually intensified their attacks the Sri Lankan Government was compelled to increase the number of personnel in the army. In the year 1983 the Sri Lanka Army had 12,000 personnel.

Later, in the year 1986, it was increased to 30,000। By the time that "Operation Liberation" was launched in the Jaffna Peninsula in the year 1987, the Sri Lanka Army had increased its cadres by another 10,000 men.

When the military operation was launched by the Indian Forces the Sri Lanka Army did not absorb any great loss। But with the exit of the Indian Army, the Premadasa government had increased the cadre very greatly. In the year 1990 the Sri Lanka Army consisted of 50,000 soldiers. In 1994 at threw conclusion of "Eelam War-2" the strength of Sri Lanka Army had shot up to 104,000 men.

The commencement of "Eelam War-3" made deep psychological inroads into the Sri Lanka Army। When the LTTE started using antiaircraft weapons and crash landed into Sri Lanka Air force aircraft, it infused fear in the minds of the Sri Lankan soldiers.

The number of escapees from the Army had increased many folds during that period। The Sri Lanka Army which had a strength of 104,000 personnel in 1994 had declined to 90,000 in 1996. But the Army was subjected to a complete restructuring in the same year with the idea of facing a full-scale war.

Structure of Army
Former Defense Minister Anurudda Ratwatte restructured the Army in the year 1995। He established the 51, 52, 53 divisions in the Army. Later, several other divisions were created to cater to the needs of military operations launched by the Army. In 1997, the 43, 55 and 56 divisions were formed. But as a result of the attacks launched by the LTTE during its "Unceasing Waves Operation-3" and on the Elephant Pass base, the 54 division was completely destroyed and later dismantled.

However, when there was a decline in operations in the latter part of 2001 the Sri Lanka Army had nine divisions with 95,000 personnel. It has 11, 21, 22, 23, 51, 52, 53, 55, and 56 divisions.
Later, consequent to the Ceasefire Agreement signed in the year 2002, all these divisions underwent restructuring with new personnel। And the number of men in the Army had also increased to 118,000.

At the time when Mahinda Rajapaksa held the reigns of power as the president of the country in the year 2005 several other changes were effected in the army cadre। Since clashes between the Army and the LTTE intensified in 2005 several other changes were effected in the structure of the Army. When the Sri Lanka Army besieged the LTTE and people of Mullattivu in the vicinity of Nandikadal it had 20 divisions. During that period the Sri Lanka Army had the 11, 21, 22, 23, 51, 52, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59 and 61 divisions and 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 battalions were engaged in combating operations. A new division called the 65 Division was also established following the conclusion of war.

When the Sri Lanka Army announced the conclusion of the war in May 2009 it had 240,000 men with 20 divisions including 265 battalions। However, the defense secretary recently said the Sri Lanka Army had been expanded by 300,000 and the overall army strength was 450,000 men.

The number of army personnel in Sri Lanka is 50 percent more than that of the United Kingdom। The expansion of the Sri Lanka Army with the help of certain regional powers has not only eaten into the national economy of the country but has also caused several negative impacts on several fronts in Sri Lanka.

Defense and Expenditure
The defense budget of the country for the year 2009 was 1।6 billion dollars which is more than five percent of Sri Lanka's gross domestic product. This is two fold higher than those in Pakistan. Since the Sri Lankan Government maintains the same army which it maintained during the war, the defense expenditure will never decline.

The Sri Lanka Army has suffered during the Eelam wars। During the war which lasted between 1981 and 2002, 17,066 army personnel were killed and 29, 486 men from the Army, including 9,220 officials had lost their limbs.

In an interview with an Indian daily, the Sri Lankan defense secretary had said that when Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office as the president in the year 2005, the Sri Lanka Army had lost 26,000 personnel in the operations launched earlier।

Further, according to the data received by the government on the loses suffered in the "Eelam War-4", 6,200 army personnel were killed and 30,000 personnel were rendered permanently invalid। The government is now faced with the serious financial challenge of maintaining the families of 6,200 soldiers killed in action during the last three years and over 30,000 injured servicemen.

Establishing Permanent Peace
The government is paying $750-$1200 through insurance to the families of the soldiers killed or who are missing in action। Insurance and other financial benefits are being paid to the injured soldiers too. Such payments and financial benefits paid to the families of fallen soldiers have also increased the defense budget.

The first year commemoration of the end of the war is to be organized by the government shortly and to this day one will find reports in the newspapers as to how the war was won। Superior fire power and man power helped the Sri Lanka Army destroy a small group of militants.

It is said that 20,000 men are adequate for the Sri Lanka Army as the war is no more and permanent peace has been established. In short, the government is compelled to maintain an army that is more than the country requires.

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