Military Matters

An army is not its commander’s private fiefdom

To be able to get optimum results from any organisation, the cardinal principle is to keep the majority of the members happy by running the institution on the basis of equal opportunity for all.

The Army has successfully wrested control of the east, but no one should get complacent, as the work is yet unfinished. There is a gigantic task ahead to be accomplished in the north and the Wanni.

It is in this backdrop that the promotion criteria adopted by Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka must be viewed. The new criteria have caused rumblings within the Sri Lanka Army.

Certain Senior Officers who had served in operational areas, have been classified as Common Stream Officers under the new criteria spelt out by Army Headquarters (HQ).

Senior Officers who had served in operational areas with distinction, have been sidelined under this scheme and altogether, there are 27 Colonels eligible to be promoted Brigadiers, who have now been sidelined.

According to a circular issued by Army HQ, these Senior Officers, who had been classified as Common Stream Officers, would not be allowed to enter the Main Stream hereafter. You cannot, in an ad hoc manner, categorise Officers as Main Stream, based on a six-month to one-year period, but look at their overall performance throughout their career.

Under the earlier system, all officers were allowed to enter the Main Stream, if they proved themselves capable through their career achievements.

However, this recommendation by Army HQ is yet to be approved by the Defence Ministry.
Several Senior Army Officers had made representations to political authorities, stating that they should not be subjected to injustice. There is room for favouritism based on old college ties, family ties, and political ties and so on and so forth.

Even in effecting transfers, there is the possibility of affording key operational experience to favourites. Take the case of Col. Janaka Walgama who, has been at Staff College, Training or at Army HQ, almost all his military life, was posted to a key operational area, Trincomalee, bypassing several others.

The new system has paved the way for military authorities to promote several junior officers to key positions such as Brigade Commanders and even General Officers Commanding several Divisions.

Brig. Samantha Sooriyabandara of the Commando Regiment, was put in charge of the main 53 strike Division in Jaffna. Brig. Sooriyabandara, who commanded the troops in Muhamalai, where a major debacle took place last month, has now been posted as the defence attaché to the Sri Lankan mission in Washington D.C. However, military sources insist that this posting had nothing to do with his experience in the battlefield, as this appointment was decided much earlier.

Not only did he lack the required experience to be given the 53 Div Commander slot, he has not held a single important Staff Officer job at Army HQ or even at Divisional HQ, to be posted as Defence Attaché to Washington D.C. Does he have the competence to handle the Navy, Air Force and Army on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government and, has he ever handled correspondence, so vital for this post? He was earlier in charge of the personal security of the Army Chief.

Maj. Gen. Dhammika Liyanage, another officer, who was in charge of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s personal security, with no battlefield experience as a Brigade Commander in the northern area, has replaced Maj. Gen. Parakrama Pannipitiya in the east as SF Commander. After a five-year period in Colombo, attached to different places, Maj. Gen. Liyanage was posted to the east replacing Maj. Gen. Pannipitiya. Army HQ had overlooked very senior officers when making this appointment, as Maj. Gen. Liyanage was 30th in the list.

The Deputy Chief of Staff position was filled by Army HQ, with the appointment of Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri. However, this appointment was later withheld.

According to the order of precedence, it should have been Maj. Gen. Sumith Balasuriya who should have been appointed as the Deputy Chief of Staff. However, at present he is the Commandant of Kotelawala Defence Academy. Maj. Gen. Balasuriya is fourth in line to take over the command after Maj. Gen. Lawrence Fernando and Maj. Gen. Nissanka Wijesinghe, who are Commandant of Volunteer Forces and Chief of Staff respectively.
In the order of precedence, the position of the Commandant of Volunteer Forces and military Chief of Staff has changed previously.

At the beginning, in the early 70s, it was the Commandant of Volunteer Forces who held the second-in-command position in the Army, while the Chief of Staff ranked third. After a 30-year interlude, the system has reverted to the old order, with the appointment of Maj. Gen. Shayaman Kulatunga as the Commandant of Volunteer Forces and later Maj. Gen. Lawrence Fernando, who filled his vacancy.

Maj. Gen. Pannipitiya, who was relieved of the eastern command and later asked to vacate his official quarters at Summit Flats, challenged the decision of the military authorities, stating that his fundamental rights had been violated.
Lawyers argued in court that, after doing what had to be done in the east, Pannipitiya was unceremoniously removed and his security withdrawn.

Maj. Gen. Pannipitiya has now been appointed as security coordinator / director general of general staff of the 11 Division. Pannipitiya will be reporting to Major General Upali Edirisinghe, who is the General Officer commanding the 11 Division in Panagoda.

Meanwhile, Army HQ had also recommended that the Vishista Seva Vibushanaya (VSV) should only be conferred on service commanders and former service commanders who had not alreday been conferred with VSV.

However, according to military practice, any officer with unblemished service over a period of 30 years and who is above the rank of Lt. Col. is eligible for this distinguished honour.

The first investiture of VSV took place in 1981 under the patronage of President J.R. Jayewardene. At that time the Army Commander was Maj. Gen. Dennis Perera.

It is learnt that the Defence Ministry did not comply with the recommendation made by Army HQ that, only the serving service commanders and former service commanders be conferred with this highly respected decoration. The Defence Ministry granted VSV to 12 retired army officers including 11 non-service commanders. The Ministry accepted the recommendations of both the Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Air Force Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonetilleke for the award to be given to 17 serving Naval officers, including the commander, and 7 serving Air Force officers, inclduing the commander, respectively.

The Army by its sheer numbers, would have had many Officers being awarded VSV had a recommendation been made.
This award should not be an elitist one for only the service chiefs, as few make it to the number one position in the services. Lt. Gen. Fonseka was the only one from the Army to receive the award while in uniform.

The awarding of VSV to several serving Officers of the Navy and Air Force including the two service chiefs and only the Army Commander (while in service) might send out wrong signals. In this current phase of the war, while two dozens serving Officers from the Navy and Air Force have performed distinguished service, there are no distinguished Army personnel deserving the award, except the one who nominated himself.

The question on the lips of many is why was Fonseka not nominated by, five previous Army commanders, for the Uttama Seva Padakkama(USP)? General Shantha Kottegoda, General Lionel Balagalla, General Sri Lal Weerasuriya, General Rohan Daluwatte, General Gerry De Silva and General Cecil Waidyaratne had their reasons for overlooking Fonseka. Six months back Gen. Fonseka was awarded USP setting the stage for a VSV.

If an officer has been charged for scandalous conduct and found guilty, one loses his unblemished record.
In the famous American movie, “Officer and a Gentleman,” starring Richard Gere, an officer even gave up his commission to get married to the one he was supposed to have impregnated.

Many eligible Senior Army Officers feel they were deprived of an award for their distinguished service while in uniform, and question as to what is the use of giving these awards after they have left the service. They compare this with awarding college colours after a sportsman has left school. What beats them most is the awarding of VSV to those in service, restricted to those who make it to the top. They question as to how many could become the Army Commander in a given period and how many were forced to leave the Army, after exhausting the maximum number of years in a given rank, due to extensions granted to service chiefs. So, even if they have a record of distinguished service, they would not be entitled to this award, as they have been stifled.

They feel that, if this practice continues, it would no longer be an incentive for Officers to sacrifice their personal interests, to vie for such an award. Very often, even the wives and children of these Officers sacrifice so much, to enable their husbands and fathers to become eligible to secure this award, earlier referred to as the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

Having deprived several Senior Regimented Officers from receiving this award, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Fonseka, at a recent meeting at Army HQ for Principal Staff Officers and Directors in an around Colombo, said, “If one aspires to ascend to the highest echelons in the Sri Lankan Army, he should perform and prove himself”. What is the incentive, the officers questioned, when they are deprived of the VSV.

At the conference, Gen. Fonseka said, “Simply carrying flower baskets to pay homage to gods, won’t help”. In the same breath, he said that certain Senior Officers were behaving in a manner not in keeping with their positions. He was referring to a General clad in sarong and dancing alongside a local politico, at an informal party. Gen. Fonseka said that by their actions, they have been reduced to the status of jokers. Insiders are of the view that, he had, by innuendo, directed those attacks at his No. 2, the Commandant of the Volunteer Force, Maj. Gen. Lawrence Fernando and Maj. Gen. Pannipitiya. with whom he has a running legal battle.

Gen.Fonseka, no doubt, has been an excellent Army Officer, and needs to be saluted for his achievements, but there are many Officers who opine that he was no gentleman. Considering the manner in which he handled men and matters, promotions and awards. Many left the service saddened and are willing to come forward and testify, many more are digging their heels on how they were shabbily treated after much sacrifice.

Gen. Fonseka returned to the country after meeting with Pakistan President Pervez Musharaff, whose dictatorial rule was threatened by months of unrest, when he clashed with the Supreme Court, of course, under a military regime.
All dictatorships, even that of the proletariat, as Marx would say, are transitory.


SLN honours its heroes

Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, conferred the Uttama Seva Padakkama (USP) on 50 Naval personnel for the Years 2004 and 2005 on Friday (9), in appreciation of their valuable service and devotion to duty, the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) announced.

The investiture ceremony, held at SLNS Rangalla, was attended by several Directors General of the Navy, Commander of the Western Naval Area, Rear Admiral S.A.M.J. Perera and a number of Senior Naval Officers and sailors, the SLN said.

The Navy Chief took the salute after inspecting the Guard of Honour. The SLN has been able to achieve a number of remarkable victories over the enemy, due to the commitment and devotion of its personnel.
“The Sri Lanka Navy is proud to possess personnel of bravery and valour and honours them for the noble sacrifices they make safeguarding the nation,” the Navy release states.

“The Uttama Seva Padakkama is granted to all ranks and rates of the Regular Force of the Sri Lanka Navy for valuable service and devotion to duty, marked by exceptional ability, merit and exemplary conduct. Recipients should have not less than 15 years of continuous and uninterrupted service and possess an unblemished record of moral and military conduct,” the release adds.


Vishishta Seva Vibushana decoration for 37

Sri Lanka Army
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka
Major General J.K.N. Jayakody (late)
Major General P.S.P. Kulathunga (late)
Major General L.C.R. Gunawardene
Major General A.C.D. Wijendra
General S.H.S. Kottegoda
Major General M.D.S. Chandrapala
Major General W. Mallawarachchi
Major General S.D. Tennekoon
Major General G. Hettiarachchi
Major General K.B. Egodawele (Retired)
Major General S. Wanigasekara (Retired)
Major General E. Rathnasabapathi (Retired)

Sri Lanka Air Force
Commander Air Marshal W.D. R.M.J. Gunatilleke
Air Vice Marshal P.B. Premachandra
Air Vice Marshal Arunthawanathan
Air Vice Marshal N.H. Gunarathna
Air Vice Marshal G.Y. De Silva (Retired)
Air Vice Marshal O.D.N.L. Perera (Retired)
Air Vice Marshal L.H. Pieris (Retired)

Sri Lanka Navy

Vice Admiral W.K.J. Karannagoda
Rear Admiral T.M. W. K.B. Tennekoon
Rear Admiral P.L.N. Obeysinghe
Rear Admiral D.W.A.S. Dissanayake
Rear Admiral T.S.G. Samarasinghe
Rear Admiral M.R.U. Siriwardene
Rear Admiral B.A.J.G. Pieris
Rear Admiral D.N. Darmaweera
Rear Admiral L.D. Darmapriya (Retired)
Rear Admiral D.S.M. Wijewickrama (Retired)
Surgeon Rear Admiral N.G. Athulgama (Retired)
Rear Admiral H.S. Rathnakeerthi (Retired)
Rear Admiral S.P. Weerasekara (Retired)
Rear Admiral C.N. Tuduwewatte (Retired)
Rear Admiral J.H.U. Ranaweera (Retired)
Rear Admiral H.R. Mayadunne (Retired)
Rear Admiral S.R. Amaratunga (Retired)


Tigers on the back foot as Army presses on

After securing Madhu and its environs, operations this week made it amply clear that the security forces are bent on going the whole hog to wrest control of the western coastal area, though it was thought that the operation north of Mannar was a feigned one. Securing the Palampiddi area is the immediate goal of the 57 Division commanded by Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias in the Wanni operation. The 11th Infantry Regiment, under Lt. Col. Senaka Wijesuriya, of the 572 Brigade. this week captured the bridge. which is a strategic point on the Palampiddi- Periyamadu Road. LTTE military wing leader Jeyam had originally ordered his cadres to destroy the bridge, if it was likely to fall into the hands of the security forces, but the Tigers’ plan was foiled. The security forces launched a surprise attack on the enemy from four directions and consolidated their power in an area approximately 400 meters from the Palamipiddi town. After the security forces came under heavy artillery and mortar, Jeyam and his cadres made a last ditch effort to recapture the bridge. Despite the intense fighting, security forces brought the situation under control. Meanwhile, the Air Force was called upon to take on identified LTTE targets in the Palampiddi town.

According to intercepted LTTE messages, six Tigers were killed and several others ‘disappeared’ during the confrontation, while 2nd Lt. Ruvanpriya who was injured. returned to the battlefield after treatment. Capture of the Palampiddi Bridge poses a serious threat to the LTTE in the Palampiddi town, which was likely to fall soon, the Army believes.

Meanwhile, 582 Brigade, commanded by Col. Shavindra Silva, captured Adampan town on Friday (9), while the 8th Gemunu Watch (GW) of the same Brigade under Col. Sanjaya Wanasinghe, stormed the town, where the Tiger cadres were commanded by LTTE’s Laxman and Bhanu. During the confrontation, the LTTE abandoned several buildings, including the Nedun Kandal Divisional Secretariat, the government hospital and government schools occupied by them. Incidentally, while Adampan was the nerve centre of the LTTE in the Mannar area, the Nedun Kandal area is a strategic place for either side.

Meanwhile, 583 Brigade under Lt. Col. Suraj Khansarjaya, consolidated their positions on the Madhu Road from Adamapan to Madhu, after intense fighting in the early hours of Friday (9). They had captured an area of more than 2 sq km. Ten Tigers were killed during the confrontation that lasted about eight hours, the military claimed.

Meanwhile, the pro-LTTE Tamilnet claimed that the Army was towing an Armoured Personnel Carrier on fire and that 30 soldiers were killed after heavy fighting at Karukkaaykkulam, 2 km east of Adampan on Friday.

Meanwhile, the 8th Sinha Regiment under Lt. Col. Priyantha Jayawardene, captured a section of Alankulam town and advanced further, and by Friday, intense fighting was going on in the area. According to intercepted LTTE messages, as claimed by the Army, 15 cadres were killed and more than 40 others injured in the battle.

Meanwhile, in the Weli Oya battlefront, the LTTE’s artillery fire on the Weli Oya area ceased in the following retaliatory artillery attacks by the Army. The 59 Division under Brig. Nandana Udawatta, launched an operation into the Mullailtivu jungles, gunning down dozens of Tigers, the military claimed. LTTE’s Lt. Col. ‘Charman’ was also among the Tigers killed in an attack by the 11th GW in Janakapura North on Wednesday.