A lone soldier marking in sillitoe- 3rd photo- The war is over but the military is not ready to go back to barracks. But can the nation afford the cost.

I am often asked why the Sri Lanka Army was not demobilized in May 2009.

The first thing I must emphasise is that a Defence Force is essential for a country whether you at war or at peace. There is no question of total demobilisation. Probably the question is asked owing to the excess numbers we were compelled to recruit to overcome the challenge of defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

When Sri Lanka’s 30 year old war came to a close on May 19, 2009, it was only an end to physical hostilities.

Neutralising the enemy is not merely the physical defeat; it also involves psychological aspects of healing the people’s grievances or ideologies that have been inculcated in people. Also, physical defeat would not have automatically ensured national security.

Other aspects such as economic prosperity, social and political stability are necessary to ensure a sustainable peace.  There are no short cuts to achieve those goals and we were working towards that.  We were also addressing issues involving reconciliation and grievances of the people.
It is only after those goals are achieved that one can safely say that the psychological threat has also been eliminated.

We were also concerned with the dangerous possibility of large caches of arms and ammunitions hidden by the LTTE getting into the wrong hands or the undesirable sections of society for whom it could have been just another commercial opportunity.

The way such caches were continuously discovered, proved this point.

The 20th biggest military out of 200 countries. Time is up to think again.
The 20th biggest military out of 200 countries. Time is up to think again.

So how is such a large Army managed?

In the case of sustaining such a force of Regular Combatants, we had to plan every step to make use of the human and other resources we are responsible for, while making arrangements for a planned and a meaningful restructuring of the Armed Forces.

There was a systematic plan in place; instead of demobilisation of the troops, we introduced ways to keep our men and women gainfully engaged.

Owing to the plan we introduced, Sri Lanka has been spared the usual fate many other countries in Africa, South America and Asia that were engaged in long-drawn out feuds faced.  Those countries demobilised their armed forces no sooner hostilities ended, resulting in ex-members of the forces getting involved in unsavoury activities causing other issues and unrest in the country.  We studied the other countries where some form of peace had been achieved, where two to five years afterwards the same problem they had dealt with or some other issue came up.

We realized that for a people who had got used to being controlled for many years, for twenty years perhaps and suddenly found freedom when a war ended, it was like opening a flood gate into a scenario where things could go wrong so easily. There is a need to deal with the psychologically traumatized, especially those whose mind-frames were highly disturbed.

Everyone wants everything to be achieved at once in a short period. It’s a natural thing, but governments must display a high sense of responsibility and manage the situation properly.

Having studied those scenarios, we realized that the best way forward was not to demobilize but to train and employ the troops in alternative programs that would keep them gainfully involved in the nation building process.

Ours is an Army that is made up largely of rural folk.  After they joined up, they were exposed to a different lifestyle. They were front and centre on the battlefield.  Demobilizing and sending them home, with no training or direction to live as civilians would have caused untold issues amongst them and for the country.

It is important to maintain the pressure we had been enforcing in the military during the conflict, even afterwards.  It is especially so at a time when some leaders of the LTTE and intelligence organizations continue to operate and attempt to destabilise the country from outside Sri Lanka. In order to prevent and control those situations, security has to be maintained. We kept the jungles under surveillance and introduced somewhat controlled measures throughout the country.  We continue to assess the security situation periodically and adjust the deployment of the soldiers until we are able to completely withdraw road blocks and many of the other physical security measures.

We also saw many areas where there were gaps in the civilian administration especially due to lack of capacity.

After the war, nation building was uppermost in our minds. We had successfully eliminated the physical threat posed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but more needed to be done in terms of bringing stability to the country.  Priority needed to be given to rehabilitating ex- combatants, de-mining, resettlement, reconstruction etc. Since the government organisations responsible for carrying out those tasks did not have the required capacity, on their request, we, the military enhanced their capacity.

When the Government requested the United Nations and other International Organisations for support to overcome the above mentioned challenges, they asked for a minimum of 10 to 15 years to achieve the objectives. So, obviously, the Government turned to the Military for assistance. Finally, we managed to overcome all those post conflict challenges with record breaking results by using the disciplined and committed skills of the forces as well as support staff who knew the value of that hard earned peace.

How did the Army deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst the cadres?

This was not a major challenge to us when compared with other western armies engaged in fighting around the world. That is mainly due to our family centric social upbringing, religion, education and also the military leave system etc. However, whenever there were some indications of such cases in the Post- Conflict Era, we immediately organized meditation, religious activities, counselling, rest and recuperation programmes etc. to handle the situation.

Re skilling soldiers to work in farms. In a democracy the military must not engage in business projects.
Re skilling soldiers to work in farms. In a democracy the military must not engage in business projects.

Why did the Army get involved in building hotels?

People accuse the Army of having taken away civilian jobs.  That is a minor issue.  What we did was to set a trend, find immediate solutions to major problems until that capacity is developed by others, not destroy civilian businesses.

Because of the war, people did not want to visit some of the most beautiful areas of this country. We set the trend; we built hotels in those areas – Kalkudah, Pasikudah, Mulaitivu, Yala etc. where people were hesitant to go to, fearing there would be mines.  To break that mindset, the military took the lead and built hotels.  Soon other hoteliers followed.  Until then, there were no hotels which had even a hundred rooms. We helped boost tourism.

How do you rate the present day Post War Army?

Militaries all over the world are generally organized into three major components – Fighting, Supporting and Logistics elements. Usually, you have a balance in those elements, but in the case of Sri Lanka, to overcome the challenge we concentrated more on the Fighting Element. In the immediate Post War period, we did a proper analysis and restructured the Army to suit the present and future requirements.
Also during the conflict period we concentrated on developing the skills of our troops to successfully fight the LTTE.  Immediately after the fighting was over, we provided our members an opportunity to continue with their studies, and we are very happy to say that we are now on par with any advanced army in the world, in terms of having a well-educated Army.

When the war ended we had nearly 40,000 members in the Civilian Defence Force.  They were recruited mainly to safeguard villages and a majority of them were from the farming community.  We deployed them to re -develop nearly 10 to 20,000 acres of farm land in the border areas and to also revive the temples.

We have helped the families of our staff to re-adjust to post-conflict life.  Training in financial management, family counselling, parental values have been provided.

Even though there is no armed threat to the country now, we cannot be complacent.  Recruitment continues, with at least a 10,000 hired each year to maintain an Army of 200,000 soldiers.  Right-sizing the army can take place only once stability has been achieved.

Even though there is no armed threat to the country now, we cannot be complacent.  Recruitment continues, with at least a 10,000 hired each year to maintain an Army of 200,000 soldiers.  Right-sizing the army can take place only once stability has been achieved.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here