Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Can Sri Lanka exploit US satellite survey for its defence in Geneva?



Ratmalana air base, May 23, 2009: Chief of Staff and Commander of the Hawaii Air National Guard, Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong, shake hands with Air Chief Marshal Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Air Force, Roshan Goonetileke, after handing over Beechcraft and a range of other equipment to Sri Lanka. A smiling Valerie Fowler, Deputy Chief of Mission, at the U.S. Embassy looks on. The US Embassy said: "Safe and secure seas are in the interests of both our countries." The US donated $ 6 mn equipment to support maritime security. The hardware, included data links for two Beechcraft 200 aircraft, to enable Sri Lanka to receive real time imagery.

by Shamindra Ferdinando

The US felt that the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) lacked the required resources to meet the challenging task of intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance, even during the Norwegian, arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). The US asserted that the SLAF faced some critical operational shortfalls, though it had an adequate military structure. "The SLAF’s four intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) are inadequate for Sri Lanka’s requirements," the US said in a special report that dealt with the Sri Lankan military. There had never been a similar study, conducted by a foreign power, though Sri Lanka received arms, ammunition and equipment, as well as specialized training, from several countries.

The US examined the strength and weakness of the Sri Lankan military, consequent to a meeting the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe had with US President George W Bush, in July, 2002. A high level team, from the Department of Defence (DoD), visited Sri Lanka in September, 2002, to carry out the study. The team, led by Ambassador Robin Raphel, Vice President of the National Defence University (NDU), included Dr. James Keagle (Vice President for Academic Affairs, NDU), Colonel Jack Gill, Commander Thomas Murphy and Thomas Carnell (Project Manager, NDU).

In October, 2002, the US conducted a ‘defence planning exchange’ in Colombo. The project was meant to address seven key issues, including strategic assessment of future security requirements, assess military capabilities and recommendations for renovating defence processes. During the seminar, Sri Lanka explained that the country needed US assistance to enhance maritime surveillance capability with a view to curbing smuggling of weapons. Two years later, the US made available a second Beechcraft to the SLAF.

However, a special team, from the US Pacific Command, undertook the most important task in Sri Lanka, during the period, September 12-October 24, 2002. The US Pacific Command carried out a comprehensive study. The 24-member team comprised basically of four units, namely a combined arms team, a naval team, an air force team and a small-unit tactics team.

It would be pertinent to mention that the US began conducting joint exercises with the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) during Chandrika Bandarnaike Kumaratunga’s first tenure as the president. The Fast Attack Craft flotilla, as well as the Special Boat Squadron (SBS), benefited immensely due to US training.

Ranil Wickremesinghe wanted to further expand the relations with the US. His move was in line with his overall political-military strategy to secure support from both the US and India to ensure LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, wouldn’t resume hostilities. But Wickremesinghe was not there to receive support from the US and India. Instead, it was President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who received their support to bring the LTTE down to its knees, in May, 2009.

About a week, after the Sri Lankan military brought its Vanni offensive to a successful conclusion, on the morning of May 19, 2009, the SLAF took delivery of a US-built Beechcraft. Although, the SLAF desperately wanted to acquire the aircraft, at the height of the Vanni battle, the delivery was made only after the end of the conflict. The SLAF wouldn’t have ordered the aircraft, to enhance its surveillance capability, if not for a devastating LTTE raid on the Anuradhapura air base, in late October, 2007, which caused the destruction of one of the two Beechcraft available at that time.

Although the loss of Anuradhapura - based aircraft had caused a severe setback to surveillance and electronic warfare capability, the SLAF was fortunate to have the remaining Beechcraft, acquired during the 2004 ceasefire, fully operational.

The two Beechcraft logged nearly 1,900 missions during the Eelam War IV.

The SLAF, during the tenure of the war time Commander, the then Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke, felt the need to acquire two more Beechcraft, in addition to the one made available in May, 2009. However, the SLAF later dropped this idea due to the end of the conflict.

But, at the time the SLAF top brass desired to have a comparatively larger fleet of Beechcraft, the military high command wouldn’t have felt confident of finishing off the LTTE by late May, 2009. Although, the top brass had never publicly acknowledged, during the Vanni offensive, they always realized the grave danger of the LTTE resuming a classic guerrilla campaign. Had the LTTE quickly gave up its conventional military posture, consequent to its Kilinochchi debacle (late Dec 2008-early Jan 2009), the SLA would have faced a major dilemma. Had that happened, the SLA would have had no option but to re-deploy troops on the Vanni front, under entirely different circumstances. In fact, the SLAF would have been tempted to acquire additional Beechcraft for obvious reasons.

The situation would have probably compelled the SLA to deploy thousands of troops to hunt down LTTE units, operating in the jungles. Perhaps, a stalemate could have paved the way for international intervention, hence another lifeline for the LTTE.

Surprisingly, the LTTE remained committed to its conventional strategy, on the Vanni east front, until the very end. The flawed strategy allowed the SLA to decimate LTTE forces, in several major high intensity battles, including the bloody encirclement, at the Aanandapuram area of Puthukkudiyiruppu, during the first week of April, 2009. There, the LTTE lost almost 600 cadres, including some of its best field commanders. The LTTE’s Northern Commander, Theepan, was among the dead. Vidhusha, special commander of the Maalathy regiment, her deputy, and Maalathy regimental commander, Kamalini, Durga, special commander of the Sothia regiment, and her deputy, cum – Commander, Mohanaa, were killed, along with Theepan.

Even after the Anandapuram debacle, the LTTE persisted with the same strategy In spite of retreating on the Vanni east front, the LTTE caused heavy losses among the advancing SLA prompting the Defence Ministry to ponder an amphibious assault on the Mullaitivu coastline, April-May, 2009.

The SLA lost 2,420 personnel, including officers, during 2009 (January 1, 2009, to May 19, 2009), whereas 2,217 sacrificed their lives in 2008. The Defence Ministry contemplated a major sea-borne assault to facilitate the ground offensive, in the backdrop of growing casualties. The international community knew what was happening on the ground. The Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), acquired high resolution battlefield satellite imagery, following the intervention of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International USA, on May 10, 2009. (Interestingly, AAAS undertook a similar mission recently at the request of the UK - based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice to acquire and analyze Palaly-Kankesanthurai high security zone. The satellite survey carried out a few months ago could help prove the release of substantial amount of land previously held by the military). In fact, satellite imagery, obtained by AAAS, could help Sri Lanka to disapprove unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, pertaining to the massacre of over 40,000 civilians during the last phase of the assault. The organization also revealed that photographs taken from an SLAF helicopter, carrying UN Secretary General Ban ki moon, flying over the war-devastated area on May 22, 2009, helped, what it called, imagery analysis.

AAAS said: "Since 2000, commercial satellite operators have acquired high-resolution imagery around the world, largely in response to customer requests. Once imagery is acquired from a satellite, it is then added to the companies’ archives and generally made available for resale. One image source, used in this analysis, was the Ikonos satellite, operated by the GeoEye corporation. Ikonos has a multispectral sensor with one meter panchromatic resolution and has been in operation since 1999. A second satellite from GeoEye is GeoEye-1, with 50 centimeter non- governmental panchromatic resolution and 1.65 meter multispectral resolution. Another satellite utilized was QuickBird, operated by DigitalGlobe, which has 60 centimeter panchromatic resolution and two meter multispectral resolution, which became operational in 2002. Lastly, DigitalGlobe’s WorldView satellite, which provides 50 centimeter panchromatic imagery, was used extensively. Note that only the US Government can direct WorldView to acquire imagery, but once such imagery is obtained it is made available for public use via the DigitalGlobe archives (emphasis mine)."

"To derive information, AAAS analyzed multiple high- resolution satellite images of the CSZ collected by publicly accessible commercial satellites. A scene collected from the DigitalGlobe QuickBird satellite, on May 9, 2005 (prior to the current period of conflict), found on GoogleEarth, was used for historical comparison. An image from the GeoEye satellite Ikonos, acquired on March 23, 2009, was used together with a scene from DigitalGlobe’s WorldView satellite, acquired on April 19, 2009, to verify conditions in the CSZ immediately prior to the conflict in question. Imagery collected by the WorldView satellite includes scenes acquired at approximately 11am local time on May 6 and May 10, 2009, prior to and after reportedly intense fighting in the CSZ. Finally, a scene from GeoEye-1, collected on May 24, was analyzed to determine post-conflict conditions. These images are summarized in Table One, and more information about the image sources is provided below."

It would be interesting to know whether the UN, investigating into accountability issues here, look into the assertions and findings made by AAAS. Although the Defence Ministry had referred to the AAAS findings some time ago, the government never pursued the issue, much to the discomfort of those who felt that a major change in strategy was required to meet the ongoing diplomatic offensive against the country. Those who have been wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal, didn’t like the findings made by AAAS. The satellite survey identified three graveyards containing 1,346 bodies Much to the dismay of the anti-Sri Lanka lobby, AAAS asserted that the largest graveyard containing 960 bodies belonged to the LTTE. For some strange reason, the government hadn’t exploited the revelations made by the US institute to Sri Lanka’s advantage.

Before discussing the flaws in Sri Lanka’s defence, in Geneva, let me recollect preparations made during the last phase (late April-May 2009) of the conflict to launch an amphibious assault to bring the LTTE down to its knees quickly.

At the behest of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Navy headquarters examined the possibility of mounting a large scale sea-borne raid into the No Fire Zone. The navy envisaged inducting a powerful force into the midst of the LTTE remnants who were resisting the advancing troops, in early May. However, the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka strongly opposed the sea-borne assault. The infantry veteran stressed that the SLA could bring the offensive to a successful conclusion. Due to his personal enmity with the Navy Chief, the then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, the Army Chief rejected the navy-led operation meant to destroy the LTTE remnants trapped in Mullaitivu.

The government dropped the plan, though the navy carried out rehearsals off Chundikulam and Nayaru. The navy planned to deploy boats to land 800 Army Commandos and Special Forces along the 3 km stretch of Mullaitivu coast. A navy officer, involved in planning the assault, told ‘The Island’: "We intended to deploy 80 boats to carry 800 men. Boats were to be operated by the elite Special Boat Squadron (SBS) and Rapid Action Boat Squadron (RABS). To provide protection to those craft, the navy planned to deploy 160 craft. Each boat carrying ten men was to be guarded by two boats. As many as 400 men, deploy for the mission could have been killed or wounded. Perhaps, we could have carried out a successful landing with relatively a smaller number of casualties."

Had the SLA-SLN being allowed to carry out the amphibious assault, the war would have ended under different circumstances. A section of the SLA favoured the assault, though the army chief objected to the SLN playing a bigger role during the last phase of the war. The operation also involved the Fast Attack Craft (FAC) squadron commanded by the then Captain Noel Kalubowila.

It was to be the one of the most important amphibious assaults carried out during the entire war, though definitely not the largest. The largest amphibious landing was carried out in July, 1991, in accordance with ‘Operation Balavegaya’, conducted under extremely difficult conditions, to save those trapped at the isolated Elephant Pass base. But what was planned in May, 2009, couldn’t be compared with any of the previous landings, including the operation conducted in September, 1990, to save those trapped in the Jaffna Fort.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

US hand in Sri Lanka's triumph over terrorism


by Shamindra Ferdinando

At the onset of Eelam War IV, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) had five reconnaissance and maritime patrol aircraft, including two Beechcraft, acquired from the United States. The remaining aircraft consisted of two Searcher MK II Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and one US built Cessna 421 Golden Eagle, deployed for photo reconnaissance.

The SLAF took delivery of four Israeli-built Blue Horizon UAVs, in 2007, at the height of the Vanni battle.

The Beechcraft (Ratmalana based No 8 Light Transport Squadron), along with Searcher MK II (Vavuniya based 111 UAV Squadron) and Blue Horizon II (Anuradhapura based 112 UAV Squadron) provided the much needed intelligence, required by the armed forces, battling the LTTE. In addition to the US built aircraft assigned to the No 8 Light Transport Squadron, the SLAF had, in its inventory, altogether 18 US built helicopters (Bell 412, Bell 212, as well as Bell 206 Jet Ranger).

The Aerial Tribute: The Role of Air Power in Defeating Terrorism in Sri Lanka authored by Dr. Nirosha Mendis, on the invitation of the then Air Force Commander, Air Marshal H. D. Abeywickrama (incumbent Chairman of Bank of Ceylon (BoC), Abeywickrama holds the rank of Air Chief Marshal) explained the momentous role, played by the Beechcraft, as well as the UAVs, during Eelam War IV. There hadn’t been a better endeavour to record the SLAF’s role, particularly during Eelam War IV.

Even over five years after the conclusion of the conflict, the government is yet to examine the conflict as regards the role played by various countries, particularly during Eelam War IV (August 2006 – May 2009).

In spite of the US moving a strongly-worded resolution targeting Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), for reasons best known to the Obama administration, it would be pertinent to study the US support to eradicate the LTTE. Loss of US aircraft, in service with the SLAF, at an early stage of Eelam War IV, could have had a debilitating impact on the entire war effort. It would have had caused irreparable damage to the overall military strategy, encompassing ground operations on the Vanni front, as well naval action. Jet squadrons, as well as No 09 attack helicopter squadron, received target coordinates from Beechcraft. The loss of reconnaissance and maritime capability, at a crucial state of the offensive, could have prolonged the conflict. The SLAF adopted tough security measures to ensure safety and security of the Beechcraft B200 Super King Air for obvious reasons.

But what the SLAF didn’t envisage was one of the precious US aircraft coming under friendly fire by the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN). The incident, involving a Beechcraft and the SLN, in Trincomalee, on the night of June 5, 2007, sent shock-waves through the defence establishment. SLN gunners fired anti-aircraft guns at the aircraft approaching China Bay airfield, believing an LTTE fixed-wing aircraft was approaching SLN troop career, Jetliner. The SLAF China Bay, too, had wrongly identified the approaching aircraft as an LTTE fixed- wing plane, on a destruction mission, and directed a missile attack, though it didn’t materialised.

Had the SLN brought down the aircraft, piloted by Wing Commander Melvin Kurukulasooriya, and Squadron Leader, Amal Perera, it could have caused a heavy blow at a time the SLA was still struggling on the Vanni central front. The ground offensive couldn’t have succeeded without air strikes and the success of the air campaign largely depended on intelligence provided by air assets of the US and Israeli origin.

The case of friendly fire should be examined, in the backdrop of a devastating LTTE attack on Anuradhapura air base, on the night of October 22, 2007, resulting in the destruction of the Beechcraft, acquired in 1983, and two Blue Horizon II UAVs.

The SLAF acquired its first Beechcraft way back in 1983. According to an SLAF publication, issued in March, 2001, to coincide with its 50th anniversary, the Beechcraft had been originally used as a VVIP transport aircraft with a seating capacity of nine (in the VVIP role) and 15 in the utility role. The acquisition was made during the period of Air Vice Marshal Dick Cutbert Perera.

For want of dedicated aircraft required for reconnaissance missions, the war effort suffered badly. In fact, the SLAF sought Israeli help to transform the Beechcraft, from its original role, to dedicated reconnaissance aircraft. The Israeli took over a year to equip the aircraft. The SLAF took delivery of the modified Beechcraft in early 1997. During the previous year, the SLAF acquired three Israeli-built Super Scouts UAVs. The Super Scouts were replaced by Searcher MK II in 2001.

The bottom line is that Eelam War II (June 10/11, 1990 to January 8, 1995) was fought without proper reconnaissance capability. Although the Eelam War II erupted on April 19, 1995, the military was deprived of air reconnaissance capability, until 1996, when Israeli UAVs joined the fleet.

The Beechcraft had the capacity to intercept, jam and also to monitor enemy communications.

SLAF acquires US spy plane during CFA

The SLAF acquired a second Beechcraft, in 2004 during a ceasefire, arranged by the government of Norway. Unlike the previous Beechcraft, which had to be modified, the second one came fully equipped to play a dedicated role. In spite of the ceasefire, the SLAF deployed its Beechcraft and UAVs to survey the LTTE-held territory, hence gathering vast amount of intelligence ahead of Eelam War IV.

On a number of occasions, the LTTE complained to the government of Sri Lanka, through the Norwegian government, and the Norway-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), regarding UAV flights. However, the LTTE never complained about the deployment of Beechcraft as it hadn’t been aware of their role at that time. The UAVs spotted the construction of an LTTE runway at Iranamadu, on November 25, 2003, and the first LTTE fixed wing aircraft on January 12, 2005.

Following gradual development of the technology available to the SLAF, in 2008 the service achieved the capability to provide near real time imagery to the Katunayake-based jet fighter squadrons, as well as the Mi-24 attack helicopter squadron. The same imagery was made available to the 57 Division (deployed on the Vanni Central front, under the command of Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias), the 58 Division (deployed on the Mannar front, under the command of Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva) and the 59 Division (deployed on Weli Oya front, under Maj. Gen. Nandana Udawatte).

Beechcraft undertake nearly 1, 900 missions

In spite of the LTTE destroying one Beechcraft, on Oct 22, 2007, at the conclusion of the conflict, the SLAF reported the Beechcraft carried out nearly 1,900 missions. Had the SLAF not acquired a second Beechcraft, from the US, in 2004, the ground offensive, on the Vanni front, would have suffered a major setback. Long range artillery and multi barrel rocket launchers engaged many targets on the basis of target coordinates, provided by the Beechcraft. The gunners had the advantage of receiving further instructions from Beechcraft while they engaged targets identified by the Beechcraft.

The US never interfered with offensives, directed against the LTTE, during the conflict. In fact, Sri Lanka’s main supplier of armaments, Israel, began its relationship with Sri Lanka in the early 80s, with the blessings of the then US administration. If not for the US, Israel wouldn’t have thrown its weight behind President JRJ when India intervened here for political reasons. The US and Israel remained committed to Sri Lanka’s war against LTTE terror, hence it wouldn’t be a bad idea to post-war evaluation of support given by various countries by way of armaments as well as political support.

A veteran career service diplomat asserted that the government had failed to capitalise on what he called US-SL common ground and developed an adversarial posture by default. Referring to a secret cable, dated January 9, 2009, originating from its diplomatic mission in Colombo (cable No 33) exposed by Wiki Leaks, the expert pointed out that the US had recommended the US hunt for LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and other hardcore members in case they escaped. The then US Ambassador, Robert Blake, advised State Department: "We should also be prepared to help locate, detain and hand over to Sri Lanka, or India, Prabhakaran and other senior LTTE leaders, should they leave the country."

While asserting that the Sri Lankan Army was now in a position to expel the Tigers from the Northern Province than ever before, the US embassy predicted, what probably Ambassador called a new even more lethal phase of LTTE terrorism. The LTTE fighting cadre collapsed on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in just over four months, since that particular cable (cable No 33).

US, India influence EU ban on LTTE

In the run-up to Eelam War IV, during the second week of August, 2006, the European Union proscribed the LTTE, in spite of strong opposition from Norway. The EU ban couldn’t have come at a better time for the Sri Lankan government. If not for the US intervention, the EU would never have proscribed the LTTE. The US went to the extent of sending high level special envoy, Christina Rocca, to Europe to campaign for the banning of the LTTE. The Norwegians suffered a debilitating setback. The US intervention, at the highest level, ensured the banning of the LTTE. Unfortunately, the government never really realised the US role in the EU ban on the LTTE. In fact, the EU ban could be Sri Lanka’s biggest ever diplomatic victory, since the US banning the LTTE in October 1997.

Eight years after the EU ban, Tamil Net, in a special report quoted the then head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission Maj. Gen. Ulf Henricsson as having said: "It was a big mistake for the EU to ban the LTTE. There was pressure from the USA and the Sri Lankan government. I would say that was a big mistake, because it stopped the possibility to get a peaceful solution and negotiation."

The EU ban really hurt the LTTE, especially because it was a member of the four-nation Co-Chairs to the Sri Lankan peace process. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka never realised that EU ban would never have been a reality if not for direct US intervention. The Indian government, too, strongly backed the EU ban. The EU prohibition, which came into operation close on the heels of the Canadian ban, undermined the LTTE strategy.

It would be pertinent to mention that the US also influenced the EU to impose a travel ban on LTTE representatives, in the wake of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination, in August,2005. The continuing forcible recruitment of child soldiers, too, contributed to the EU decision. Although, some members had been reluctant to impose restrictions, the US pushed the EU leadership to take a hardened stand on the group. The travel ban was followed by the proscription of the group, in spite of a very expensive campaign in Europe against it. Much to the discomfort of those who had been supportive of the LTTE’s efforts in Europe, India, too, threw its weight behind President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s bid to have Prabhakaran’s group banned.

India proscribed the LTTE in 1991, close on the heels of the assassination of one-time Premier Rajiv Gandhi. The US and UK proscribed the organisation, in 1997 and 2001, respectively.

UNP, TNA, LTTE miscalculate US intentions

In hindsight, the LTTE, the UNP, the TNA, as well as a section of the Western community, wrongly asserted that the US wouldn’t assist Sri Lanka in the wake of the then Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa narrowly defeating UNP presidential candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, at the November, 2005 presidential election. In fact, the LTTE-TNA engineered Wickremesinghe’s defeat by ordering Tamil speaking people not to exercise their franchise, in support of either Rajapaksa or Wickremesinghe. That directive was meant to deprive Wickremesinghe of the Tamil vote. They felt what had been then perceived as an international safety net comprising the US, India and EU wouldn’t be available to Sri Lanka following the change of government. They never realised the readiness of President Rajapaksa, as well as his brother, Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, to work closely with the US. The relationship automatically influenced the EU as well as India’s position on Sri Lanka. Unlike the vacillating Wickremesinghe, the Rajapaksas weren’t hesitant to go ahead with a security agreement (Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement aka ACSA) with the US.

US-SL logistical agreement

Sri Lanka and the US signed a deal to give reciprocal logistical support for the military forces of the two countries, on March 5, 2007. The finalisation of the ACSA coincided with the launch of the 57 Division on the Vanni Central front. The 57 Division was the first fighting formation to commence ground operations, west of the A9 road.

The 10-year agreement provided a framework for increased interoperability of the forces of the two countries. The then US Ambassador, Robert Blake, and Defense Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, signed the agreement.

After having finalised the agreement, Ambassador Blake’s office said: "The Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) will allow the United States and Sri Lanka to transfer and exchange logistics supplies, support, and re-fueling services, either in kind or at cost, during peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations and joint exercises."

US-SL pact to thwart ICC

The ACSA came into being four years after the then Premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe, reached a bilateral agreement with the US to prevent handing over of their nationals to the International Criminal Court. The EU opposed the US move. The US move was prompted by fears that the ICC could engage in politically motivated prosecutions of US political as well as military leaders. The US entered into similar agreements with many countries, including regional powers, India and Pakistan.

Although the US had discussed the ACSA with Wickremesinghe, the UNP leader didn’t want to go ahead with it for political reasons. Wickremesinghe delayed his decision until the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga seized three key ministries, leading to parliamentary polls in April, 2004. The US -Sri Lanka relationship surprised many. Although some believed the US could rescind its decision to hand over the USCGS Courageous in the wake of change of government, it went ahead with the transfer in June, 2004. The vessel departed from the US for Sri Lanka in February 2005. The US ship (P 621) bolstered Sri Lanka’s aging fleet of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), which hunted down floating LTTE arsenal on the high seas. Of the eight LTTE ships sunk, the US provided the intelligence required to track down the last four on September 10, 11, 2007, and Oct 7, 2007. Could we forget that the US intelligence on LTTE ships followed the ACSA agreement, though it wasn’t in anyway meant to exchange intelligence.

The US and Sri Lanka should examine the war-time relationship and make an honest assessment without being influenced by furore over accountability issues here. The swift arrest and handing over of a hardcore al Qaeda suspect, taking refuge in Sri Lanka during Premier Wickremesinghe’s administration, to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), earned Sri Lanka a place among the countries involved in extraordinary rendition (extrajudicial transfer of people from one country to another). The whereabouts of the person handed over to the CIA is not known, though the possibility of him being held at Guantanamo Bay military detention facility cannot be ruled out.

For want of understanding on the part of the US and Sri Lanka, the relationship has turned sour today.

Ratmalana airbase, home to No 8 Light Transport Squadron: Beechcraft takes off on a night reconnaissance mission. During eelam war IV, Beechcraft carried out nearly 1,900 missions. (Top) The then Director of Air Operations, AVM Kolitha Gunatilleke (incumbent SLAF Commander, Gunatilleke holds the rank of Air Marshal) greets US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith at an airbase capable of accommodating C-130 (in the background). Lt. Col. Smith played a vital role in enhancing relations between the two countries. (pics courtesy SLAF)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Pacific Chief visits Trinco in the wake of a US-Iran 'confrontation' in Strait of Hormuz



January 18, 2008 Trincomalee: Having toured the Trincomalee harbour on board US built Fast Attack Craft (FAC), the then US Pacific Commander, Admiral Willard is about to disembark from the vessel at Nicholson Cove Pier in Trincomalee. The then Captain Y.N. Jayarathna (Jayarathna is the incumbent Commandant of the Naval and Maritime Academy, Trincomalee) is pictured talking with the highest ranking US military official to visit a base in an operational area during the conflict.

Having accommodated Sri Lanka, along with India, on the Extended Relations Programme (ERP), conducted by the US Pacific Command the US and Sri Lankan personnel carried out their first Flash Style exercise in Galle, in November 1997. An eight-member team, from the US Special Boat Unit, took part in the two-week exercise, involving the SLN FAC squadron. The US team shared its experience and knowledge on what is called combat medicine with Sri Lankan counterparts. The US team trained the SLN on IV administration to injured, and Sri Lankan personnel mastered the art. An SLN officer told The Island, on condition of anonymity: "This subject was the most valued matter that we learnt as latterly the techniques we improved helped to save many lives that would otherwise have been lost at mid-sea battles. In turn, we taught them the tactics; both ours and LTTE sea Tigers, in combating asymmetric threats. We also learnt water safety survival techniques to use in saving one’s live whilst in water, sometimes using the shirt and trousers." "It was a very rewarding exchange, and we had those exchanges till 2001. Parallel to Flash Style, Balance Style was held with the SLN’s Special Boat Squadron (SBS) and US Navy SEALS at Tangalle. The SLN received a range of equipment, such as IV simulator Arms, Rubber wounds (for simulated exercises) and personal safety equipment for on-board use. During 2002 the ceasefire arranged by the Norwegians, a team from US Pacific Command visited Sri Lanka on the invitation of the then government of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. The US team included two Special Operations personnel who interacted with the SLN. The US submitted a report on ‘Order of Battle.’

by Shamindra Ferdinando

A top USN delegation, led by the then US Pacific Commander, Admiral Robert F. Willard, arrived in Sri Lanka during third week of January, 2008. The visit took place close on the heels of a confrontation between a USN flotilla and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) patrol boats on January 6, 2008, in international waters, in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Admiral Willard was the senior most US military official to visit Sri Lanka during Eelam War IV.

The US convoy, involved in the unprecedented incident with IRGC vessels, comprised AEGIS guided-missile destroyer, USS Hopper, cruiser, USS Port Royal and frigate, USS Ingraham. (The writer had the opportunity to go on board USS Hopper, on October 6, 1997, along with a group of journalists from the Asia-Pacific region, at the Pearl harbour, exactly a month after the commissioning of the vessel. The group received a briefing from the vessel’s commanding officer, Commander Thomas D. Crowley, on board USS Hopper. Having declared that by Oct 1997, the USN had deployed 19 AEGIS guided-missile destroyers, Commander Crowley emphasized that no other country had vessels with similar capabilities).

The USN examined ways and means of countering the threat posed by heavily armed small boats in the wake of Iranian speedboats maneuvering aggressively, as they issued threats over radio that the USN ships would be blown up.

The then Commander of the USN Fifth Fleet, Vice Admiral, Kevin J. Cosgriff, was quoted in the international media, as having said: "The episode was more serious than we have seen, in particular because it occurred in an important maritime choke point, vital to the global economy." Cosgriff described the Iranian action as "unnecessarily provocative."

In accordance with overall counter measures, to meet any eventuality, the USN wanted Sri Lanka to share its expertise in asymmetrical warfare with the USN. The Sri Lanka Navy readily agreed to part with its experience in fighting Sea Tigers. The US-Sri Lanka relationship should be examined in the backdrop of the world’s solitary superpower, including Sri Lanka in the Expanded Relations Programme (ERP) during the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s administration. The group of journalists, from the Asia-Pacific region, including the writer, received a detailed briefing regarding the ERP project, under which the Sri Lankan military received training. In fact, the US declared the LTTE as a terrorist organization in early October, 1997. (Sri Lanka-US relations solid - The Island, October 15, 1997).

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Oxley, who had been the Defence Advisor, at the US Embassy, at the onset of Eelam War IV had facilitated the growing US-Sri Lanka relationship. Oxley had been involved in the project, leading to USN providing accurate intelligence to the SLN, leading to the destruction of several LTTE ships carrying weapons on the high seas. Oxley’s successor, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Smith, too, worked overtime to enhance relations between the US and Sri Lankan armed forces.

The visit, undertaken by Admiral Willard, paved the way for further enhancement of relations. Although the USN delegation could have received a briefing in Colombo, Admiral Willard decided to visit Trincomlaee, the nerve center of the SLN’s battle against the LTTE. The USN delegation received a comprehensive briefing in Trincomalee as regards, Sea Tiger threat, SLN strategies, as well as its training techniques. The briefing took place at the Command Conference room, in the presence of the then Eastern Commander, Rear Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe. The briefing was given by the then Captain Y.N. Jayarathna. The US delegation went to the extent of having a tour of the Trincomalee harbour, on board a US built Fast Attack Craft (FAC) in service with the SLN. The USN delegation was accompanied by several SLN officers, including RA Samarasinghe and Captain Jayarathna. The FAC was one of six acquired from the US, during President Kumaratunga’s administration. The USN team also evaluated the performances of the ‘primary detection equipment’ available on the FAC. The USN basically wanted to know how the SLN handled LTTE naval units. The USN believed that it could benefit from the SLN’s experience in battling high powered LTTE speed boats. The SLN relish the opportunity to be of assistance to the USN, in the wake of significant US support to Sri Lanka’s military effort against the LTTE. The then Commandant of the Naval and Maritime Academy, Commodore Travis Sinniah (Sinniah joined the US Embassy as its Defence Cooperation Officer after his retirement from the SLN). One of the finest officers produced by the SLN, Sinniah spearheaded the SLN task force, responsible for hunting down several LTTE ships, during Eelam War IV) and Captain Y.N. Jayarathna, the then Commanding officer of the 4th Fast Attack Craft Flotilla (4FAF) briefed the US delegation in Trincomalee. Jayarathna is the incumbent Commandant of the Naval and Maritime Academy. He holds the rank of Commodore.

The US government approval for 30 mm Bushmaster cannons to be deployed on 30 FACs, in service with the SLN, during the 2007-2008 period, gave the SLN the upper hand in its battle against the LTTE. The acquisition of Bushmaster cannons, as well as US Coast Guard Ship, were dealt in US: Friend or foe? (The Island, September 3, 2014).

About a week before Admiral Willard’s visit to Trincomalee, a delegation from the US House Appropriation Committee (HAC) of Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) arrived in Trincomalee to assess the utilization of US resources to meet the LTTE challenge. Having included Sri Lanka in the ERP (Extended Relations Programme), the US launched joint exercises, Flash Style andBalance Style, in 1997. The annual exercises involved the US Special Boat Unit, SLN’s 4th FAF (Fast Attack Craft Flotilla), as well as the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) of the SLN and US Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land teams). Green Berets, too, had participated in joint exercises.

The USN invited both Sinniah and Jararathna to address officers. Jayarathna lectured at US Naval Small Craft Instruction & Technical Training School (NAVCIATTES) whereas Sinniah addressed officers based in Hawaii. Essentially, they shared the SLN vast experience in fighting Sea Tigers. At the time Sinniah and Jayarathna had addressed the USN, the SLN was under heavy pressure, on the northern as well as Eastern seas, though the LTTE had lost eight big supply ships in separate confrontations on the high seas. Soon after Sinniah returned from Hawaii, he was appointed as Flag Officer Commanding Naval Fleet, in addition to the Commandant’s appointment.

The Task Force I, commanded by the then Brigadier, was facing stiff resistance on the Mannar front, while the 57 Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias, too, was struggling on the Vanni central front. Kilinochchi remained firmly under LTTE control, while, the Sea Tigers maintained their strong presence on both the northwestern and the northern seas.

It would be pertinent to mention that Al-Qaeda caused substantial damage to guided missile destroyerUSS Cole in a suicide attack, carried out in the Yemeni port of Aden, on October 12, 2000. The attack claimed the lives of 17 USN personnel and caused injuries to 39. The SLN asserted that the suicide attack, on USS Cole, was similar to operations launched by Sea Tigers, targeting the SLN, as well as merchant vessels. The SLN pointed out the LTTE’s influence in grooming international terrorism.

The Al-Qaeda operation was very much similar to the Black Sea Tiger attack on surveillance command ship ‘Edithara’ in the Kankesanthurai harbour in the middle of the 90s.

In both cases, suicide cadres targeted the waterline. The SLN had shared its experience with the US years before Admiral Willard’s visit to Trincomalee.

Sea Tigers had employed similar tactics in another successful attack on SLN vessel, ‘Abeetha’ off Point Pedro on May 4, 1991.

The US has accused Saudi-born, al-Rahim al-Nashiri, of procuring the boat and explosives, used in the USS Cole attack.

Nashiri, 46, has been in US custody since 2002 and is believed to have been subjected to water boarding and mock executions.

Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan, aka Soosai, in an exclusive interview with BBC’s Francis Harrison, during the Oslo-managed Ceasefire Agreement, had boasted that Al-Qaeda copied tactics from them. Soosai is quoted as having said that other terrorist groups should learn from the LTTE as the Al-Qaeda had already copied them.

The interview, with Soosai, recorded during the LTTE celebrations of Heroes’ Day and broadcast over BBC Television, was posted on the BBC Website’s South Asia section, under the heading, "Tamil Tigers Reveal Suicide Secrets" as a video clip. The news feature introduced the Black Tigers as "the Original Suicide Bombers of the World."

Referring to the attack on USS Cole, Soosai said, "They are using our tactics. I think in Yemen they used our strategy of suicide attack to blow up an American ship. That is exactly what we used to do."

Soosai is believed to have been killed in May, 2009, while crossing the Nanthikadal lagoon with LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and his family.

One-time New Delhi-based Israeli ambassador to Sri Lanka, Mark Sofer, during an interview with the writer, said that his country was a victim of suicide bombing, pioneered by the LTTE. Sofer said that many Israeli civilians had been killed and wounded due to human bombs and Sri Lanka should be proud of achieving military victory over the LTTE.

At the conclusion of the conflict, in May, 2009, the then SLN Commander, Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, revealed security measures adopted to move a convoy from Trincomalee to Kankesanthurai at the height of the conflict. Addressing the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in late 2010, VA Samarasinghe said that the Sea Tiger threat, to ship movements, had been so high that the SLN could not undertake the Trincomalee-Kankesanthurai run without the support of both the SLA and the SLAF. At the height of the conflict, the SLN had to deploy one Fast Gun Boat (FGB), 20 Fast Attack Crafts, 22 Arrow Boats and two Inshore Patrol Crafts (IPC), while one Mi 24 helicopter gunship and one Beach craft, too, were assigned to protect a single Trinco-KKS run. The SLA had to place artillery units deployed along the coast on alert to provide gun fire support, in case of an attack on an SLN convoy.

Regardless of US decision to move a resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), at its 25th session, to pave the way for ongoing UN war crimes probe, Sri Lanka should examine the US support for counter terrorism operations here. The US gradually increased its assistance to Sri Lanka, after having accommodated the Sri Lankan military in its Extended Relations Programme, in 1995. The US decision to direct the SLN to LTTE ships on the high seas, in 2007, undoubtedly helped Sri Lanka to bring the LTTE to its knees, much earlier than anticipated. The destruction of enemy ships, during the second week of September, 2007, and the first week of October, same year, caused a debilitating setback to the LTTE. The LTTE never recovered from the loss of three of its ships, namely ‘Manyoshi’ (sunk on Sept 10, 2007 at 7 a.m), Seishin (sunk on Sept 10, 2007 at 5 pm) , ‘Koshia’ (sunk on Sept 11, 2007 at 3.30 a.m.) and the fourth ship was destroyed on Oct 7, 2007 at 9.30 a.m. Timely US intelligence made a significant impact on the overall Sri Lankan military effort, hence the US became a proud partner in Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE, is beyond question.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Can state decision - making process be influenced through ‘third parties’?




Anti-War protests in Colombo at the onset of Eelam War IV. Norway provided the required funding to carry out the controversial project.

by Shamindra Ferdinando

NGO guru Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, recently fired a broadside at the SLFP-led UPFA government for hiring expensive US public relations firms to influence the Obama administration.

Dr. Rupesinghe ridiculed UPFA policy makers for depending on costly propagandists to derail the US government project meant to haul Sri Lanka up before a formal UN investigation. One-time close confidant of Norwegian decision makers, Dr. Rupesinghe was addressing a colloquium on ‘3rd Narrative’, a book recently launched jointly by Marga Institute (MI) and Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) which dealt with accountability issues during Eelam War IV.

Sri Lanka’s one-time top diplomat in Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke, a fellow panelist at the well attended event, endorsed Dr. Rupesinghe’s assertion. In fact, none of those on the panel, or the audience, challenged Dr. Rupesinghe’s assertion or asked him to explain the circumstances under which he had quit the Western project. Dr. Rupesinghe spearheaded a costly internationally-funded exercise, targeting Sri Lank, in the wake of the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe entering into a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran in February 2002.

The ongoing project involving US public relations firms, is undoubtedly one of the most expensive operations undertaken by the government overseas, to counter the Western push on the human rights front. Whether it can influence the US we’ll know later this month when the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) takes up the accountability issues in Sri Lanka. The government will surely know the outcome of its effort March 2015, when the UNHRC makes a full presentation on the status of its investigations into the accountability issues here.

It would be pertinent to examine efforts made by various countries to influence successive Sri Lankan governments, and the majority community, as well as a sizable section of the Tamil speaking electorate, to reach an understanding with the LTTE. Some foreign governments spent massive sums of money, through various NGOs, even during Eelam War IV. These costly exercises failed to prevent the LTTE from quitting the negotiating table, in April 2003, and the eruption of all out war, in August, 2006. The peace lobby failed to realize that the LTTE had been committed to a battlefield victory and was making intense preparations for war, amidst the Norwegian peace initiative.

Dr. Vigneswaran on P’karan’s folly

Addressing the colloquium, on ‘3rd Narrative’, former EPDP MP, Dr. K. Vigneswaran declared that the LTTE had helped the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the November, 2005, presidential election by depriving Opposition candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, of Tamil votes. Vigneswaran is the first Tamil politician to publicly admit the LTTE strategy which led to Eelam War IV. Therefore, the LTTE move meant that the group wasn’t in anyway influenced by expensive foreign funded projects to promote a negotiated settlement.

For want of a proper government audit, NGOs have been able to receive money, from overseas sponsors, for a variety of projects. In spite of The Island highlighting the pivotal importance, as well as the urgent need to inquire into overseas funding, authorities failed to conduct a thorough investigation. A comprehensive post-war Sri Lanka study, undertaken by the Norwegian government and released in September 2011, revealed large scale funding, received by local organizations. The project was meant to influence the decision makers, at various levels, to facilitate an understanding with the LTTE. Interestingly, Norway also made available sizable funds to the LTTE front organizations.

Some Muslim peace activists, too, benefited due to Norwegian largesse.

Norway names recipients of funds

The Norwegian report, titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) by the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) dealt with the role played by Sri Lankan NGOs. In a bid to support the Norwegian effort, a consortium of donors, including Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US, sponsored special projects to shore up the Norwegian initiative. The study named the National Peace Council (NPC), the International Center for Ethnic Studies (ICES) and the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), as three of the leading organizations involved in the operation. The report discussed the work undertaken by the Berghof Foundation and the Foundation for Co-Existence. The report: "The funding for the Foundation for Co-Existence and the National Anti-War Front, both led by Kumar Rupesinghe, constituted a deliberate attempt by Norway to support an individual and wider organization that could engage with Sinhala politics and society. Additionally, the One-Text initiative brought together second tier politicians in an attempt to foster consensus and flurry of frameworks emerged to reach out to wider public, including the ‘peace and development programme’ at the CHA, an initiative called FLICT (Facilitating Local Initiative for Conflict Transformation), the peace building fund of the UNDP, and activities under USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives. Studies about Sri Lanka’s ‘peace sector’ and evaluation of specific programmes tend to be critical. However, few programmes succeeded in generating new peace constituencies, they tended to pivot on part of the Colombo elite, and they had little success in influencing vernacular political arenas," (page 89).

The CHA, which also joined hands with the MI to launch ‘3rd Narrative’, had been involved in the peace support operation. The government and Western powers adopted a two-track policy. On one hand they painted a rosy picture of the CFA and, at the same time, tough measures were taken to control the reportage of the peace process. The first part of the operation entirely depended on funding and various other privileges, made available by the then government.

While the foreign funded NGO operation depicted a positive picture of the Norwegian-led peace process, the Wickremesinghe’s government, and the LTTE, silenced those who could say something contrary to the Norwegian version. The government closed down Vanni Sevaya, established in the late 80s in army-controlled Vavuniya, soon after the signing of the CFA (Vanni Sevaya closed down-The Island, April 7, 2002). The government a request by the military to restore Vanni Sevaya (Military wants ‘Vanni Sevaya’ restored-The Island, April 19, 2002). The government also directed Army Headquarters to stop issuing daily situation reports to prevent the public from knowing what Wickremesinghe and his top advisors believed was inimical to the Norwegian effort. Obviously, they felt the peace process would remain on track as long as the public remained convinced the LTTE was fully cooperating with the government (Incidents continue in East but no situation reports-The Island, April 5, 2002). The government turned a blind eye to the LTTE stopping the distribution of the EPDP’s party paper, Thinamurasu (LTTE bans EPDP’s Thinamurasu-The Island, April 5, 2002).

None of those, who had been demanding accountability on the part of the Rajapaksa government since May, 2009, didn’t dare at least to issue a media statement condemning the LTTE actions or, at least, publicly urge the group to adhere with the provisions of the CFA. They remained silent when the LTTE quit the negotiating table, in April, 2003.

$ 28 mn for local NGOs for

3-year period

The Norwegian study closely examined the funding of the Sri Lankan project. The CMI-SOAS in their report titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) said: "During 2001-2004, NOK 210 mn (about US$ 28 mn) was allocated to mostly non-governmental Sri Lankan partners in the area of ‘peace building, rehabilitation and reconciliation.’ This includes projects on training and institutional capacity building; awareness creation; mobilizing people/campaigns and dialogue; policy influence; national integration; human rights and good governance; rehabilitation and reconstruction and mine clearance. For the period under review, ten organizations received altogether more than NOK 200 mn. The Foundation for Co-Existence, led by Kumar Rupesinghe, received the most funding, NOK 35 mn (about US$ 6 mn) during 2004-2008. Also the Milinda Moragoda Institute (MMIPE), led by the former Minister of Economic Reforms, Science and Technology, was a large recipient of Norwegian aid for the purpose of ‘humanitarian demining’ during 2003-2009. The Indian NGOs Horizon and Sarvatra and MMIPE together received more than NOK 60 mn, but the larger share of these funds went to Horizon and Sarvatra. While most of these partners received support for peace building purposes, Norway also provided substantial funding for non-governmental organizations with a broader development mandate like Sarvodaya, Sewalanka, the Sareeram Sri Lankan National Foundation and the Hambantota District Chamber of Commerce. Other important partners were the One Text Initiative, the National Anti-War Front (also led by Rupesinghe), the National Peace Council, the Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Forum of Federations and the People’s Peace Front. The Funding was also provided to the LTTE – affiliated organization Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO). Efforts to link aid to the peace process entailed many small projects with a wide range of actors, and in 2004, at least 22 civil society organizations received Norwegian support, including four that worked specially with women’s groups," (page 113).

The Norwegians wouldn’t have named Dr. Rupesinghe as the largest recipient of their financial assistance if he remained faithful to them. The Norwegians reacted angrily to Dr. Rupesinghe switching his allegiance to President Rajapaksa at the on set of the Eelam War. Norway withheld funds allocated to a project launched by Dr. Rupesinghe during Eelam War IV. Dr. Rupesinghe has, on behalf of the Foundation for Co – Existence, alleged that Norway terminated a three-year contract for a special project aimed at improving relations among communities living in the Eastern Province. The project covered the period from 2008-2011.

Dr. Vigneswaran’s public acknowledgment, for the first time, that the LTTE had engineered Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the November, 2005, presidential poll (almost a decade after the event), should be studied by all those demanding accountability on the part of the Sri Lankan government. The government had never made a genuine attempt to inquire into the circumstances leading to all out war, in August, 2006. The Norwegians did absolutely nothing to thwart the LTTE strategythough the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga called for Norwegian intervention. The Norwegians, and the other Co-Chairs to the peace process, namely the US, EU and Japan, turned a blind eye to the despicable LTTE strategy. Almost all foreign funded NGOs, except the Centre for Policy Alternatives, declined to condemn the LTTE-TNA declaration that Tamil speaking people shouldn’t exercise their franchise at the November, 2005, presidential poll. It was a calculated move to ensure Wickremesinhe’s defeat as the LTTE believed that it could overwhelm newly elected President Rajapaksa. What Prabhakaran never realized was Gotabhaya Rajapaksa deciding to take up defence after having campaigned for his brother at the president. Had it not been for Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, formerly of the Gajaba Regiment, the government wouldn’t have been able to build a formidable defence team, comprising war veteran, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, and Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke. In hindsight, the LTTE strategy could have succeeded, if not for Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s return from the US.

Kumaran Pathmanathan, in his first interview with the media after his seizure in Malaysia, in August, 2009, and extradition to Colombo told the writer that the LTTE felt that it could defeat the army within two years.

Over $ 100 mn for Norwegian

NGOs in SL

The Norwegians spent lavishly on both the Sri Lankan as well as the Norwegian NGOs. Norway also made available funds to LTTE front organizations, including the TRO and the LTTE Peace Secretariat The funding had never been an issue as far as the Norwegian project in Sri Lanka was concerned. The Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) revealed the extent of funding available to Norwegian NGOs operating in Sri Lanka. This was in addition to US$ 28 mn made available to Sri Lankan NGOs for a four-year (2001-2004) period. But they received much more funds throughout the conflict to engage in projects to influence decision makers. Even five years after the conclusion of the war, a full disclosure, as regards the funds received by local NGOs, hadn’t been made. Although, the government had vowed from time to time to, inquire into NGO activity, there had never been a comprehensive probe to establish the amount of funds received and how they were spent. The post-war Norwegian investigation revealed that nine Norwegian NGOs, including Caritas Norway, Norwegian Red Cross, Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE Norway, received NOR 804 mn during the 1999-2009 period.

The Norwegian funding for the National Anti-War Front was meant to discourage the government from militarily responding to the LTTE threat. That particular NGO was primarily engaged in propagating the lie that THERE WAS NO MILITARY SOLUTION to the national question. It engaged sections of the Catholic and the Buddhist clergy to campaign against the war. But the government didn’t take any notice of the campaign undertaken by that particular outfit, at the behest of the Norwegians. In fact, the outcome of Eelam War IV could have been different if the LTTE didn’t interfere with the November, 2005, presidential election. Had Wickremesinghe won the presidency, the LTTE could have had an opportunity to overwhelm his administration with a series of devastating attacks. Although, President Rajapaksa, too, faced the same, the response of his government took the LTTE by surprise. Perhaps, the most important policy decision taken at the onset of Eelam War IV was to double the strength of the army. That gave the army an opportunity to conduct large scale operations, on multiple fronts, in the northern theatre of operations. Interestingly, the Norwegian study, too, revealed that Norwegian decision makers believed the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated.

Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan government hadn’t bothered to study the Norwegian report. Although the government refused to cooperate with the Norwegian effort, it should have closely examined the report as it could have helped its defence in Geneva. It was the Norwegian report which pointed out the LTTE’s use of human shields, in late 2006, in the Eastern Province.

Norway has revealed that in May 2007, the Norwegian team responsible for Sri Lanka,(at a strategy session chaired by the then Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store) declared that the Sri Lankan government couldn’t defeat the LTTE militarily. They believed that LTTE had the wherewithal to launch a counter attack to roll back the Sri Lankan Army as it did on several occasions in the past. This was two months before the government brought the entire Eastern Province under its control and two months after the army launched 57 Division on the Vanni Central front.

Interestingly, the Norwegian assessment was very much similar to that of Prof. Rohan Gunaratne, who declared in early 2007, the LTTE couldn’t be defeated under any circumstances, therefore the government should enter into a new dialogue with the group.

Canada based D.B.S. Jeyaraj echoed similar sentiments in late December, 2008. Jejaraj’s prediction was made less than two weeks before the army overran Kilinochchi.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The US: Friend or foe?



January 17, 2008: Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Robert F. Willard meets Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Ministry of Defence, Colombo. He was accompanied by US Ambassador Robert Blake.

The SLN sought the blessings of St. Anthony, the saint who looks after the sea, before launching a highly risky project to track down floating LTTE arsenals on the high seas. Some of those, who had been involved in the operation, prayed at St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade, seeking the saint’s intervention to ensure the return of the ageing SLN fleet after having delivered a deadly blow to the Eelam project.

by Shamindra Ferdinando

In the backdrop of the Sri Lankan government hiring several expensive US public relations firms, consequent to the Obama administration moving a resolution against the country, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March, a review of US military support to Sri Lanka, during the conflict, particularly during Eelam war IV, would be relevant.

Sri Lanka, however, has employed costly US PR firms, even before the UNHRC adopted the resolution at its 25th session. Had they succeded, the US wouldn’t have given leadership to the move in Geneva. Now that a UN investigation is underway, in accordance with the Geneva resolution, PR firms will not be in a position to influence the US decision. The government must realize that the US had thrown its weight behind Sri Lanka’s war efforts, though its partners, involved in the Geneva project, particularly the UK, Canada, France, as well as Norway, are backing external war crimes probe.

The bottom line is that even the US cannot decide on its own on the Geneva operation.

In spite of current US efforts to undermine the Sri Lankan government, it would be necessary to examine the US contribution towards Sri Lanka’s victory.

Although the US had been reluctant to throw its weight behind the then President JRJ, when India intervened in Sri Lanka in the early 80s, the super power ensured two of its closest allies, Israel and Pakistan, provided the required support. Israeli and Pakistani instructors shared the experience with the Sri Lankan Army (SLA), whereas the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) received Israeli built Fast Attack Crafts (FACs) in the early 80s. The SLN could never have met the daunting challenge, posed by the Sea Tigers, without its FACs.

Israel and Pakistan remained two key allies throughout the conflict. Israelis contribution can never be matched, though their equipment never came cheap and sometimes overpriced. The Jewish state provided a range of armaments, from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to Fast Missile Vessels (FMVs).

During the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency in 1997, the US sold six Trinity Marine FACs built at Equitable Shipyard in New Orleans. They were the only US vessels available to Sri Lanka until the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government concluded a deal for the acquisition of US Coast Guard Ship (USCGS) ‘Courageous’ in early 2003, about a year after the signing of the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) (SL acquires US coastguard ship-The Island, March 13, 2003).

SLN takes delivery of US vessel

Sri Lanka took delivery of USCGS Courageous, subsequently commissioned as P 621 SLNS Samudura, on April 21, 2005, as the country was heading towards Eelam war IV.

For want of a clear policy, in dealing with major acquisition of armaments, the armed forces experienced severe difficulties, thereby giving the enemy an unwarranted battlefield advantage. All three services paid a very heavy price for not having the required weapons systems to meet the growing terrorist threat.

The inordinate delay in upgrading the weapons system on FACs caused controversy. In fact, the issue sharply divided the Wickremesinghe’s administration, with the then Lands Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, lambasting those pushing for separate deals to acquire 15 weapons systems each from the US and Israel.

Dr. Senaratne batted for the US deal (Guns for Navy deal runs into heavy weather-The Island, August 24, 2003). There had been subsequent developments as the cabinet took up the issue (Committee to scrutinize Navy deal-The Island, August 27, 2003,) and (Treasury Chief to evaluate Navy deal-The Island, August 28, 2003). Minister Senaratne went to the extent of accusing a section of the SLN of favouring a system (KCB Oerlikon cannon) far inferior to US product, Mark 44 Bushmaster Cannon (Navy chief backing shady weapons deal: Rajitha-The Island, August 31, 2003).

The deal divided the Navy with Dr. Senaratne representing a section of the SLN.

SLN acquires US 30 mm guns

The project was meant to replace the 23 mm cannon, mounted on FACs, with 30 mm cannon, in accordance with an overall strategy to meet the Sea Tiger threat. The SLN had no option but to acquire 30 mm cannon and fire control system due to the Sea Tigers installing 23mm cannon on some of their attack crafts. In spite of a damaging fight, within the UNP-led UNF administration, as well as exchanges with the People’s Alliance (PA), the SLN wasn’t given the green light to go ahead with the project.

Finally, the SLN received authorization from President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government to accept the US offer. The US acted swiftly and decisively to provide 30 units of 30 mm Mark 44 Bushmaster Cannon, manufactured by the ATK, to the SLN on a staggered basis. The US provided the required ammunition from its own stocks as the SLN was desperate to deploy the new weapon against the Sea Tigers.

The deployment of new long range guns greatly strengthened the SLN capability. The US went ahead with the project, regardless of strong lobbying by those who represented the interests of the Tamil Diaspora, supportive of the LTTE. It would be pertinent to mention that the US product had been very much cheaper than the KCB Oerlikon cannon.

The controversial KCB Oerlikon deal had been subsequently investigated by a presidential commission headed by a Supreme Court judge.

During a visit to Chalai, off Mullaitivu, in late April, 2009, to observe a naval blockade, on Puthumathalan, meant to prevent the LTTE leadership from fleeing the country, the writer had an opportunity to speak with naval gunners who explained the advantage of having 30 mm cannon.

Had the US deal failed to materialize, it could have caused a debilitating setback to the SLN. The US made available all 30 units during the war, thereby making an unparallelled contribution to the SLN’s success. The SLN installed the weapon system during late 2007 and early 2008 as the supplier didn’t want to carry out the task. Although the SLN had 52 FACs, acquired from Israel, the US, Colombo Dockyard Limited, as well as South Korea, Bushmaster cannon, were mounted on only 30 crafts, primarily fastest Israeli-built vessels (ASD type). In spite of a section of the SLN having concern over mounting Bushmaster cannons on Trinity Marine vessels, the then SLN Chief, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, ordered the installation. The SLN also installed Bushmaster cannon on the latest FACs acquired from the Colombo Dockyard.

Plan to deploy US 25 mm goes awry

The SLN felt the need to replace the 23 mm cannons as early as 1999. The SLN pushed for 25 mm Bushmaster cannons at that time, though the project never materialized. Had the US deprived Sri Lanka of Bushmaster cannons, the SLN would have found it extremely difficult to face the Sea Tiger threat. Having superior main armament, the FAC Squadron caused irreparable damage to the Sea Tigers in a series of engagements. As the army advanced into the last LTTE stronghold, in the Mullaitivu district, the SLN threw a barrier off Puthumathalan, with FACs mounted with 30 mm Bushmaster cannons taking up positions, along with Special Boat Squadron (SBS) and the Rapid Action Boat Squadron (RABS). The writer was fortunate to visit those deployed there in late April 2009, a few weeks before the LTTE fighting cadre collapsed.

Vice Admiral Karannagoda deployed SLNS Samudura, formerly of the US Coast Guard, for the first successful attack on an LTTE merchant vessel, off Sangamankanda, at the onset of Eelam war IV. SLNS Samudura spearheaded the September 16, 2006 attack. Although the SLN assigned 11 vessels, including two stand-by craft for the operation, SLNS Samudura and SLNS Ranajaya took part in the actual action, while Israeli Kfirs launched from Katunayake air base, too, bombed the LTTE ship.

The vessel went down approximately 120 nautical miles east of Kalmunai at 4.30 pm on September 16, 2006.

The Kalmunai hit was the first after the SLN called off ‘Operation Waruna Kirana,’ a special operation launched in May 2001. ‘Waruna Kirana’ was meant to intercept large LTTE supply vessels heading towards Chalai and Mullaitivu, about 100 to 150 nautical miles off land.

SLNS Samudura again teamed up with three other vessels to track down and destroy three LTTE vessels, about 2,800 kms southeast of Sri Lanka, on September 10 and 11, 2007. The SLN destroyed the remaining LTTE vessel about 2,600 kms south of Dondra head, on October 7, 2007. Although, SLNS Samudura, hadn’t been involved in the final operation, the US provided the intelligence required by the SLN to carry out the operation. The US intelligence led to the destruction of four LTTE vessels in separate confrontations, on September 10, 11 and Oct 7, 2007.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa publicly acknowledged the US backing the destruction of the LTTE fleet following the conclusion of the conflict.

Blake moves from Delhi to Colombo

Robert O. Blake, Jr presented his credentials to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on September 9, 2006. Having served at the US diplomatic mission, in New Delhi, as Deputy Chief, Blake played a crucial role in ensuring continued US support to the Sri Lankan military. Sri Lanka acquired Bushmaster cannons under the auspices of Ambassador Blake. Sri Lanka also received crucial intelligence from the US to hunt down LTTE ships (also during his time), though it would never have materilized without the support of the US Pacific Command. Perhaps, Ambassador Blake hadn’t been happy with the relationship between the SLN and the Pacific Command, though he didn’t make an issue out of it.

Ambassador Blake stressed his country’s commitment to assist the Sri Lankan military on September 19, 2006, less than a week after the SLN deployed an ex-US Coast Guard ship to destroy an LTTE vessel, allegedly carrying artillery rounds as well as anti-aircraft missiles among other armaments. Addressing the media at the Cinnamon Grand, Ambassador Blake explained US actions intended to assist Sri Lanka’s efforts to eradicate terrorism. Blake discussed the circumstances under which the FBI had carried out a successful sting operation targeting LTTE operatives during the previous month (US-Tigers not willing to give up violence-The Island September 20th, 2006).

FBI entraps LTTE

The FBI operation caused an irreparable damage to LTTE efforts to acquire a range of weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, night vision, as well as sniper guns. The FBI also revealed the LTTE intention to bribe a senior US State Department official to the tune of US 1 mn in a bid to remove the group from the list of proscribed organizations.

If the LTTE wasn’t trapped by the FBI, it could have bought required armaments, particularly anti-aircraft missiles, to neutralise the SLAF’s jet squadrons at the onset of Eelam war IV. The LTTE had been eying SA-18 to be used against jet squadrons.

The US also investigated Raj Rajaratnam, founder of the Galleon Group hedge fund, for his alleged relationship with the LTTE. US action crippled Rajaratnam to a large extent during the conflict leading to his eventual conviction for conspiracy and securities fraud in one of the biggest insider-trading cases in the history of Wall Street in early 2011.

It would be pertinent to, at least briefly, examine the events leading to destruction of four LTTE ships on September 10, 11 and Oct 10. The change of command at the US Pacific Fleet in early 2007 herald an unprecedented change in the US approach.

Unprecedented support from US Pacific Command

Admiral Robert F. Willard succeeded Admiral Gary R. Roughead, on May 7, 2007, as Commander of the US Pacific Fleet. The appointment couldn’t have taken place at a better time for Sri Lanka. Having taken the upper hand in the Eastern Province, the SLA opened a new campaign on the Vanni front. The newly raised 57 Division was struggling on the Vanni (central front) since it launched operations in March 2007. Admiral Willard paved the way for unprecedented US support for SLN efforts to hunt down floating LTTE arsenals on the high seas. In fact, the SLN task force assigned to destroy four LTTE ships had been in its way to the ‘targets’ as Ambassador Blake met VA Karannagoda in Colombo. Among the vessels included in the task force, which sank three LTTE ships on September 10 and 11, was former USCGS Courageous. A senior serving SLN official recalled the support extended by the then US Defence Attache here.

The officer was succeeded by Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith, who continued the excellent relationship with the Sri Lankan military. Responding to queries by The Island, the SLN, speaking on the condition of anonymity, stressed that the US was impressed with the high profile SLN operations carried out in international waters over a period of time. Commodore Travis Sinnaiah, who had functioned as the task force commander, joined the US Embassy in Colombo, after having retired from the SLN. Sinnaiah could have served the country for many more years, though he opted to leave ‘silent service.’ His departure caused a big loss.

Much to the credit of all those involved in these fleet operations, the country didn’t face any allegations as regards violations of international laws.

During the third week of January, 2008, Admiral Willard visited Colombo as the Sri Lankan military was still battling the LTTE on the Vanni front. Admiral Willard visited the Trincomalee Naval base, the nerve center of the SLN campaign against the LTTE, to meet those spearheading the operations. Among them were the Commanding Officers of the Fast Attack Squadron and the Special Boat Squadron. In Colombo, Admiral Willard called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The US delegation also inspected the radar-based maritime surveillance system and the Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBS), provided by the US, under Section 1206 of the US National Defence Authorization Act. The RHIBS project was meant to enhance SLN’s ability to detect hostile activity. The US embassy estimated the equipment worth US 11 mn would be of critical importance to overall Sri Lankan efforts to neutralise terrorist threat.

Interestingly, the US visit took place in the wake of President Rajapaksa dumping the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) on January 2, 2008. It was the first high level visit since Sri Lanka signed the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), in 2007, though some of UPFA constituent partners strongly opposed the move (High level US military visit underway as Army steps up offensive with strap line Jets bomb Jayapuram LTTE meeting point frequented by senior cadres-The Island, January 18, 2008.

During a banquet at the SLN headquarters, Admiral Willard congratulated SLN for its success against the LTTE, particularly the high profile sinking of four LTTE floating warehouses in September and October 2007. The SLN was told how the Pacific Command had monitored the SLN action on the high seas and the excitement among officers (US to beef up SL’s maritime surveillance capability-The Island January 20, 2008).