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Sri Lanka Army - Troop Strength

In late 1987, the army had a total estimated strength of up to 40,000 troops, about evenly divided between regular army personnel and reservists on active duty. The approximately 20,000 regular army troops represented a significant increase over the 1983 strength of only 12,000. Aggressive recruitment campaigns following the 1983 riots raised this number to 16,000 by early 1985.

In July 2008 General Sarath Fonseka stated that "The Sri Lanka Army which had a force strength of 118,000 has now gone upto 162,000. An ambitious five-year plan for expansion was projected in mid-2009, in the immediate aftermath of the May 2009 defeat of the LTTE insurgency. The Sri Lankan military laid out plans to roughly double its size to deal with the need for security in the post-conflict situation. The Army Commander announced plans to recruit about 100,000 new soldiers at an accelerated pace. In addition, the government announced the creation of two new military commands at Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, the main towns in the formerly LTTE-controlled areas. The cost of the project may be nearly $3 billion. The plan was unaffordable for the Sri Lankan government under any scenario.

The Sri Lankan military planned to enlist at least 100,000 additional soldiers to head off a possible resurgence by the LTTE. General Sarath Fonseka stated that the proposed troop buildup addressed concerns that remnants of the LTTE currently living abroad my resurrect under new leadership. "There may be people abroad trying to promote a new leader and stage a comeback," Fonseka told state-run Independent Television Network. "Our strength is 200,000 and it will become 300,000 soon. It will not be easy for them to build up a terror group as they did before." In order to keep the LTTE from rebuilding, General Fonseka called on more men to enlist in the Sri Lankan military. "We like to see young men joining us more quickly," he said. "We don't mind enlisting even 10,000 a month; we need a lot more soldiers to reach our goal."

In the same interview, as reported by government-owned Sinhala newspapers, General Fonseka announced plans to establish new commands in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu (the main towns of the Vanni, occupied by the Tamil Tigers for many years). The Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi Army camps will be upgraded to "Security Forces Headquarters" (SFHQ), commanded by Major Generals, along the lines of the existing SFHQs in Vavuniya and Jaffna.

A 2009 report and supporting documentation indicated that the Sri Lankan military planned to expand greatly over the next five years. The documents contain a rationale for the expansion, which includes: "Sri Lanka, even though being an Island with insignificant landmass, her strategic location in the world map with a large Tamil speaking community living across the Palk strait is a factor in the overall geopolitical frame work in the South Asian region... Maintaining a large Ground Force to act as a deterrent against any Internal and External Threats and Aggressions Targeting the Sovereignty of the Nation and the populace is a viable option to overcome such negative influences. The entire plan for the future expansion/deployment has been worked out in keeping with the above indicated requisites in mind... maintaining a Military presence with strength and depth to hold the strategically important Townships and Communication Centers is critical in an overall perspective to subdue any acts of Terrorism or Sabotage reoccurring whilst continuing with Pacification Operations to win over the public. Conduct of Aggressive Intelligence Operations and pursuing Psychological Operations to rehabilitate the mind set of the public to tilt their affinity will also be facilitated by such a deployment. In this context the Sri Lanka Army persists with the view that the control of the major Townships, Population Centers and the Population should be vested with them."

A committee composed of the three service chiefs reportedly drafted the plan. It entailed increasing the size of the armed forces by a total of 210,000 soldiers over the five years up to 2015, to a final strength of 410,000 ) 63% regular forces and 37% "volunteers." The projected cost was 331.9 billion rupees, or about US$ 2.8 billion at current exchange rates. The fiscal impact was greatest in the out-years, as the Army would reach its final intended size, but also because of an equally ambitious procurement program.

An interesting omission in the plan was any substantive discussion of a role for Sri Lanka's police in providing security in the north. This may reflect a lack of confidence that the police have the capacity to assume greater responsibility for internal security, particularly in the the former conflict zone. It may also reflect the service chiefs' desire to continue receiving priority for GSL resources in the post-conflict context and to avoid being subjected to rapid demobilization.

The plan was simply unaffordable under any scenario. Such an enormous increase in defense costs would presumably require a Cabinet decision. Further, the project for military expansion brings into question the seriousness of the government's commitment to the IMF to reduce the overall fiscal deficit to 7% of GDP. The plan nevertheless offered a valuable perspective into the mindset of the officers who produced it and their intentions for pacifying the post-conflict north.

As of late 2009 Sri Lanka planned to increase its security forces by 25,000 troops, primarily based in the army. According to Sri Lankan generals, the increased military is needed to provide adequate security in the North, to enable peaceful settlements, and to fill positions of those killed or disabled by the LTTE. Although there have not been any LTTE attacks since the end of the war in May 2009, the Sri Lankan military appeared to have serious concerns about the resurgence of the LTTE and wants to take preventive measures. The army also served as the police in the North due to a shortage of police personnel. The military planned to make capital expenditures to counter perceived future LTTE threats and to maintain peace. The Sri Lankan military hoped to build four to five new military posts in the North and East.

On 25 July 2010 Army Commander Lt. General Jagath Jayasuriya said that the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) with over 200,000 men is adequate to defend all threats including any new terrorism threats. The Army Chief told the Sunday Observer that there were no fresh moves to increase SLAs manpower as it already had over 203,000 well-trained soldiers. The SLAs manpower was increased manifold during the military operations against the LTTE and new fighting divisions were established.

The actual headcount of the Sri Lankan Army is a bit of a puzzle. Since 1995 the authoritative Military Balance, published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, as estimated the total number of troops on active duty at more than 100,000 and less than 120,000, up from 50,000 in the year 1990. But the number of maneuver battalions has increased from about 18 in 1990 to over 100 by the year 2010. The number of maneuver battalions increased from about 67 in 1990 to over 100 by the year 2010, a period during which the IISS reports a modest decline in total troop strength. It is a known fact that Sri Lankan battalions can take some time from the date at which they are raised until the date at which they reach full strength, but these numbers don't entirely add up.

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Page last modified: 05-05-2012 19:19:13 ZULU