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Sri Lanka Army

The Sri Lankan Army is the oldest and largest of the nation's three armed services. It was established as the Royal Ceylon Army in 1949, and was renamed when Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972. The commander of the army exercises direct operational control over the force.

After the 1971 uprising, the army expanded its range of weapons from the original stock of World War II-era British Lee Enfield rifles and 4.2-inch heavy mortars. New sources of weaponry in the mid-to-late 1970s included the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and China, countries with which the left-leaning Bandaranaike government had the closest ties. China continued to be an important source into the 1980s, and was joined by Australia, Italy, South Africa, Israel,and the United States. New equipment included 85mm field guns, light trucks, and armored personnel carriers. Chinese copies of Soviet small arms were the basic weapons used by the infantry. Of particular note were the Type 56 semiautomatic rifle (based on the Soviet AK), the Type 69 rocket launcher (like the Soviet RPG-7), and the Type 56 light machine gun, a copy of the Soviet 7.62mm RPD.

Despite the rapid acquisition of trucks and armored personnel carriers, individual units of the army had no transportation capability of their own, and most patrols were carried out on foot. Helicopters were available only for special operations, and most troop transport was by ordinary buses or minibuses. This situation frequently left troops vulnerable to mines, and many of the army's casualties occurred in this fashion, rather than in face-to-face combat with the insurgents. Because of the small geographical area within which the forces were deployed, long supply lines were not necessary, and individual units frequently made their own decisions about what rations to carry on a given operation.

Most training is provided at the Army Training Centre in Diyatalawa, Badulla District, Uva Province. The center encompasses three separate facilities: the Sri Lankan Military Academy, the Non-Commissioned Officers' School, and the Recruit Training School. The Military Academy was founded in 1981 and absorbed the earlier Officers' Cadet School and the Officers' Study Center. In the late 1980s, it was providing training in tactics and administration, and its graduates were commissioned as officers in the regular forces. The officer cadets' course lasted ninety weeks and prepared cadets to serve as platoon commanders. It included military and academic subjects as well as physical training, and placed a special emphasis on fostering leadership qualities and an understanding of the role of the officer as a servant of the state.

Because of an extreme shortage of officers at the lower levels, a short commission course was developed to speed the training process. Cadets in this course received fifty-six weeks of training and committed themselves to five years of service with the option of continuing their careers in the military. The Army Training Centre handled approximately 300 recruits at a time and, in 1982, reportedly trained 18 officers. Additional training is provided by individual field units. Cadet training was offered at the Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy established in 1981 in Ratmalana, fourteen kilometers south of Colombo. (The academy was named after the nation's third prime minister.) Each year, the academy admits fifty cadets (ages seventeen to nineteen) for a three-year program of academic work and basic training. Graduates continue their studies at a regular university before taking up a full-time career in the military services.

With the limited capacity of indigenous training facilities, the armed forces have relied extensively on foreign military training. The British played a central role in the early years following independence and have continued to be an important source of military expertise. Other sources have included Pakistan, Australia, Malaysia, and the United States. In addition, in an agreement reached in 1984, Israeli security personnel (reportedly from Shin Bet, the Israeli counterespionage and internal security organization) went to Sri Lanka to train army officers in counterinsurgency techniques.

General Sarath Fonseka, appointed Commander of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) from December 6, 2005, commanded troops fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north of the island for most of his career in the infantry. He served twice as Commander of the Security Forces in Jaffna. The target of an April 2006 Tiger suicide-bombing attempt on his life, Fonseka has pursued a hard-line policy toward the LTTE. He is a Legal Permanent Resident of the U.S. currently residing in Sri Lanka under a waiver of the U.S. residency requirement. General Fonseka's appointment as Commander is subject to annual renewal. Secretary of Defense Gothabaya Rajapaksa [President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother] recommended Fonseka's extension when his assignment expired in December 2006.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa served twenty years in the Sri Lankan Army alongside Fonseka when they were both lieutenant colonels fighting the LTTE. By pairing these two like-minded leaders, the president created a team he trusted to coordinate a victory. Fonseka later discussed how he transformed the Army: "When I took over, most officers had the mentality that we cannot win this war, as had been the case in the past three Eelam Wars. But my belief was that with the right strategy and right selection of meritorious officers at every level, the LTTE could be defeated. So I personally selected capable Division, Task Force as well as Brigade commanders, not on seniority, but based on their past capabilities in the battlefield. I handpicked these officers on their merits. I placed my confidence in them."

By 2007 General Sarath Fonseka was unpopular among the senior army officer corps and reviled by his fellow service commanders, particularly Navy Commander Karannagoda. But Fonseka made himself politically indispensable to the Rajapaksa administration, and so gained an extension of his term beyond the normal retirement age. He would otherwise had to leave in September 2008.

The charismatic commander of the army, General Sarath Fonseka, received much credit for the May 2009 victory over the LTTE. General Fonseka was expected to serve till the end of December 2009 -- but the President made sweeping changes at the very top of the security establishment. Fonseka was moved up to the newly-created position of chief of defence staff months before December 2009. The general learnt, much to his chagrin, that the position entailed little or no influence over military matters. Chief of Defense (CHOD) General Sarath Fonseka submitted his resignation to President Rajapaksa on 12 November 2009.

Retired Army General Sarath Fonseka expressed disappointment at the way he was treated after the military victory against the Tigers. In November 2011 Fonseka was found guilty of charges against him and has been sentenced to 3 years imprisonment by the Colombo High Court. Fonseka, who was already serving a 30-month jail term imposed by a court martial, faced 3 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs.5000. The charges against him were based on making a false statement to the Editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper that the Defence Secretary Gorabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered not to accommodate any of the LTTE leaders attempting to surrender with white flags, and thereby inciting violence.

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Page last modified: 05-05-2012 19:19:11 ZULU