Three years ago, then Commander of the Army called for the written explanation of a Major General in charge of a coveted arm.
The charge - without official authorisation he was playing liaison officer for the representative of a renowned US international think tank. The officer had sought private appointments with some persons holding key positions in the defence and security establishments. This included senior Sri Lankan intelligence officials.
Though belatedly, the Major General owned up his misdemeanor. He had successfully set up some meetings by then. That is not all. He had also given his own opinion. He was warned and the matter ended there. Today, both the Commander in question and the Major General are retired. The latter is busy managing disasters and calamities. But his unauthorised action whilst in service has contributed to a "disaster" of sorts. This is in terms of the country's image and its security forces.
The work of the representative, a foreign academic cum researcher, The Sunday Times learnt, was for the RAND Corporation. It is a United States based non profit research organization "providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world." Yet, questions arise over some of the "findings" and whether they are both factual and objective.
Part two of a RAND research project titled 'BEYOND AL QAEDA - The Outer Rings of the Terrorist Universe" includes Sri Lanka. It was sponsored by the US Air Force and conducted in the Strategy and Doctrine Programme of RAND Project Air Force. The 178 page report notes it would be of "value to the national security community and to interested members of the general public, especially those with an interest in combating the blight of international terrorism." Research for the project was completed in September 2004 and the report was released last year.
Project Air Force, a division of RAND Corporation, is the US Air Force's federally funded research and development centre for studies and analysis. PAF provides "the air force with independent analysis of policy alternatives affecting the development, employment, combat readiness, and support of current and future aerospace forces."
Reproduced below are some of the highlights of references made to both Sri Lankan security forces as well as the LTTE.
= In many ways, the SLAF (Sri Lanka Air Force) has yet to emerge as a professional force that truly understands the nature and type of war it has been fighting. The majority of commanders have never seen any action, with many promoted purely on the basis of seniority or as a result of political connections, personal loyalties and friendships. Compounding the situation is the wholly inadequate training and support that is given to regular soldiers. Some recruits had been dispatched to the frontline after only four weeks of basic combat training, and troops regularly cite shortages in such basic requirement as modern assault rifles, ammunition, and field radio sets.
On a strategic level, the SLAF tends to rely on outdated doctrines that place a premium taking and holding static lines of defence through maximum force as opposed to more nuanced (and relevant) counter insurgency operations that combine civil campaigns to win hearts and minds with directed disruptive missions behind enemy lines.
Indeed the one positive initiative to create a permanent special forces body able to undertake unconventional missions of this type - Long Range Patrol Group (LRPG) - was reversed in 2003 after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe dismantled the group following unsubstantiated claims that the squad was involved in a plot against his ruling coalition. (The Long Range Reconnaisance Patrol (LRRP has been erroneously referred to as LRPG)
The weakness and associated failings of the SLAF have provided the LTTE with a useful benchmark of what not to do in terms of combat readiness and effectiveness. Indeed the group's military structure is exactly contrary to that of the Sri Lankan army…….
Tactically the LTTE has conspicuously exploited the outmoded doctrines of the SLAF to repeatedly confound Sri Lankan military offensives. Indeed, one of the main reasons the army has failed to secure much of the north and east is due to its overwhelming reliance on set-piece, trench warfare. The Tigers quickly recognized that the best way to defeat this type of war fighting stance was first to monitor the combat readiness and deployment size of known defence lines using long-range reconnaissance and sabotage teams and then, based on this intelligence, to hit with overwhelming artillery fire and battalion sized forces…….
These observations in Project Air Force report are in marked contrast to the findings by the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) assessment of the armed forces of Sri Lanka. In 2002, USPACOM formed, trained and deployed an assessment team to Sri Lanka in accordance with a US Department of Defense request.
Their voluminous report deals at length with the Air Force apart from the Army and the Navy. In brief, this is their observation of the SLAF: "The assessment of the SLAF revealed an adequate military structure manned with competent, committed personnel, but with critical operational shortfalls. The primary operational shortfalls are: inadequate Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance ….."
= Current estimates of the LTTE's overall on-ground strength in Sri Lanka vary between a low of 12,000 to a high in excess of 20,000. The true figure likely lies somewhere between these two approximations, although a recent split in Tiger ranks resulting from the defection of the group's special commander for the Eastern Batticaloa-Ampara District, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (alias Colonel Karuna), has complicated the picture somewhat, reducing the number of cadres available to Prabhakaran by an estimated 5,500.
Although Karuna's departure represents a potentially serious blow to the LTTE, it probably will not significantly dent the group's overall human resource and operational capabilities, for three reasons. First, most Tamil forces are concentrated in the Prabhakaran loyal districts of northern Sri Lanka. Second, virtually all the specialist units at the centre of past militant activities - including Black Tigers, the Leopards Division, and the intelligence wing - remain fiercely loyal to the LTTE and, just as important, view Prabhakaran's continued leadership as absolutely essential to the success of the Eelam struggle. Third, the immediate threat from Karuna was silenced after his forces were decisively defeated in a sustained Tiger offensive at the Verugal River on April 9 2004.
= Boosting its tactical and operational base is part of the LTTE's active and innovate R & D (Research and Development) agenda. The group has demonstrated remarkable skill in this regard, particularly in the realms of suicide devices, standoff resources, and marine attack munitions…….
In the conclusion, the report notes that the LTTE does not presently threaten the United States. However, it notes that "it does provide a benchmark for the sophistication that a sub state insurgency can achieve given the right combination of circumstances."
The document warns "there is always the danger that the group (the LTTE) could contract out its expertise to other groups that are of more immediate relevance to the ongoing global war on terror, including Jihadists in South and Southeast Asia, or could itself come to view Washington as an obstacle to the attainment of Tamil objectives.
It says: According to one source in Colombo's Internal Intelligence Directorate (IID), the LTTE has already made contact with al-Qaeda through Pathmanathan Kumaran (the reference is to LTTE weapons procuring boss Kumaran Pathmanathan), who allegedly travelled to Kabul between 2000 and 2001 to try to arrange the procurement of surface to air missiles. Note: The reference to IID is erroneous. It is in effect a reference to the former Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DII) which has now been re-named as State Intelligence Service (SIS).
The report adds: "The same IID (should be DII) source also explicitly referred to the residual threat of attacks being directed at US warships visiting the port of Trincomalee should Prabhakaran begin to view Washington's stance in the current peace process as unalterably opposed to the notion of an independent or at least fully autonomous Tamil homeland. For these reasons, the United States needs to be aware of how the LTTE has evolved and how learning has affected its organizational capabilities and the corresponding threat levels that those capabilities represent."
The document also deals with what it calls "Tamil Tigers Widespread International Criminal Network." The Project Air Force report quotes intelligence officials in Canada, Australia and the UK as saying that the LTTE is playing a "pivotal role in smuggling illegal migrants and refugees out of Sri Lanka and India to the West, charging anywhere between US $ 18,000 and $ 32,000 per transaction.
It quotes the Toronto based Mackenzie Institute as claiming that some of the "most profitable LTTE activities have been in the form of heroin trafficking, particularly since the 1980s when Afghan and Pakistani producers started to use smuggling routes through India and Sri Lanka more frequently." Officials in Colombo agree; one senior official asserted that collections from the Tamil diaspora pale compared to the group's narco based revenue," the report notes. However, it also asserts that "Definitive proof linking the LTTE to an official policy of drug trafficking has yet to materialize."
Noting that the LTTE's arms procurement network is led by Pathmanathan or KP, the report says "facilitating the movement of arms is a highly active merchant shipping network known as the Sea Pigeons." The LTTE, it adds, uses 11 deep sea freighters under Honduran, Panamanian or Liberian flags of convenience. It points out that the LTTE has effectively exploited the notorious lax registration requirements of shipping bureaus in these countries, allowing the group to confound international tracking and monitoring attempts by repeatedly changing the names.
According to the report, the LTTE has "moved to establish major weapons trading centres in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, North Korea, Ukraine, Croatia and South Africa."