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The Situation Report

6th June 1999

A new body and a new head to counter terrorism

By Iqbal Athas

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A well kept secret about a major change in the country's security establishment became public almost by chance last Monday.

Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, was meeting a 15 member delegation from Pakistan's National Defence College, who were concluding a four day visit to Sri Lanka.

The team led by directing staff, Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema and Brigadier Mohamed Arshad, who had met top military officials and visited defence establishments, had several questions in store, most of them related to the ongoing separatist war.

One of them sought details of how the nearly six month old Joint Operations Bureau (JOB) worked. 'Well, that's no more. We have a system like yours now,' Mr. de Silva replied. He disclosed that a Joint Operations Headquarters has been set up. The three service commanders - Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya (Army), Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakoddy (Air Force) and Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera (Navy) - heard of the major change formally only when Mr. de Silva responded to the question.

It seemed that Lt. Gen. Weerasooriya had some inclination of the move for he had been told earlier to re-call for active service Gen. Daluwatte, from the Regular Reserve. General Rohan de S. Daluwatte, Defence Ministry sources said, had been told earlier that Monday morning he was now the Chief of Defence Staff. A formal letter of appointment was to follow.

Defence Secretary de Silva answered a string of questions raised by the Pakistani team. It was made up of Pakistani Student Officers Brigadier Mir Haider Ali Khan, Brigadier Saheer Ahmed Khan, Brigadier Shakeel Tayyab Trimizi, Air Commodore Khalid Hussain, Captain Parvez Asgher (Pakistan Navy), Lt. Col. S. Ithar Houssain Shah, Lt. Col. Muhammed Farook Khattak, Lt. Col. Muhammed Mansur Aslam, Lt. Col. Tughral Yamin, Lt. Col. Agha Muhammed Umer Farooq and Mr. Sultan Nasiruddin. There were also two foreign officers - Colonel L. Emerjuru (Nigeria) and Colonel Abdullah Ali Salem Al Housaini (United Arab Emirates).

As the session at the Defence Ministry's conference room ended and the participants were walking out, a puzzled Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Tissera was heard asking Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Weerasooriya 'Weera, what do you think of this ?' Later that Monday night, Vice Admiral Tissera played host to the Pakistani delegation at a dinner at Navy Headquarters, a few hours before the team took their return flight home. The talking point among local senior military officials was about the changes announced that morning.

That Monday afternoon, when the National Security Council met at the JOB Headquarters, the amiable Air Chief, Air Marshal Weerakoddy, in a light hearted note asked Gen. Daluwatte 'do I congratulate you.' He appeared uncertain for the letter of appointment had not arrived. He replied 'I really don't know.'

The meeting was chaired by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. However, Deputy Defence Minister, Anuruddha Ratwatte, was conspicuous by his absence. This meeting was to give rise to reports that President Kumaratunga and Defence Secretary de Silva had personally visited Gen. Daluwatte's office (at JOB Headquarters) after he was named Chief of Defence Staff. The NSC meeting only saw a presentation by Brigadier Gamini Hettiaratchi, Commandant, Kotelawala Defence Academy.

If a decision was made days earlier to effect a major change in the security establishment, three days before Defence Secretary de Silva made the announcement, it had taken legal effect. That was through a gazette notification on Thursday, May 27.

President Kumaratunga signed a decree under the Public Security Ordinance promulgating Emergency (National Security Council) Regulations No 1 of 1999.

This is what the regulations said:

'There shall be a Council to be called the National Security Council charged with the maintenance of national security with authority to direct security operations and matters incidental to it.

o The President shall as Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, be the Head of the National Security Council.

o The National Security Council shall consist of the following members:

(a) A Minister or more than one Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers, if any, nominated by the President.

(b) The Deputy Minister of the Ministry in charge of the subject of Defence.

(c) The Secretary to the President.

(d) The Secretary to the Ministry of the Minister in charge of the subject of Defence.

(e) The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) appointed under Regulation 5 (f) the Commander of the Army (g) the Commander of the Navy (h) the Commander of the Air Force (i) the Inspector General of Police and (j) the Director General of Internal Intelligence

o There shall be a Chief of Defence Staff Joint Operations who shall be appointed by, and be responsible to, the President.

o The armed forces and such officers of the police force as are engaged in anti-terrorist operations shall be under the command of the Chief of Defence Staff, Joint Operations and for this purpose, the Commander of the Army, the Commander of the Navy, the Commander of the Air Force and the Inspector General of Police shall act under his command.

oIt shall be the duty of the Defence Staff, Joint Operations:

(a) to implement directions issued to him by (i) the President; and (ii) the National Security Council and conveyed to him on behalf of the President, by the Deputy Minister of the Ministry in charge of the subject of Defence and the Secretary to the Ministry of the Minister in charge of the subject of Defence.

(b) to advise the National Security Council on the operational capability and preparedness of the armed forces and the police force under his command.

(c) to maintain a Joint Operations Headquarters in order to achieve above.

o The provisions of these regulations shall have effect notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the Army Act, the Navy Act, the Air Force Act or any other written law.

oIn these regulations 'armed forces' means the Sri Lanka Army, the Sri Lanka Navy and the Sri Lanka Air Force.'

Another Gazette notification issued on behalf of the President by her Secretary, K. Balapatabendi, under the Emergency (National Security Council) Regulations No 1 of 1999, on Thursday, June 3 said:

'It is hereby notified that in terms of Regulation 5 of the Emergency (National Security Council) Regulations No 1 of 1999 General R. de S. Daluwatta, WWW, RWP, RSP, VSV, USP has been appointed by the President to be the Chief of Defence Staff of the Joint Operations Headquarters with effect from 31st May, 1999.'

As the news of his appointment became official, Gen. Daluwatte left last Thursday for the South Indian city of Puttarpathi to pay homage to Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He is a staunch devotee of the Indian saint and his first engagement, upon appointment as Chief of Defence Staff, was to seek his blessings. The title Chief of Defence Staff was one General Daluwatte himself recommended in a report to President Kumaratunga after he undertook a three nation tour to study joint military command systems. It is an important post in United Kingdom's joint command apparatus and is currently held by General Sir Charles Guthrie. Gen. Daluwatte also visited France and the United States. He is expected to formally assume duties tomorrow, this time in uniform as against shirt and tie during six months as Chairman of Joint Operations Bureau.

The JOB came into being on January 6, this year, just two months after President Kumaratunga took personal control of running the military machine against the LTTE. Its main task was to prepare strategic plans in consultation with the three Service Commanders and present to the National Security Council (NSC). The Chairman of JOB was required to co-ordinate planning of operations based on the directions given by the NSC.

However, the JOB was only vested with advisory, monitoring and co-ordinating responsibility. Although it was made answerable to the President and the NSC, in those functions, the question of accountability was not defined. It became clear in the past months that the execution of NSC policy remained in the hands of the service commanders with the JOB as a by-stander. Hence there was no chain of command and accountability was not clearly defined.

But the setting up of a Joint Operations Headquarters and the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff has dramatically changed the situation. All service commanders and the Inspector General of Police have been brought under the command of the CDS for anti-terrorist operations. Thus a chain command and accountability has been established.

These are the significant elements in the gazette notification of May 27. Besides including the Chief of Defence Staff in the Emergency (National Security Council) Regulations No 1 of 1999, both the NSC with all other members have continued to function over the years. But the Council (including its other members) have been granted legal status with the inclusion of the CDS and the Joint Operations Headquarters. The fact that service commanders themselves were unaware and no official announcement was made (despite two separate Gazette notifications) caused widespread speculation in both political and defence circles this week. One main question that was being raised was the role of Deputy Defence Minister Ratwatte in future anti-terrorist operations. If one is to go by Minister Ratwatte's much publicised assessment that the ongoing separatist war was 96 per cent complete, the Joint Operations Headquarters (and a post of Chief of Defence Staff) were being created to finish a mere 4 per cent that remains.

Be that as it may, Minister Ratwatte has been visiting the battle areas accompanied by the three service commanders and the Inspector General of Police even after President Kumaratunga took direct control of the war machine. He was personally executing the tasks decided upon by President Kumaratunga and the National Security Council of which he is a member. In this exercise, he has often visited the operational areas and conferred with field commanders. Last month, he flew to Jaffna and outlying areas to assess the security situation and later made a detailed presentation to President Kumaratunga.

However, he has stood clear of the JOB. He has also made it clear that he was opposed in principle to the establishment of the JOB. Neither the then JOB Chairman nor his Bureau officials have been present at conferences chaired by Minister Ratwatte. They have also been absent when the Deputy Defence Minister toured the operational areas in the company of the service commanders and the IGP. Gen. Daluwatte himself was absent from meetings of the National Security Council until March 8 (Situation Report - March 14) when he was invited to attend. Now that the Joint Operations Bureau has been changed to a fully fledged Joint Operations Headquarters and General Daluwatte elevated from Chairman, JOB to Chief of Defence Staff - the highest ranking serving military official in Sri Lanka - the question remains whether Minister Ratwatte will recognise the new status. If the new Emergency (National Security Council) Regulations are applied in the context of 'anti terrorist operations', he is listed as a member of the National Security Council and is identified as an instrument to convey directions issued to him by the President and the National Security Council to the Chief of Defence Staff.

After the new changes became public, Minister Ratwatte presided at a top level conference of military officials last Friday at one of his Colombo offices. Though Gen. Daluwatte was away in South India, no other official representing the Joint Operations Headquarters was present at this conference though the discussions centred on matters now coming under the JOH. The creation of a Joint Operations Headquarters does not alter the answerability of the defence services to the political establishment. The defence establishment remains under the authority of the Commander-in- Chief who is the President and the National Security Council, the Chairperson of which she is also the President.

The JOH now becomes a link in the chain of command at the apex of the defence system. It is the essential cog between the services and the National Security Council. It replaces what hitherto was an ad hoc system of operational command which was exercised by the Deputy Minister of Defence through his ex - officio position in the Ministry of Defence.

This change now clearly vests the accountability for operational matters - an aspect which has at most times been vague during the previous years. However, the manner in which this change took place questions whether it has been studied by the defence establishment in depth and all its implications studied fully. That there seems to prevail a difference of opinion with Deputy Defence Minister, Anuruddha Ratwatte, who has conducted operations for nearly four years raises the question whether all grey areas have been ironed out.

Unless that is done, the lack of clarity in the defined role will only lead to confusion and be counter productive in maximising the operational effectiveness of the services.

The Fifth Column

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