Situation Report

24th November 1996

Americans are here in a big way

By Iqbal Athas

When United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Peter Burleigh declared to an influential audience in Colombo last week that his government was according high priority in its foreign policy to control global terrorism, it was not mere rhetoric.

He was underscoring a significant new thrust in US Government’s approach to combat global terrorism now that President Bill Clinton, has won a second term in office. It is significant particularly for a country like Sri Lanka, where for the past one and a half decades, successive governments have been struggling to secure international support to fight the scourge of terrorism.

The growing challenges of international terrorism, Ambassador Burleigh told the second annual convention of the Industrial Security Foundation, require that governments and societies take more aggressive and co-ordinated steps to address ‘the problems we all face’. In his keynote address Mr. Burleigh cited instances of what he called “deadly acts of terrorism” - the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York, the bombing of the supermarket in Oklahoma to earlier incidents like the bombing of Pan Am jumbo jet flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland.

He declared that as a response to these outrages around the world, including Sri Lanka, President Clinton has placed international cooperation to confront and defeat terrorism among the highest priorities of American foreign policy.

Even before the US presidential elections early this month, the policy of the United States was very much reflected in its actions in Sri Lanka. In an unprecedented move a team from the US Army’s elite Green Beret Commandos were in the southern wild life infested jungles of Wirawila on “Operation Balanced Style” - training Sri Lanka soldiers in combat techniques, medical evacuation, radio communications and other related aspects of counter-insurgency operations in June this year.

In the United States, the symbol of green beret has become synonymous with Special Forces, the Army’s elite group of specially selected and trained units. They came into prominence during the Vietnam War. The Green Beret Civic Action programmes (winning hearts and minds) and “Psy Ops” became well known.

Another team of non-commissioned officers from the US Army’s Pacific Command was in Saliyapura in the Anuradhapura district. They were training non-commissioned officers of the Sri Lanka Army on counter-terrorism warfare. The move appeared to be a precursor to a United States offer to set up a staff college for non-commissioned officers in Sri Lanka.

In the backdrop of a military news blackout following a tight censorship locally, the adverse publicity to the presence of the Green Berets in Sri Lanka caused concern for US officials both in Washington and in Colombo. Attempts by some government VIPs to either parry or deny media questions on the presence of the US soldiers only added to this concern.

Heightening this factor was an unexpected incident at the camp in which the American NCOs were training their local counterparts. The head of the US team had asked for protection and received a platoon of local soldiers. One late night the American team leader found the men deployed to protect them all fast asleep. Worried about the repercussions that would follow if even one of their team members came under attack, the team leader reported matters to the Pacific Command.

The LTTE had already launched a virulent campaign, particularly through the Internet, against the presence in Colombo of the Green Berets. If the absence of any formal Sri Lanka Government reaction to counter such a vicious campaign embarrassed US officials, the incident at the Army Camp at Saliyapura only increased their worries. These events were taking place at a time when a presidential election was pending in the United States. Hence, as reported in these columns (SITUATION REPORT - September 8, 1996) other upcoming US military programmes in Sri Lanka, as a US official told a Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry official, were “stretched out”. In other words things were put on hold.

But the matter did not end there. The following weeks saw the arrival in Colombo of a top level US team to carry out a detailed threat assessment. The team conducted a week-long study before returning to the United States.

Hard on the heels of this team, the Commander in Chief of US Army’s Pacific Command (CINPAC) General William Steele, arrived in Colombo early this month during a tour of selected Asian countries. The highest ranking US military official to visit Sri Lanka since the PA Government came into office, called on President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and held talks with Deputy Defence Minister General Anuruddha Ratwatte and other high ranking military officials. According to Defence Ministry sources, among subjects of discussion were training assistance to Sri Lanka security forces in the field of counter-terrorism and related fields.

Last week a team of officers from the United States Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) conducted a two day briefing for senior Sri Lankan military officials on a variety of subjects.

Led by Colonel Olson, the team among other matters, gave briefings to the local military top brass on the process of doctrinal development, military and the media, tactical decision-making process, Corps-Divisions-Brigade Operations, Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, Sustainment Operations Attack Helicopter Operations and Reconnaissance and Intelligence Operations.

Defence Ministry officials decline to confirm or deny reports that the US will also make available to Sri Lanka limited assistance in the form of satellite photo imagery to combat terrorism.

Despite the US assistance, the PA Government took a last minute decision in September, this year not to go ahead with a deal with a US-based non-governmental organisation of military professionals to obtain training and assistance for Sri Lankan security forces in a variety of spheres.

Talks with this organisation - Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI) began early this year after the arrival in Colombo of General (retd) Ed Soyster, Chief of Operations. A senior local intelligence officer was assigned to the four star general to be briefed on matters relating to the separatist war and the measures that were being taken to combat it.

Over a period of more than six months a dialogue continued between the MPRI’s headquarters in Washington and the defence establishment in Colombo.

By the time the Ministry of Defence decided not to go ahead with the project, the MPRI had succeeded in obtaining a licence from the State Department for its operations in Sri Lanka. This was after the Department’s own Human Rights Bureau had approved the MPRI’s proposed project in Sri Lanka.

According to defence sources in Washington, a senior US Army officer who was due to retire from the US Army Delta Force a specialised commando arm, was to have led the operations in Sri Lanka.

Diplomatic sources claimed there were many concerns which prompted the government to drop the MPRI deal.

But Defence Ministry officials argued that the funds meant for the project were later found to be urgently required for other high priority security related matters. They declined to elaborate.

What is MPRI? Much about its existence and activity have remained unpublicised. Last Wednesday, viewers in Sri Lanka were able to see the first televised account of MPRI in a programme produced by the ABC TV in the US. It showed footage of how retired US Army officers and men were training Bosnians under a $100 million US dollar programme funded by several nations.

In an article titled “Generals for Hire” the TIME Magazine of January 15, 1996, gives an account of MPRI and the significant role it has begun to play. Here are excerpts.

“This is the age of privatization. All across America communities are hiring for - profit firms to perform the tasks that have traditionally fallen to government - educating children, running prisons even building and maintaining highways. There is one job though that seems to be an unlikely candidate for outsourcing, executing the foreign policy of the US. If that is not the business of the Federal Government, what is? In Bosnia however, the US has a problem: there is one particular aspect of its mission that is crucial but that it is loath to carry out. So the very 1990s solution is likely to be hiring a private company to do the job instead.

For anyone who wants to rent a general, the place to go is Military Professional Resources Inc. headquartered in a squat red brick office building in Alexandria, Virginia. Eight years old and with annual revenues of about $12 million. MPRI is according to its brochures, “the greatest corporate assemblage of military expertise in the world”. With 160 full time employees and some 2,000 retired generals, admirals and other officers on call, it is making a fair claim. Among its most prominent executives are retired four-star General Carl Vuono who ran the army during Desert Storm and now heads the company’s growing overseas business and Crosbie (‘Butch’) Saint who was once the Chief of the Army’s operations in Europe and who oversees MPRI’s work there. This is the outfit that the US will probably turn to for help in Bosnia

Why would the US need MPRI? The Dayton accord calls for disarmament negotiations to reduce the Bosnian Serbs’ military edge over the weaker Muslim Croat Federation. While its European allies vigorously disagree, the US believes that even if arms control shrinks the Bosnian Serb arsenal, the federation will require new weaponry to ensure a military balance in the region. The accord allows arms to start flowing into the region beginning in mid-March ‘We will not be able to leave unless the Bosnian government is armed and prepared to defend itself’ says Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware. “That’s the ticket home for Americans”

The Clinton Administration has pledged that US troops will not play an active role in rearming the Bosnians. So how is Washington to achieve what it considers the necessary balance of power in the region? After months of fretting, the US has come up with a plan. Senior officials told TIME that some private company, most likely MPRI, which has done work for the Croats will train the Bosnians, who will be freshly outfitted with hundreds of tons of new weapons provided by the US and its allies. “MPRI has got the know-how and the track record in the Balkans”, says a senior Pentagon official.

MPRI is ready ‘The Bosnians need training at the company level putting battalion staff together, that sort of thing,’ says retired Army Lieut. General Harry Soyster. “It can be done pretty quickly.” Formerly the head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, Soyster, MPRI’s operations chief, is the only official who speaks publicly for the company. For the past year, MPRI has had 15 men in Croatia, a group headed by retired two-star General Richard Griffitts. They have been teaching the Croats to run a military force in a democracy and recently signed a second contract to reorganize Croatia’s Defence Ministry. Also during the past year, MPRI under a State Department contract, has been monitoring cargo flowing from Serbia to the Bosnian Serbs as part of an international effort.

Croatia gave a dramatic demonstration of military power last August, when it drove rebel Serbs from the Krajina region. That offensive took place seven months after MPRI began its work in the country. Serb and European military analysts suggested that the Croats had outside help, and MPRI quickly found itself on the defensive. But Soyster insists MPRI’s role in Croatia is limited to classroom instruction on military-civil relations and doesn’t involve training in tactics or weapons. Other U.S. military men say whatever MPRI did for the Croats - and many suspect more than classroom instruction was involved - it was worth every penny “Carl Vuono and Butch Saint are hired guns and in it for the money,” says Charles Boyd, a recently retired four-star Air Force General who was the Pentagon’s No. 2 man in Europe until July. “They did a very good job for the Croats, and I have no doubt they’ll do a good job in Bosnia.”

In a secret, just finished report that cost $400,000 to prepare, the Pentagon has determined the Bosnians military needs. The study concludes that the Bosnian Serbs advantage could be erased by giving the Muslim-Croat Federation about 50 tanks plus similar numbers of artillery and armoured vehicles says Pentagon officials familiar with the findings. The Muslims also need antitank and antimortar weapons, light arms and basics like boots and bullets. In an indication of how important MPRI’s role would be, the report contends that the forces need more training than arming, especially in tactics for midsize units involving hundreds of troops.

Given the risks posed by training the Bosnians and the importance the U.S. has given the mission, it seems especially proper to ask if a private company ought to be undertaking it. The desire to protect American troops is understandable, but will the Serbs really distinguish between them and MPRI trainers? By hiring consultant mercenaries to do a messy job, it is easier for Washington to ignore the consequences and fudge the responsibility. Once again, for better or worse, that seems to be an overshadowing aim of America’s policy in Bosnia.”

The United States assistance, like help from other friendly nations, comes at a time when the government’s latest effort to recruit additional cadres to the Army has been frustrated by a poor response. The latest recruitment drive was launched after the conclusion of “Operation Sath Jaya Three” which led to the recapture of Kilinochchi. Though a target of over 10,000 recruits was set, the response has not exceeded the 3,000 mark.

The move has led the government to take a tough stand against deserters once the current amnesty to turn themselves in expires on November 27.

Deputy Defence Minister, General Anuruddha Ratwatte, has personally taken charge of the campaign to round up deserters. This is after Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan Daluwatte, made an appeal on national television calling upon the deserters to avail themselves of the amnesty and return to their posts.

Last Tuesday Gen. Ratwatte summoned Brigade Commanders of the non-operational areas and outlined to them the measures that should be taken to round up deserters who do not respond to amnesty.

Since independence in 1948, official records speak of over 28,000 deserters from the Army. However, the numbers in the first few decades were in less than hundreds. Senior Army officials say that nearly 21,000 deserters abandoned their posts since the advent of the separatist war, a large number in the past three to four years. They say that over 1612 deserters have been arrested so far whilst over 4206 have availed themselves of the amnesty.

R.S. Jayaratne, Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, addressed Government Agents on measures to be taken to arrest deserters. The GAs in turn met AGAs and Divisional Secretaries at their secretariats yesterday. Today, the latter will meet the Grama Sevakas on the same matter.

Defence Ministry officials denied reports that deserters were being subjected to a punishment before being redeployed. They said that only a sum of Rs. 500 was being deducted from their earnings. This was to recover the cost of uniforms provided to them. “Of course we spend a much higher amount on training a soldier,” said one official.

With the operation to round up deserters, Gen. Ratwatte has ordered the arrest of employers who have enrolled deserters. He has directed that they be charged in courts. Those found guilty face a sentence of simple or rigorous imprisonment for a maximum of six months.

With the end of operation round up of deserters, another recruitment drive is to be launched by the Ministry of Defence. A massive propaganda effort, including the holding of Army tattoos in important towns are now being planned for this recruitment drive.

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