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The Situation Report

28th February 1999

Around the world in 20 days

By Iqbal Athas
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The Chairman of the newly set up Joint Operations Bureau (JOB), retired General Rohan de S. Daluwatte, returned to Colombo last Thursday after ending a 20 day round the world study tour that took him to United Kingdom, France and the United States.

His main task was to study the working of joint military mechanisms in the three countries he visited. He will be busy next week preparing a comprehensive report on his findings and observations to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who set up the JOB to function directly under her and the National Security Council. This was after she took over the reins of the military establishment and the conduct of the ongoing separatist war.

As repeatedly explained in these columns, the JOB, which has been tasked to prepare strategic plans in consultation with the three service commanders and present them to the National Security Council (NSC), is only vested with advisory, monitoring and co-ordinating responsibilities. Although it is made answerable to the President and the NSC, in those functions, the question of accountability is not clearly defined.

As its Chairman, Gen. Daluwatte, who is now retired and posted to the Reserve List, has not been recalled to service. Hence, his role is strictly a civilian one and he cannot wear uniform.

Since assuming office at an auspicious hour after an elaborate ceremony on January 6, Gen. Daluwatte has been seeking to change this position. He wants more clout and legal backing to execute operations against the Tiger guerrillas.

With no major offensive operations being launched after the setting up of the JOB, there is great expectation in the military establishment that President Kumaratunga, will soon decide what further measures are necessary to strengthen it. With both the security forces and Tiger guerrillas making their own preparations for more than ten weeks now, how the role of the JOB will get defined has become the crucial question for the security forces and the Police.

This is particularly in view of all future strategic planning responsibilities being vested in the JOB. In other words, upcoming offensive operations will have to be formulated by the JOB and its implementation co-ordinated through the service commanders and the IGP, after NSC approval is granted. Such a move has become a priority requirement in view of the continued stalemate in the operational areas.

That is not to say things have come to a total halt. The respective service commanders have set in motion a number of measures to strengthen security preparations in the operational areas. Nowhere is it more clearly evident than in the Wanni, which has since the launch of the now abandoned 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' (Victory Assured), in May, 1997, remains the main battleground.

Police strength deployed along the A-9 (Kandy- Jaffna highway) have been withdrawn and redeployed along the Vavuniya - Mannar highway. Army personnel have taken over the Police held stretch from Vavuniya to Puliyankulam with the setting up of a new Tactical Headquarters of the 215 Brigade in that area.

With that move, Government officials in the area are examining the possibility of extending the northern train service, now terminating in Vavuniya, upto Puliyankulam. Other civilian projects are also on the drawing boards.

The Security Forces Commander, Wanni, Major General Lionel Balagalle, has been given two more Brigade areas from the Weli Oya sector, thus increasing his area of command. The brigade areas form the northern sectors of Weli Oya and will come under his command from March 10.

Last week, Maj. Gen. Balagalle, was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army in addition to his role as Security Forces Commander, Wanni. This was after the retirement of Major General Sathis Jayasundera.

Maj. Gen. Balagalle is expected to take over as the Army's Chief of Staff with effect from April 1, this year. This is after the present incumbent, Major General Patrick Fernando, goes on retirement. In such an event, Army Headquarters is expected to name a new SF Commander for Wanni.

Arriving in Wanni last Sunday, amidst security forces preparations was Deputy Defence Minister, Anuruddha Ratwatte, in the regalia of an Army General. He flew into Anuradhapura and later to Weli Oya in a helicopter accompanied by Air Force Commander, Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkoddy. Accompanying Minister Ratwatte in another helicopter were Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya, Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera and Inspector General of Police, Lucky Kodituwakku.

Although Minister Ratwatte has been holding conferences with the three service chiefs and the Inspector General of Police since the setting up of the JOB, its Chairman (Gen. Daluwatte) has been conspicuous by his absence. This was despite the fact that most of these meetings have been held at the JOB headquarters building.

This imbroglio of sorts has raised questions on which authority has de facto command, the military professionals or those at the political level. 

A clearer definition to resolve the hiatus has become imperative if the JOB is to function effectively. That is the only way to ensure it will not compromise military realities with political exigencies.

Some inputs for President Kumaratunga to make a decision on a more strengthened JOB, will undoubtedly come from Gen. Daluwatte's study tour which has cost the Government nearly a million rupees. He has personally met key military leaders in the UK, France and USA and talked to them about the Sri Lankan experience.

His trip to the United States assumed greater significance in view of a change of command at the US Army's Pacific Command, the military authority under whose purview many military programmes with Sri Lanka has been associated with.

At the end of his ten day programme in the US, Gen. Daluwatte was among invitees to a ceremony presided over by US Defence Secretary William S. Cohen at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. That event on February 20 saw Admiral Dennis C. Blair take over as Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Command.

Admiral Blair, former director of the Joint Staff in Washington, succeeded Admiral Joseph W. Prueher, who retired after 35 years of service.

Defence Secretary Cohen praised Admiral Blair as an innovative thinker and a man upon whom he has relied for everything from "deployment orders to budget issues." 

He presented Admiral Prueher with the Defence Distinguished Service Medal and called him "the face of American military engagement in the Asia-Pacific region."

"With foresight and innovation, he has helped craft and enhance our relationships with 43 nations spread over the world's largest ocean," Secretary Cohen said. He added: "Indeed, the footprints of his leadership stretch from Washington to Beijing, from Anchorage to Australia."

Gen. Daluwatte's study tour will appear to familiarise itself with institutional and procedural matters in the countries he visited.

Only the coming weeks will show the benefits that will accrue the country following this million rupee round the world experience.

The Fifth Column

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