Soldiering in Sri Lanka during ancient, medieval, colonial, post-independent and contemporary times undoubtedly mirrors how the exercise of military power, as in the case of many countries around us, turned our Nation to Statesmanship while ensuring a potent and dynamic force for defence of the new nation-state in place. These histories, many of which are replete with sagas of gallantry and selfless dedication stand out as sources of inspiration to budding generations and serving troops alike and remind us that “The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or its ruin. Hence, it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected,” as the great ‘Art of War’ strategist Sun Tzu had quipped in his famous Treatise.
The birth of Sri Lanka Army (then Ceylon Army) in 1949 on a day like today (October 10), just 20 months after severing servitude with colonial powers of Portugal, Holland and Britain, to gain our independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty, testifies to the foresight and wisdom the founding fathers of the new nation state have had at a time growing political communism was replacing imperialism in the aftermath of decolonization that began to occur in Asia after the World War II.
This pragmatic and visionary founding of a defence force, consequent upon a Defence Pact signed in 1947 with the Britishers on the verge of Ceylon gaining independence from the British Empire was purely to reinforce already existing armed wings (for example Volunteer forces, etc) in the country which also subsequently paved the way for founding of the then Ceylon Army.
Cycles of Violence
With humble beginnings as a ceremonial outfit, the Army’s life span after post-independence era was also of national significance since the support of Army troops was sought when ethnic tensions and internal strife occurred in 1952 (Hartal), 1959 (anti-Muslim riots), 1971 (JVP insurrection), 1983 (ethnic clashes), 1989 - 1990 (JVP terror), etc. The murder of 13 Army soldiers in one single incident in 1983 by Tamil Tigers in Jaffna and the subsequent threats that began developing in relation to the Northern security concerns made the Army play a more formidable role by virtue of the requirements considering ground realities.
The escalation of LTTE violence in the North and East incurring huge human and public property losses compelled all service commanders, Police and defence authorities to think afresh, assess ground realities and devise new defensive strategies to take on the enemy who with the advance of time emerged as the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world, particularly after the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (1991), President Premadasa (1993), Ministers Ranjan Wijeratne, Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali, et al. The Army assisted by sister services continued to hold their strongholds in the North despite fierce armed encounters with the LTTE terrorists.
By September this year, the Army is busy either renovating or completely repairing nearly 2000 medium and small tanks in remote areas in Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa and the latest in Wellassa
The final quarter of 1999 and the period between 2004 was one of the most unpredictable milestones in the recent history since the LTTE making use of temporary cease-fires went on strengthening their armoury and replenished their fighting cadres. Yet, the Army remained confined to their barracks and camps across the North and East, honouring its commitment to peace. However, as in the case during the presence of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) (1989-1992), the LTTE used the ceasefire to their maximum advantage both here and abroad.
Win Over Terrorism
The notable closure of the Mavil Aru anicut by LTTE terrorists that supplies water for agriculture to more than 35,000 inhabitants in the East initialled the beginning of the road to the annihilation of the LTTE by ground troops as the public pressure was mounting against LTTE atrocities due to their non-ending spate of murder of innocent civilians, passengers, Buddhist monks, etc. Army troops as instructed from there onwards moved into dense eastern jungles and took on LTTE hideouts and cleared the entire east of the LTTE violence. Those battles of the Army, needless to reiterate, caused no harm to any civilian as reported and ended up effectively before ground troops began moving northwards. Sri Lanka Army’s outstanding achievements in the northern theatre of violence between 2006-2009 have already gone on record. But one of the most humane approaches that had ever been made by any army in the world, for that matter, was the Sri Lanka Army’s rehabilitation of near 13,000 LTTE terrorists, either caught alive or surrendered to the Army.
The daunting task of nation-building, coupled with equally important restoration of moves of reconciliation, to avert any recurrence of violence in future is another landmark project that has now been undertaken by the Army since it possesses required manpower as well as the technical expertise. By September this year, the Army is busy either renovating or completely repairing nearly 2000 medium and small tanks in remote areas in Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa and the latest in Wellassa in order to boost agriculture and economy in respective areas. So much so, Army troops are engaged in multifarious construction projects at the request of the government and other sectors including religious places, schools, utility buildings etc for the benefit of the masses.
After the year 2015, the Sri Lanka Army having engaged in bitter fighting for over 30 years has been instrumental in addressing their own structural and operational requirements to be in line with professional standards. In this regard, various new reforms are being executed with strict focus on extensive training modules and right-sizing of all units throughout the island to be in compliance with the incumbent Commander’s visionary approach in terms of nation-building, training and administration of the organization.
Additionally, the quick and rapid deployment of Army troops in the event of large scale national disasters and catastrophes, like landslides, floods, storms, garbage slides, etc has come in for praise of all quarters due to their unmatched skills to face any eventualities. Therefore, the present day Army has turned out to be the most sought service provider in the island who are capable of minimizing wastage and estimated costs in an impressive manner.
SLA, now gaining recognition at foreign levels as a matured entity, has been proud to continue with its mega annual flagship projects, like Defence Seminar, Field Exercise, ‘CormorantStrike’, Army to Army Staff Talks etc.,
Sri Lanka Army, now gaining recognition at foreign levels as a matured entity, has been proud to continue with its mega annual flagship projects, like Defence Seminar, Field Exercise, ‘CormorantStrike’, Army to Army Staff Talks and Defence Dialogues on routine basis. Its participation in overseas UN assignments as peace-keepers, observers or staffers has also brought fame and dividends to all ranks while achievements in the field of athletics and sports have also added special significance to the Army both at national and foreign spheres. Participation of its cultural troupes and band teams in international events is another landmark achievement of the Army in the most recent past.
As the Roman poet, Horace once wrote encompassing ethos of bravery, “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country” and brave sons and daughters of the Army in future too would explicitly exhibit their valour and determination to safeguard the interests of this nation at this milestone 69th Army Anniversary, commemorated on Wednesday (10). May our brave soldiers have the strength and wisdom to steer clear of all hurdles and take this beautiful isle of ours to prosperity and righteousness.