We are onto modernisation of the military: CDS

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While preparing to retire from active military service next month after a 36 year prestigious career, the country’s top military officer Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonetileke spoke to Daily Mirror on the role of the CDS and the role played by the armed forces in the post war period, while emphasising on the need to embrace military modernisation to face future threats.
By Supun Dias

Q:What is the role of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in the post war period and what are the powers vested on you?
We provide strategic directions to the armed forces in order to develop a doctrine for the joint employment of the three armed forces, which means we facilitate the preparation of strategic plans for them in order to determine their capabilities in comparison with those of their potential adversaries.
Each commander manages each force and it co-ordinates all operation commands, but we co-ordinate directly with the Security Forces (SF) commands or headquarters. Supporting them and co-ordinating at a given emergency situation is handled by the CDS. We also directly handle training, peacekeeping, military intelligence maintenance, facilitating foreign military visits, conducting symposiums and conferences.

Q: What are the priority tasks undertaken by the CDS office for the near future?
 We are getting to ready to coordinate all the security arrangements for the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
We are also training councillors for the military and programmes are also underway to provide training on self employment for military personnel which will be helpful for them after retirement and we are being assisted by local companies to train them on specific job roles.
In addition, the government has taken steps to build a state-of-the-art Military War Museum in Diyagama, Homagama which will be the first such military museum to be constructed in the island. Construction work for the project has already commenced.

Q:Are you satisfied as the senior most active military officer in the country about the role played by the armed forces in the post war period?
 We are happy as we fought a tough war and because of the high intensity of the war and face to face battles, and credit should go to everyone in the military.
Escaping death after joining the forces - you don’t come across such scenarios when the war is over. After the war they used to run the civil-military affairs before we gradually handed over power to the civil administration.
We have used the military to build bridges, schools, houses, hospitals, roads and most of the infrastructure projects in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Q: There is criticism on the fact that soldiers are now employed as masons to undertake infra structure development projects, deviating from the requirement for which they were recruited to the military - What is your opinion?
 During the war, soldiers are given specific job roles but the primary objective is to fight the enemy and defeat it. They will not be having the same requirement in the post war period. So we have to use each of them to a specific job role during the post war period as well. Masonry is a skilled job and the soldier is definitely satisfied for being able to actively participate towards developing the country.
How many people in the south are masons? They are doing well and they get a good share for the job they do. So being a mason for a soldier does not devalue him. Criticism will only devalue the soldier, it will not help anyone. We have to appreciate and commend the efforts of each and every soldier who is being skillfully employed for infrastructure development projects.

" We have strong military relationships with India, Pakistan and China. India and Pakistan offer many programmes and training for our forces "

Q:Now that the war is over, what are the long term plans for the security forces?
 Modernisation is something that we will have to go through to meet future scenarios. Right now we have commenced modernisation programmes. The Air Force and the Navy has to always upgrade themselves as they have to be on par with the technology. So upgrades are carried out and it will take place with time.
We attempted to design an indigenous Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) for the Air Force but there were problems with the design. But now it is back on track.
We have our research teams and we carefully undertake projects depending on the requirement of the armed forces.

Q: What are your views on North and East Development and what could be done more to build a bridge between the military and civilians specially in the former war regions?
The problem we had with Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) is over now. It is the military which is reconstructing houses for them. The rehabilitation of ex-LTTE cadres was also carried out successfully. We keep track on them and when they need help, we assist them. After that we took steps to recruit 100 Tamil women to the Army. The Tamil Diaspora should come and witness what we are doing in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. We fought a face to face war and we had to be ground specific so there was a need to have a strong army.

Q: From your point of view, what needs to be done for the development of the armed forces to meet modern military standards in the 21stcentury?
 We are an island nation and we are now looking for oil and gas. On the other hand we are situated in a strategic centre in the middle of one of the busiest commercial shipping lanes in the world. So our focus should be towards the sea. We need to have a strong maritime force as we need to have the equipment to protect our economic zones as well.
We need to have a strong capable Navy as well as a strong Coast Guard. Another aspect to be met is the surveillance capability of the Air Force since they need to patrol the maritime boundary lines round the clock. My opinion is that to undertake these tasks we need to have a national command centre.

Q: How will you look at strengthening bilateral military relationships with other countries especially in the region since there is criticism that the country is more aligned with China?
 We have strong military relationships with India, Pakistan and China. India and Pakistan offer many programmes and training for our forces.
On the other hand we also provide training at our school in Batalanda. During the height of the war, Pakistan, China and Israel helped us a lot. India also helped us to establish our air defence system. So they all contributed.
I have to tell you that the Hambantota Port is purely of commercial interest for China as well as for Sri Lanka. Each of these countries may be having differences but we have good individual relationships with each country. 

Q: What is your opinion on accusations placed against the country such as war crimes and violation of human rights? Reports were complied by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Army and even reports such as the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), so do you think that these reports are sufficient enough to meet the accusations?
 LLRC was a comprehensive report and we also did a census on the population just after the war was over. We were able to show the critics that these allegations were baseless. To prove, we complied many reports and books with the correct statistics available.
You can see from many examples around the world at the moment, how many civilians are being killed due to wars.
They keep levelling allegations against us. We lost over 25,000 soldiers and we did our best. I hope that the world will believe what we are saying.

" LLRC was a comprehensive report and we also did a census on the population just after the war was over. We were able to show the critics that these allegations were baseless. "

Q: Finally, are you still playing an active role? Have you thought about your retirement plans?
 I am now getting ready to leave in August after 36 years of service to the nation. Being a commander and winning a war is a remarkable achievement. We were guided well and were directed well by the President and the Defence Secretary. For us it was a war but we were guided well. It was a good team. For your information I am not leaving the country for any posts outside and I am ready to undertake any position that the President will offer me, to serve the country while being in Sri Lanka.

- Pix by Pradeep Pathirana

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