SLA recruits, restructures for greater efficiency

[TamilNet, Thursday, 28 February 2002, 12:14 GMT]
(News feature) The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) is at the cross roads today, warily eyeing the prospect of a long peace and the schemes of the modern technocrats of the new government who might be inclined, as the negotiations progress, to prune its lavish budget and compact it to its 'natural size'. But the United National Front has sought to allay the SLA's apprehensions by promising to help it achieve greater efficiency.

The Sri Lanka army has been carrying on a recruitment campaign since early January 2002, wooing rural Sinhala youth with colour posters promising attractive careers in the military. The Sri Lanka Navy too advertised in the papers on Sunday, 24 February for recruits to its officer corps. The UNF has asked the SLA to strengthen it recruitment drive, the English daily 'Island' reported this week.

SLA recruitment poster on the rear window of a midnight bus from Colombo to Anuradhapura. (Please click on the image for larger photo)
The SLA plans to eventually form two corps (each commanded by a Lt. General) from the divisions deployed in the northern province. Although this would only mean a structural readjustment and not necessarily an increase in the number of troops, the administrative expansion would be hollow if units depleted by constant war with the Liberation Tigers have aren't sufficiently replenished.

The army says it needs at least 10000 new recruits to get its war battered infantry formations back into shape. More than 15000 soldiers who deserted their ranks are still at large, according to the SLA. Very generous and unconditional amnesties announced regularly in the past did not bring in enough men.

For instance, the 54 Division, the SLA's best infantry formation which was disastrously mauled by the Liberation Tigers in the Elephant Pass garrison in April 2000, is yet to be sufficiently regrouped. It is deployed in the Jaffna's southern sector now with minimum strength.

SLA recruitment poster on the rear window of a midnight bus from Colombo to Anuradhapura. (Please click on the image for larger photo)
Most battalions of the SLA's infantry regiments are short of manpower due to heavy casualties in the war and endemic desertion. Some, like the 9 Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment and 8 Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment which were almost wiped out when the LTTE overran the Mullaithivu garrison in July 1996, are still functioning as company size formations. (The Commanding Officers of both units were killed)

The SLA's infantry regiments are the Sri Lanka Light Infantry, Sinha, Gemunu Watch (affiliated to the Black Watch of the Royal Scottish Highlanders of the British Army), Gajabha and Vijayabahu.

In December 1994, while President Chandrika Kumaratunga was negotiating with the Liberation Tigers, the SLA, with her approval, began a major recruitment drive and restructuring to achieve greater 'operational efficiency'.

The northern province, until then, had been under Division-2 which had its headquarters in Anuradhapura with an operations HQ's in Jaffna and another in Vavuniya. Major Gen. Jaliya Nammuni was it GOC at the time.

Many SLA recruitment posters were pasted inside the main station for provincial bus services in Pettah, the busy business hub of downtown Colombo. Some were pasted on buses too. (Please click on the image for larger photo)
In December 1994, Div-2 was divided into four formations. They were Div- 2, Task Force 1, Task Force 2 and Task Force 3. Each was commanded by a Major General. This restructuring was aimed at "achieving a greater operational efficiency by further decentralising the command and by creating a space to retain many battle experienced staff officers (brigadiers) who may otherwise have had retire from the army according to regulations".

Four administrative directorates, each under a Maj. Gen. were also formed. They were the Directorate of the Quarter Master General, the Adjutant General's Directorate, Directorate of General Staff and the Master General of Ordnance Directorate.

The GOC of SLA's TF-1 was Maj. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya who was based in Palaly. The GOC of TF-2 initially was Maj. Gen. Gemunu Kulatunga. (Later Maj. Gen P. A Karunatilaka was its GOC when war broke out in April 1995) Elephant Pass and Pooneryn came under TF-2.

Kilinochchi was designated as the HQ of TF-2. But the Tigers controlled the town at the time.

A recruitment poster of the SLA's Commando Regiment. The regiment recruits directly into its ranks. The eye-catching poster appeared in Colombo and in Sinhala towns and villages. There are two units (1st Commando and 2nd Commando) in the regiment. A third is on the drawing boards.(Please click on the image for larger photo)
The LTTE questioned President Chandrika Kumaratunga's bona fides in the context of the SLA's restructuring and recruitment at that juncture.

In fact the restructuring and recruitment in December 1994 helped the army to be well primed for the offensives to take Jaffna from the Liberation Tigers 10 months later.

When operational divisions were set up to capture the peninsula in mid 1995, TF-1 was reorganised into 51 Div and 52 Div and TF - 2 became 54 div.

Today the SLA wants to get on with its restructuring for exactly the same reason that it had in December 1994 - to achieve a greater operational efficiency by further decentralising the command and by creating space to retain many battle experienced staff officers who might otherwise have to retire from the army.


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