Sri Lanka army launches another recruitment drive

[TamilNet, Saturday, 07 June 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The Sri Lankan army has launched another recruitment drive, to replace it's losses in the war against the Tamil Tigers, according to the state-owned Daily News. Recruits are being sought for the army's Special Forces Units which have taken severe casualties in the past 12 months.

The Daily News said that 'patriotic' bachelors aged 18-26 were being asked to apply. In keeping with usual practice, the predominantly (99%) Sinhalese army is holding walk-in interviews exclusively in Sinhalese areas of the island. The troops are needed to stem the LTTE, which is seeking to establish the right to self determination for the Tamil people who make up 18% of the island's population.

The Sri Lankan military has an authorised strength of 105,000 personnel, but losses in combat and desertion has kept operational strength at less than 90,000, according to Western analysts. Special Forces number some 2000 and it is believed that the SLA hopes to double this number in anticipation of intense fighting in coming months as the government pursues the military option.

Two previous recruitment campaigns conducted last year proved disappointing. In addition, it is estimated that several thousand men were deserting the army's ranks each year, nullifying any possible benefits of the recruitment drives. Recruits are being sent into battle with insufficient training and are suffering high casualties as a result, according to Western analysts.

In June 1996, the Sri Lankan army launched a campaign to recruit 10,000 new troops needed in all sections. A minimum of 30,000 applicants were needed to fill this quota, however barely 1,800 Sinhalese applied.

The Sri Lankan army also ran a high profile campaign to urge deserters to return to their units under an amnesty. The deadline was extended several times and eventually the Sri Lankan police conducted mass arrests in Operation Desert Rat.

In many other armies, the applicants for Special Forces are typically drawn from other units of the armed forces. The plan to recruit directly from the general public may have been prompted by a lack of 'internal' volunteers for units that have sustained severe losses recently.

In July 1996, the Sri Lankan army suffered it's biggest setback of the conflict, when the LTTE overran the military complex at Mullaitivu, killing over 1200 troops. Special Forces troops were airlifted into Alampil, a nearby village, to retake the base, but after suffering severe casualties (including the death of the commanding officer), the operation was abandoned.

A retaliatory offensive, Operation Sath Jaya, launched in August 1996 to take Kilinochchi town ran into stiff Tamil resistance. The Special Forces units spearheaded the assault and took severe losses, as repeated tank-led attempts to break through Tamil lines were stopped. Kilinochchi was eventually captured when Sri Lankan troops swung wide around the town's defenses to encircle it. The Sri Lankan press reported that hundreds of Special Forces soldiers died in the operation.

Currently, Special Forces troops are leading a major Sri Lankan offensive in the Vanni. Operation Jaya Sikura, has met fierce resistance and once again these units are taking severe casualties. To date, the army admits to 89 killed and 100 wounded. However, hospital staff say over 600 have been wounded, though they do not know how many have died.

A significant proportion (estimated between 30 to 40 percent) of the army's strength is still tied up on the Jaffna peninsula, captured by the Sri Lankan military in late 1995. LTTE guerrillas stage continuous hit-and-run raids deep within army occupied territory, preventing the relocation of desperately needed troops to other areas.

It is an open secret that nearly a year since the entire Jaffna peninsula was (some say optimistically) declared cleared, LTTE units are once again moving freely around it. The army still holds Jaffna town, which nevertheless sees small scale attacks.

The LTTE intensified it's campaign for independence following the island wide pogrom against Tamils in July 1983. Over 50,000 Tamil civilians have been killed in the government's attempts to crush the Tamil struggle. In the 1977 elections, the Tamil people of the island voted overwhelmingly for parties supporting independence from Sri Lanka.


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