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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2558

Command Responsibility- A Field Marshal cautioned

By A Patabendige

The Army knew what it had to do and did it well when hostilities restarted at Mavil Aru in 2006. Unfortunately it did not know how it would all end. The final victory over the LTTE at Nandikadal (2009) is credited to Gen Sarath Fonseka (SF) the then Army Commander. He after being promoted Field Marshal in 2016, almost in tandem with Yasmin Sooka, has volunteered to give ‘evidence’ of war crimes against his own successor. He says it is specifically at international war crime tribunals. Is there a Blake in the shadows?

The armed forces that defeated the LTTE and citizens who hailed SF in victory are in disarray today. There was an absence of any rebuke from government political leaders who have a collective lack of moral courage. Army Commander Lt Gen Mahes Senanayake, a highly decorated Special Forces officer then stepped into the breach. He said ’personal rivalries should not be allowed to sully the Army’s reputation. If even a single officer was criticized openly it would affect the morale of the entire army’. He spoke for the army, its defence forces and the people. There is no doubt the morale not only of the Army but the country less its enemies who keep baying for the blood of the army is ‘affected’.

“When fighting the LTTE, SL Generals at least knew who their enemy was and what to do about them”. (Anon)

Next by calling a Buddhist monk a ‘mad’ man, SF has taken one unforgivable step too far. He has compounded the dismay if not wrath of the majority of the citizens. The promotion to FM lies ill with him. Was his promotion not in recognition of the success of whole army (21,000 died) and not just himself? Who will answer as an unchecked SF avenges himself on the colleagues in the army he commanded and in doing so forgets he is a FM.

SF has conjured up an intriguing, if protective and also self-preserving definition of command responsibility. Apparently the USA refusal to give him, a green card holder, a visa this week may show the USA cannot be fooled. According to SF being Commander of ‘200,000’ troops, he could not be held responsible for the acts of just ‘one’ subordinate. He later allowed for ‘20’ subordinates. He, 8 years after commanding the Army and one year after being created a FM, now accuses Gen Jagath Jayasuriya who was Security Forces Commander Wanni during the last phase of the war, of war crimes. Meanwhile in Geneva at this time SL faces unsubstantiated and hugely exaggerated accusations of war crimes with figures going into several thousand civilians killed is alleged. He has shown little concern for them. He has however succeeded in giving an advanced Thai Pongal gift to the GTF and its delirious allies even as his revelations tighten the noose around the army’s soldiers. Is this actually a FM?

SF says though he was Army Commander he could not prevent Gen Jayasuriya’s alleged actions against LTTE prisoners Co located in the Wanni SF HQ’S area. Did SF ever visit the Wanni before the end phase?
It was where the climatic battles of the war were fought to a finish. SF was actually in China on a paid holiday that was cut short when hostilities ended unexpectedly and suddenly. So who wove a tale and why? Has the Army become a place where each officer and soldier has to watch his back?

German Field Marshal (FM) Von Hindenburg (67 years) was recalled from retirement and made commander of the German 8th Army. He allegedly slept through the stunning German victory over the Russians at Tannenberg in August 1914. Both he and SF took to politics in retirement. As President of the German Republic Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor in 1933, a year before he died. SF was asked to contest the Presidential elections by Ranil Wickramasinghe. He lost decisively. He was made FM in 2015 at age 65. After losing heavily in the 2015 general elections as a FM, getting about 10,000 votes, he dissolved his party and switched to the UNP under prime minister Ranil Wickramasinghe (RW) in 2016. He was made a minister, no doubt a horse deal. RW was earlier accused by SF of helping the LTTE (SL Guardian 2000) and giving arms to the LTTE (ITN 15 Jan 2009).Such are the bedfellows in politics. Being a government servant does SF now draw a wage too? Is it legal for a government servant to contest an election, sit in parliament and draw a government salary?

FM Manekshaw (India) refused to enter politics or even to hold a government job after he retired. FM Montgomery (UK) said politics was more horrible than everything in war including the fallout from the nuclear bombing of Japan in 1945. When 5 star General Eisenhower contested the US Presidential election he resigned his 5 star rank. He never asked it back after leaving politics. He was given it back by a grateful Congress. The life work after he left the Army of FM Alanbrooke, the virtually unknown Chief of Imperial General Staff in WW2 under whom the British Army defeated Germany in WW2 , was the building of the British Army Museum. None of the FMs went after their war time chiefs, colleagues and subordinates or asked for benefits. They all looked after the veterans whose efforts they never forgot. Has SF?

SF has been busy briefing a gaping and gasping government on the benefits of a FM. It is an honorary rank that carries no responsibilities, duties or work. His demands however included a salary, house, a car, office, orderlies security et al. No one has bothered to ask what his job entails. He also said famously that in the order of precedence a FM is ranked with royalty. He was 200 years out. Further SL is a republic. In ’big brother invader’ India, a FM is in group 12 with Chiefs of Staff (SL Service Commanders). Chief ministers are in group 7. A British FM gets half pay. The government is in a bind as it was and is utterly clueless about what a FM should have. Especially in a 3rd world country where thousands are struggling to have 2 meals a day and some disabled veterans are virtually on the streets. Manekshaw who lived in his own house did not allow his family members to use his staff car and declined any security detail.

Does SF not know that responsibility is a trust, a moral accountability especially for the life of each and every soldier, and not until he counts 20 of them dead under his command?

Officers and soldiers alike had to obey whatever legal orders they received, unhesitatingly, even if in carrying out those orders they were killed. Some would have died within seconds of receiving orders especially in the infantry, Special Forces and commandos. A new platoon commander would be lucky to last just about 2 minutes in an attack. SF never tires of stating without any expression of sorrow that 6,000 died under his command of the Army (2006-9) almost as it were an achievement. Is not any Army Commander ultimately responsible for their deaths? He should keep in mind that their lives (21,000 died in the conflict) are more important than officers’ careers even while success trumps both.

Military commanders have a responsibility to ensure troops act in accordance with military, national and international law. ‘The State is responsible for its commanders who should discover and control actions. Policy Command is the responsibility of the Head of State, high ranking government officials and monarchs. Strategic Command is with the war cabinet (SL - National Security Council) and Joint Chiefs of Staff equivalent. Operational Command is under military leadership’. The Commander must use his full potential to prevent war crimes. Failure to supervise subordinates and non assertive orders do not exonerate the commander. The buck stopped for SF in 2009. He now admits to command failure. It is too late to fast forward now especially to condemn his successor as Army Commander and bring disrepute to the country and its army.

The SL government of 1983 and not the Army are responsible for starting the 30 years of conflict. Around 100,000 died. In 1989-90 during the JVP terror 60,000 Sinhalese died, most being extra judicially murdered. These are crimes against the people. Any war crimes probe must start from there and not at a point to suit the West and its collaborating servile acolytes in SL. Especially as it is clear that the West is only gunning for the victors of the conflict in 2009 and not the terrorists who reneged on 4 cease fires and re started fighting. Is it the expat Tamil vote (UK/US especially) or the inexorable China factor or both that hide the real motivation of the West that has instigated war crimes probes? Whose side is SF on now? In 2010 the TNA vote in Jaffna was all for him.

According to SF he continued to give orders as hundreds of soldiers died during the climatic last few days of the war even while he was in China on holiday with his extended family at the expense of a Chinese armament conglomerate. Seventh Battalion Gemunu Watch alone lost 300 men in the final battles but did not break. None of the dying in the Wanni, following orders faithfully knew that their Army Commander was being wined and dined with his entire family in China at the identical time.

SF has said he would be writing a book on the war. Ever since Gen Kamal Guneratne’s book ‘Road to Nandikadal’, SF had become agitated and restless. SF thought Gen Guneratne should be punished for the revelations in his book. A morbid one was what should be done to LTTE Prabakaran’s body. Another was SF’s obsession with the killing fields of Muhumalai where the greatest numbers of troops died carrying out SF’s orders repeatedly from 2000. SF however need not lose any sleep that ordering the stripping of a dead body could constitute a war crime even though it may be an uncommon obscenity. In WW2 German Professor Spanner and his assistant Prof Volman in Danzig, experimented with corpses (mainly Russian and Polish POWs) killed in concentration camps, to manufacture soap. No one was charged as the processing of corpses was not considered a war crime in the West.

SF has made a few observations that did not energize profound thought on command. They appear to have been made in hind sight possibly with an ulterior motive to grab at the main chance afforded by Sooka’s very suspiciously timed hallucinations. One is that ‘even corporals could have finished off the conflict without the involvement of the top brass’, (Mirror Citizen 6th March 2016). Another gem was that ‘the services of high ranking officers even the Army Commander was not necessary at the time as the LTTE was trapped (in a sliver of land at Nandikadal). Yet another supportive one was that ‘low ranking officers could have handled the war if they were given a free hand’.

This last implies that there was interference outside the chain of command with which he could not deal with. One may believe that such interferences could have taken place in the police but it is hard to accept it in the Army that destroyed the LTTE in battle. Is it possible that SF who reputedly ruled with an iron fist was actually that helpless and weak that he meekly allowed others to interfere even with ‘low ranking officers’? He does not say who it was. That unknown man then probably ran the Army if SF is to be believed.

In the army counter insurgency is called a corporal’s war as battle decisions and actions are frequently and continuously taken at the lowest levels. They are taken faster and many times more than even the best of managing directors may ever take. However is it possible that corporals leading 8 men in an army of 200,000 could have finished off the war against a formidable terrorist force? Even if the Army Commander who was holidaying in China during the most crucial engagements then, elaborates now. If Major Generals with about 27 years of actual war fighting experience commanding the famous divisions that finally annihilated the LTTE like Kamal Guneratne, Shavendra Silva, Jagath Dias, (all from Gajaba Regiment) and Prasanna de Silva (Special Forces- who had been left out of battle almost until the finale was approaching as SF did not like him), were dispensable, what then was SF’s ‘top brass’ role in the conflict?

On the one hand readers may be forgiven if they suspect that SF has fortuitously also made out a case that he had no command responsibility at the crucial end stages of the war where it is alleged massive violations of the laws of war took place. He may propose Corporals could have been in command but they weren’t. Is it possibly to denigrate the successful commanders of battalions, brigades and divisions that wiped out the LTTE? The war winning Generals in the Wanni however had fought the LTTE at close quarters from their very first day as officers. They consequently did not fear the LTTE even as they recognized their undoubted fighting qualities that also stunned the IPKF and made a nonsense of the Indian Chief of Staff Gen Sunderaji s boast that the LTTE could be wiped out in weeks. The Wanni Generals would certainly never have countenanced withdrawing from Jaffna in 2000 as had been planned and orders sent out to formations when SF was there.

What then were SF’s responsibilities towards his troops especially those who died, were wounded and disabled for life? SF must accept he was finally responsible for the deaths of all 6,000 soldiers who died under his command.

It must be remembered SF wavered between saying there were no war crimes under his command and later that there was a white flag incident. Is it not a very strange coincidence that both Sooka and Fonseka waited 8 years to accuse Gen Jayasuriya of war crimes almost in the same breath? Of course in his usual oft repeated style he retracted it all when he realized the gravity of his remarks. He missed his date, probably arranged by the scheming US Ambassador Blake, with the US Border Security in late 2009.What was he going to tell them? Were the C in C, the Defence Secretary and their victorious Commanders and soldiers but not the Army Commander in the line of perfidious American shock and awe tactics? Were SL conspirators not at work with the Americans?

The Army defeated the LTTE at Mavil Aru in 2007 to set off a chain of events that led to the final defeat of the LTTE. Chief of Staff Maj Gen Mallawarachchi was in command then as SF was in Singapore, (not China), getting treatment for injuries received after a suicide bomb attack within his own HQ. The SLLI with about 20,000 soldiers had on the Mallawarachchi’s retirement produced a traditional valedictory news letter referring also to the tremendous Mavil Aru victory. Mallawaarachchi had been Colonel of the Regiment, the oldest in SL. SF went nuts. This reaction was customary when anyone SF disliked was given recognition or gained fame as all his war winning Generals and other officers knew. He ordered all copies of the newsletter recalled and a fresh issue less references to Mallawarchchi who was acting army commander during Mavil Aru .That was and is vintage SF.

SF has also said after 2015 that there were abductions and worse done by soldiers during the conflict. He blamed these occurrences on the Director of National (not Army) Intelligence Maj Gen (retired) Hendavitharane. SF said he had no control of the soldiers who did so. He failed to say the accused were all from Army Intelligence over which the retired Hendavitharane had no control. What sort of command did SF actually have if troops even in Colombo were beyond his control and up to alleged mischief? Yet he insists that the whole Army was under his control. What exactly did he command or even control or had some Corporals or ‘low level officers’ taken over?

Command responsibility whether it is Yamashita (Japanese -WW2) or Medina standard (Mai La massacre Vietnam) lays down there is superior responsibility and hierarchical accountability for commanders. It is their duty to supervise subordinates. There is a liability for failing to do so historically in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. For the USA it is the civil war era (1860s) Leiber code that was later included in the US war manual. In SL the Army Act is very comprehensive and clear. No one needs to preach to SL. Admiral Yamashita was charged for unlawfully disregarding and failing to discharge his duty as Commander to control the acts of his troops of his command permitting them to commit war crimes.

Traditional but unwritten laws of war were followed in Asia by Alexander as seen after his triumph over Porus (Purahito) on the banks of the river Indus in the Punjab. He extended the usual courtesies due to Royalty to the Indian King .In the crusades or holy war as the Arabs called it, the Saracen commander Saladin (Salahuddin) kept to his word about the treatment of prisoners but the English King Richard the Lion Heart broke it, killing them all. The laws of war were well known to the East a very long time ago. The Europeans were running around with painted bodies at that time.

US Army Capt Medina was Charlie Company Commander of 1st Battalion 20th Infantry regiment 11th Light Infantry Brigade of the rotten Americal Division. It entered My Lai on 16 March 1968. The notorious Lt Calley, a college dropout, led 1st platoon that started the massacres. The 2nd platoon had a proclivity for rape. The 3rd was no better. Four hundred (400) unarmed farmer and fisher villagers in all were killed by C Company. Many killed were children under 5 years; others were gang raped/killed, sodomized and wounded. The other 2 companies of the regiment acting as cut offs to seal the village indulged in the same criminality. B Company slaughtered 90 civilians. The battalion (Lt Col Barker) and brigade commander (Col Henderson) were present in helicopters circling overhead when the blood bath took place. Thus this was an operation not an aberration. They were aware of war aims and HR violations and were criminally responsible when they did not take disciplinary action. There was the usual cover up for one year. Inquiries went on until 1972. Medina was found not guilty and Calley after a short spell under house arrest was released without serving even one day in prison. This is the adopted country for which Atul Keshap SL US Ambassador 'regularly blew fog horns on morality.

SF joined in the parliamentary interrogation of the nose diving SL Airways. His contribution was to know ‘who is this Major Peiris who gets an Rs 2 million salary‘? Lt Col Sunil Peiris was in the first intake of officer cadets trained at Diyatalawa. SF was one but last in the 3rd intake. The army then was about 10,000 strong. Peiris was SF’s army senior by about 25 places. The well over 6 foot Sunil Peiris, was the founder commander of the Commandos and head of HR at SL Airways. SF’s problem was that a security guard he hardly knew had not been given an immediate posting to Colombo as requested even before he was fully trained. His father had accepted the position but his mother had thrown names into the hat and had been rebuffed. One should not strain to know whose name it was that mattered.

SF was actually after former Commando Maj Gen Chandrawansa who was in charge of the airlines security. SF could not get him direct. So he launched himself at Col Sunil Peiris simply because he had been Chandrawansa’s first Commanding officer. SF had driven the latter to despair and retirement in 2006 when he was Army Commander.This was a follow over 10 years after- unadulterated still SF. Both Peiris and Chandrawansa were also from the Gemunu Watch. SF’s favourite attack position is when the victim is a subordinate shackled by rules and unable to respond; as in the Army. Outside of the parliament Peiris would have taught SF a thing or two as SF well knows.

SF may have forgotten that when the 2010 Presidential Election campaign was on, his former army minders running his campaign had appointed Peiris by SMS as the coordinator of the Commando Legion for SF’s campaign! This was typical SF’s gratitude.

Peiris’ brother Squadron Leader Eksith, 6ft 7 ins tall, died while training the SLAF Commandos he commanded. Every officer in the 3 forces knew them or of them both, very well. They were exemplary in character, command and deed. Even the then C in C JR Jayawardene who went silent when he first saw Eksith towering over him at President’s House in 1977, did. But SF of intake 3, now a FM wanted to know who ‘Major’ Peiris of intake one was. SF had become a typical SL politician. RW as usual was silent witness to this unwarranted heckling.

C in C President Sirisena has however once again clearly reiterated that there will be no war crimes trials for war heroes and Army Commanders. This will dampen lawyers who were looking to make a financial killing with never ending tribunals. Fonseka then attempted to circumnavigate the C in C’s remarks by saying the President did not rule out domestic trials. Does the government not realize the danger of such reconstructions of what the President meant?

Will the President inform the UN where he is now and of course USA, UK of his decision officially? Will he also include India now in the ‘elder brother’ role after its 1987 invasion in 1987? That was a war crime too. Will the President then order SF to pipe down? Will SF continue to reinterpret the C in C nevertheless? The US, LTTE cohorts GTF and TNA and SL’s bank, highway, land and river sand robbers will be over joyed.

What would have happened if the FM was a Christian and called a Buddhist monk mad? Ananda College was justifiably proud when Lt Gen Mahes Senanayake became Ananda’s fourth Army Commander last month. Has that pride been severely dented even if SF cares little to state he is actually 90% Dharmasoka College Ambalangoda? It will worry the latter school too. No other commander of any military organization while in service or retired ever had or will have the insolence and temerity to call a Buddhist monk mad. This remark has made SF a hero on the web to all fundamental sects and shadowy NGOs in SL. There is a wall of silence in the government ranks. Why?

Who is it in SL, local or foreign, apart from Americans and some NGOs, that makes SF exceedingly bold to splinter the Army, vent his spleen on Buddhist monks and demoralize the country? Will he not have damaged colossally and may even irreparably, the complete peace that prevails since the vaporizing of the LTTE in May 2009? What is his game plan? His colleagues know.

It should be remembered that SF’s new fair weather colleagues had formed a tuneless chorus and sang nasty ditties about him when he was Army Commander. They were urged on by the USA and EU. In 2008 ‘perpetually’ disgraced Karunanayake (formerly ‘Hon’ RK) said SF’s army did not know the difference between Grand Pass and Elephant Pass or Killinochchi and Madawachchi .Kiriella ventured to say SF was leading cattle that could miraculously fire weapons. Ranil Wickramasinghe after the capture of Thoppigala by the Army disparagingly referred to that most dominating feature in the Eastern jungles as just another rocky out crop amidst a few trees. He, with his hands in the pocket, is now stewing in what he called a Jamis Banda soup in 2015 when the bond scam broke. Minister Samaraweera joined the circus and mindlessly announced that SF was not fit enough to command the Salvation Army.

SF in 2017 made out that what is said in politics should not be taken seriously. None of the sillies have however apologized for what they said. SF has not made any demands on them either. They gave him a FM rank to take him on board. What price do FMs pay to hang their heads and swallow insults? Only in SL.

What does Samaraweera now think about recommending SF for the Salvation Army? Former UNP minister Joseph Michael Perera accused SF of being responsible for the death of editor Wickramatunge. The latter’s ex police brother Lal too said the same. Did RW not concur?

It may be time to question why SF was ever made FM. The way he has been behaving ever since he was made FM may appear to show he was made FM as compensation for being in jail and not for any deserving military reason. This is especially so as the government of which he is a minister is afraid to discipline or caution him for making statements both about other Generals, war crimes and a Buddhist monk. If he was made FM for winning the war, then the SLN and SLAF commanders of that time should also have been so rewarded as they were all given 4 star General ranks at the same time for leading their services to win the war. If it was because he spent time in prison, then that Navy officer who was taken prisoner by the LTTE and made captive for a longer period than SF and all the soldiers SF imprisoned may think they also should be promoted to diverse ranks. Chronic SL.

‘When Generals engage in partisan politics, they venture into an area where they are amateurs and so are unlikely to operate effectively. But by doing so they could make future politicians take politics into consideration when choosing to work with Generals… could result in reduced military effectiveness’. ( Thomas E Ricks – The Generals)

It may have been Jonny (mines) in front and Fony (commanding) behind then. It is war crimes accusations in front and betrayal from behind now.

It could be said “There comes a time in every battle when the result hangs in the balance. Then the general, however skillful and far sighted he may have been, must hand over to his soldiers, to the men in the ranks and to their regimental officers and leave them to complete what he has begun. The issue then rests with them, on their courage, their hardihood, their refusal to be beaten either by the cruel hazards of nature or by the fierce strength of their human enemy… That moment came early in the fighting; sometimes it came when sick and tired men felt alone, when it would have been easy to give up, when only willpower, discipline and faith could steel them to carry on. To the soldiers …who in their comradeship.. did go on and the airmen who flew with them and fought over them belong the true glory of achievement. It was they who turned Defeat into Victory” (Field Marshal William Slim of Burma) .This honour must also include the intrepid sailors who destroyed the Sea Tigers and ventured far beyond international maritime boundaries to destroy the LTTE floating warehouses that had re- supplied the LTTE with war like stores and equipment.

When Russian Marshal Georgy Zhukov, the hero of Leningrad, Stalingrad, Moscow, Kursk, (where the greatest tank battle in the world was fought), and the battle for Berlin of whom Eisenhower said “had longer experience as a responsible leader in great battles than any other man of our time” was asked “what wont you forgive” Zhukov replied “Betrayal”.

-Asian Tribune –

President Maithripala Sirisena on 22 March 2015 conferred General Sarath Fonseka, the former army commander, to the rank of Field Marshal, Sri Lanka’s highest military rank. President Maithripala Sirisena presided the ceremony held at the Defence Ministry ground.
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