Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in a wide-ranging interview with The Nation, spoke about many issues, including the government`s security strategy, the importance of defeating the LTTE militarily, abductions and his views on the UN and EU. Asserting that his job was to militarily weaken the LTTE, he said politicians would then take over, start a political process, and provide a political package and political solution. He also addressed the charges made against him in parliament by UNP MP Lakshman Seneviratne, and stated he was not involved in politics. He emphasised his only concern was `fighting terrorism.` Following is the interview:
`The only way out for us is to weaken the LTTE militarily and convince it that it should sit and talk and try to negotiate. That is what everybody is trying to achieve. Prabhakaran, through various tactics, wants to put pressure on the government again and again, hoping that the government would give in, and he is trying to take the upper hand militarily`
`No one should do anything to demoralise the forces. We are very concerned about this. If you demoralise the troops, you should remember that the troops will pay with their lives. When you demoralise a soldier, he will not face the enemy with confidence. This is why everybody, including politicians and media practitioners, must be careful not to demoralise the soldiers for petty gain`
Q: How would you distinguish between the military campaign being conducted now and that of previous Eelam wars?
A: The biggest difference I see here is that the President is handing down the security strategy to his officials, but the military strategy is a matter for the armed forces. I have given this freedom to the forces. Working out the military strategy is completely dependent on the chief of defence staff and the commanders of the three forces.
Immediately after the President was elected, we did a complete study of the situation and worked out a strategy. I can assure you, there are no politics involved in the military strategy. We have given the military complete independence. Handling of the forces is done by the tri-force commanders and we have achieved good results. For the first time we have three commanders who as junior officers were involved in almost all the previous operations.
Take for instance the Army Commander. Even as a senior captain, he was commanding a company and was involved in major operations. From the very junior level he was involved in military strategy, whereas most previous commanders got involved in operations at a very late stage, when they reached a senior level in the military structure.
For instance, the present Army Commander has commandeered a company, battalions, brigades, and a division and was in charge of security forces in the north.
The commanders are well versed in the operational side, they know the enemy point of view, they know their men very well and have worked with them and they read the battles well because of their previous experience. We are allowing them to use their capabilities and experience effectively, without any interference. We achieved better results this time because of these aspects. If you look at the operations so far, it is very clear that we have had better results than ever before. For example, if you take the east, never before have we captured so many weapons from the enemy. We have had military successes previously, but this time we have been able to recover artillery guns, mortars, weapons and explosives from these operations and in addition, there have been scores of LTTE casualties.
In the last three months alone, we recovered more than 70 LTTE bodies and handed over to the SLMM. We see quite a lot of LTTEers surrendering. This is a marked difference from previous times. These things happened because of better organisation, better tactics and better leadership. More than all this, we suffered less.
Many officers tell me that we have not lost our tanks, our men, or our aircraft. We see better commitment from the troops. Their morale is very high. Many reasons could be attributed to this. Maintaining the morale of the troops is imperative. After all, this is a battle between minds your mind and that of the enemy.
If the morale of your soldiers is high, they think better, they react better, their decisions are better, and the results would, of course, be better. This is one factor the government is very concerned about and we have taken many steps to enhance the morale of the forces.
No one should do anything to demoralise the forces. We are very concerned about this. You might have seen our criticism of the media and various others. This is with a very good reason. If you demoralise the troops, you should remember that the troops will pay with their lives.
When you demoralise a soldier, he will not face the enemy with confidence. When his morale is high, he is confident when facing the enemy. This is why everybody, including politicians and media practitioners, must be careful not to demoralise the soldiers for petty gain.
Q: From what you say, it is the government that provided the leadership and at the same time gave the military the freedom to handle the war. But in the case of the LTTE, whether we like it or not, Velupillai Prabhakaran is responsible for the overall LTTE strategy - whether it be military, political or even economical vis-?-vis the country. What is your view on this?
A: Even in the LTTE, Prabhakaran placed Karuna in charge of the military, Soosai in charge of the Sea Tigers, and Pottu Amman handled intelligence. The political leader gives the leadership you give the proper strategy to the military. What I am saying is that you should not interfere with them when implementing that strategy.
For example, a political leader would not know military tactics. There is a big difference. The overall military strategy should be laid down. That is the prerogative of the political leadership. The President as the Commander-in-Chief has given clear directions but the management of the operations and the employment of tactics at ground level should be handled by the military.
Q: The LTTE has virtually forced the government into increasing military expenditure, and thereby pushed the government into an economic crisis, This is also the part of the LTTE strategy. How do you respond to this?
A: That does not mean that the government can breach the security of the country. It is the responsibility of the President to safeguard the country. You cannot allow a terrorist group to hold the country at ransom and divide the country. That is why a President was elected and given a mandate to safeguard the integrity of the country.
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