Army confident US military officers won't leave

by Shamindra Fernando
Army headquarters is optimistic the US will not withdraw military personnel due to the crisis triggered by Tuesday’s taking over of three key ministries including defence by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

"Almost 100 US personnel are engaged in different training exercises with us," a senior security forces officer said. "Some of them are engaged in exercises with the navy and the airforce," he said. Among the units involved in the ongoing programmes are the U.S. 13th Air Force’s 613th Contingency Response Group (CRG). "They are participating in their first Subject Matter Expert exchange with the Sri Lankan Air Force," US embassy said last week.

"The 613th CRG can-provide an assessment of the security medical, engineering and operations environment of a deployed location. This information is then quickly communicated back to decision-makers who can determine whether they wish to deploy to a specified operating location. During the program, the 613th CRG will exchange information on tactics, techniques and procedures."

They will also conduct a combined survey of airfields with the Sri Lankan Air Force.

A US official has raised security concerns during a recent Army headquarters meeting, the Sunday Island learns. This was raised at the meeting attended by defence advisors and political affairs officers representing over a dozen countries including the US, UK, India, Pakistan and China. "We assured the US representative that there is nothing to worry," the officer said, expressing confidence the ongoing exercises would continue as planned.

Office of the Chief of Defence Staff insisted that there is "absolutely no reason to call off planned exercises."

US personnel including men from highly specialised units conduct regular joint exercises with Sri Lankan forces.