Small boat operations:
Now, UK wants to share Lanka’s experience

Locally built ‘arrow’ type boat

Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s unparalleled military victory over LTTE terrorism, foreign powers are lining up to study Sri Lanka’s modus operandi in fighting the LTTE.

Former Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka, who spearheaded the war against the LTTE, declared on the Vellimullivaikkal beach that the international community would seek Sri Lanka’s expertise as it was the only success story against terrorism since the British campaign in Malaya in the 1950s. But that was against terrorists armed with 303 rifles, whereas the Sri Lanka army faced a well equipped enemy with sea and air assets.

Among the requests, was one from the UK for a comprehensive report on naval operations directed against the LTTE. India, too, has sought information on naval operations with special emphasis on small boat operations.

Well informed sources said that a former British Defence Attache based in Colombo had made the request on behalf of the UK. Sources said that this was preceded by the British parliament calling for a review of weapons exports to Sri Lanka. Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya told The Island that the army had not acquired any British armaments, and weapons of British origin had not been deployed in Eelam war IV. The SLAF and SLN, too, rejected the British claim.

Sources said that the navy was surprised to receive the British request. They were particularly interested in the elite Special Boat Squadron (SBS) which played a critical role in overwhelming the Sea Tigers in the seas once dominated by the enemy.

Sources said that former Navy Chief Admiral Wasantha Karanngoda resumed a boat building project at Welisara base to facilitate the expansion of the SBS over three years ago.

Under his direction, the navy launched well over 100 23 feet long ‘arrow’ type boats, sources said adding that the craft powered by two Japanese 200 horsepower outboard motors carried one 23 mm cannon and a 40 mm grenade launcher among other weapons.

Sources said that both the UK and India had wanted Lanka to share her experience in SBS operations. To strengthen small boat operations, the navy subsequently  launched the Rapid Action Boat Squadron (RABS) and deployed it alongside the SBS. As a part of its new strategy, the navy deployed small boats along with primary strike force-Fast Attack Squadrons and were responsible for imposing a blockade on Mullaitivu in the east coast during the last stages of the ground offensive.

Sources said that countries with large navies faced with terrorist threats would be keen to learn from Sri Lanka’s experience, particularly in view of the danger posed by explosives-laden small craft targeting warships as in the case of the suicide attack on the USN destroyer Cole on October 12, 2000 in the port of Aden in Yemen.

A group of US military personnel is currently in Sri Lanka to conduct a series of joint training exercises with the SBS in the East. The visit is the first by foreign military personnel after the end of war last May. Sources said that Fast Boat Squadrons, too, had shared their experience with the US over a period of several years as part of a US-Lanka military training programme launched during the Kumaratunga presidency.

Sources said that Sri Lanka had bought a US Coast Guard Cutter for operations on the high seas and 30 mm Bushmaster guns now mounted on Fast Attack Craft and had also received some valuable radar equipment of US origin. But most importantly the US smashed one of the major LTTE procurement rings run by foreigners, including a retired Indonesian Marine General, at a crucial stage of Eelam war IV, sources said.

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