A powerful reflection of Indo-Lanka military relations | Daily News
Joint Training Exercise Mitra Shakti

A powerful reflection of Indo-Lanka military relations

The annual joint military training exercise Mitra Shakti is underway in Ampara. Officers and soldiers of both the Sri Lanka Army and Indian Army have been engaged in tactical level training which has augmented their combat capability.

This year, the Indian Army is represented by a 120-strong contingent. These robust personnel are made up of infantry, signal corps, armoured corps, artillery, mechanised infantry, combat engineers and medical corps. The Sri Lanka Army is also represented by some branches, including the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment (VIR).

The Indian Army is the land-based branch and the largest component of the Indian Armed Forces. The primary mission of the Indian Army is to ensure national security and national unity, defend the nation from external aggression and internal threats, and maintain peace and security within its borders. It conducts humanitarian rescue operations during natural calamities and other disturbances. It is a major component of national power, alongside the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. The Indian Army is operationally and geographically divided into seven commands.

The Sri Lanka Army has a rich heritage of seven decades, embellished with many victories on the battlefield. Over these years, the Sri Lanka Army has made tremendous progress and displayed its valour and altruism to the Motherland. The Sri Lanka Army can be proud of its many battle-hardened regiments. Among them are the Commando Regiment (CR) and Special Forces Regiment (SF). These formidable strategic fighters excel in various forms of military operations, including airborne and stealthily operating behind enemy lines.

The Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment has a long battle-hardened history. The 1st Battalion of the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment was raised on March 15, 1981 at Iratta Periyakulam, Vavuniya. The Battalion was stationed in Minneriya during the first half of 1982. Their Coat of Arms, ‘Dhanurdhara - The Archer’ is a unique creation displaying a human torso combined with the body of a lion to proudly manifest the qualities of the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment. The ‘Archer’ is ready with his bow drawn. The lion is in the attacking posture depicting that the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment is ready for action.

Mitra Shakti deepens the existing defence cooperation between India and Sri Lanka. It enables the sharing of each other’s experience in the domain of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. This exercise was initially envisaged during the inaugural Staff Talks in 2011. Mitra Shakti was first started as an infantry platoon level engagement (35 personnel) and then upgraded to Infantry Company level (120 personnel) in 2016/2017. From this year both countries decided to deepen the engagement by making it a Combined Arms Concept, wherein now alongside the infantry, they have the other elements participating. From next year this engagement will have at least 250 army personnel.

Indian Army Staff Chief (COAS), General Manoj Mukund Naravane will be visiting Sri Lanka. General Naravane is a distinguished and decorated infantry officer who has served in counterinsurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir, and with the IPKF in Sri Lanka. He also served as the General Officer Commanding Delhi area. He has served as General Officer commanding Indian Army Training Command. His presence is an honour to the Sri Lankan military.

Sri Lanka’s Defence Staff Chief, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva is a highly decorated officer of the Gajaba Regiment. He is respected as a fearless frontline commander. He has served as the Chief of Staff, Director General Operations and Adjutant General at the Army Headquarters. General Silva was also the Air Mobile Brigade Commander. He was a visiting lecturer at the Marine Corps War College, Virginia, USA.

An all arms Indian contingent for Joint Exercise ‘Mitra Shakti’, headed by Commanding Officer Colonel Prakash Kumar was welcomed by Ex-Mitra Shakti Deputy Director, Brigadier B.N. Godellwatta, together with Defence Attaché of the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka Captain Vikas Sood at the airport. From October 3 to 17, the India–Sri Lanka bilateral joint exercise, designed to enhance the understanding of transnational terrorism, inter-operability skills, the conduct of joint tactical operations, and sharing of each other’s best practices and experiences, is underway at the Combat Training School in Ampara.

The Sri Lanka Army is represented by 120-troops of equal numbers. Under the close supervision of Defence Staff Chief, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva, General Officer Commanding - 53 Division Major General Nishantha Manage functions as the Exercise Director. The Indian contingent participating in the Exercise is commanded by Colonel Prakash Kumar, along with Colonel Girish Godial, Colonel John Daniel and Lady Officer Lieutenant Colonel Zulage Meera of the Indian Army as observers. This important training exercise between India and Sri Lanka culminates on October 17, 2021. The Sri Lanka Air Force will contribute to the training exercise by flying their Bell 212 and MI-17 helicopters.

Currently, this engagement is primarily counterterrorism wherein at the tactical level, the drills that would be rehearsed are primarily intelligence collection, cordon and search operations, raids, fire support by armour and mechanised infantry, chemical and biological operations by engineers, casualty evacuation and humanitarian operations. Mitra Shakti is the biggest army level bilateral engagement in this region; it is unique in terms of the level of engagement which is a combined arms concept. Both the countries' Forces are experts and hugely experienced in dealing with counterinsurgency, with the rising of Islamic fundamentalism and concerns of it spreading in the Indian Ocean Region, plus the latest happenings in Afghanistan. This engagement plays a vital role in collectively dealing with any future threat.

Today when we talk about Mitra Shakti, the Indian Army reflects on the role of the IPKF in Sri Lanka during the period of conflict. Of the many combat operations, the significant was Operation Pawan. The para commandos are a Special Forces unit of the Indian Army mandated with special operating missions; direct action, hostage rescue, counterterrorism, unconventional warfare and asymmetric warfare are its primary tasks. In the opening stages of Operation Pawan, on the midnight of October 12, 1987, a daring phase of the larger operation was planned as a fast heliborne assault involving Mi-8 helicopters of the No.109 HU, consisting of the 10th Para Commandos. The aim of the operation was to capture the LTTE leadership at the Jaffna University building which served as their tactical headquarters. This was expected to shorten Operation Pawan, the battle for Jaffna. However, the mission failed to achieve its objectives. The heli-dropped Indian Force suffered some casualties. However, Jaffna was liberated after two weeks of intense fighting. A monument to the memory of these Indian soldiers stands in the Northern Province.

The Indian Army offers 170 military courses to the Sri Lanka Army every year. There are 950 vacancies at various Indian Army schools for Sri Lankan Army personnel to study and enhance their military skills. This includes National Defence College (NDC), Indian Military Academy (IMA), National Defence Academy (NDA), Defence Services Technical Staff College (DSTSC) and Higher Defence Management Course (HDMC). The Indian Army spends approximately 550 million Indian rupees annually on this training for their Sri Lankan counterparts. This is a reflection of the steadfast ties between India and Sri Lanka. The Mitra Shakti Training Exercise will grow from strength to strength.

(The writer expresses his sincere thanks to the Defence Wing of the Indian High Commission)


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