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Sri Lankan Army claims halted recruitment, but Navy and Airforce pledge to continue

The Sri Lankan Army claims to have suspended general recruitment whilst the Navy and Airforce have pledged to continue, with the Airforce also seeking to expand its fleet. 

The Daily Mirror reported that the army cadre was downsizing to 135,000 by the end of this year. The publication has learned that the number has already dropped to 150,000 from  200,783. 

When the paper contacted the Navy and Air Force, both outfits' said recruitment was essential. "We continue our recruitment because without recruitment we can't operate. There is a difference between the retiring number and the recruitment number. The number will reduce according to that. We have plans on how we maintain our cadre, and our recruiting is done accordingly," Navy Spokesman Capt. Gayan Wickramasinghe said that the Sri Lanka Navy's current physical strength is about 40,000 to the Daily Mirror.

The Sri Lankan Airforce also plans an expansion of its fleet.  Air Force Commander Udeni Rajapaksa said the SLAF has submitted requests to the US Air Force for the acquisition of two C130 aircraft, with negotiations underway to secure newer models than those currently in possession. " The SLAF has already procured two new Y12 aircraft of Chinese origin as part of its fleet expansion efforts," the Commander said.

SLAF is set to acquire two Beach King Air aircraft, one from the United States and another from Australia, comprising the 360ER and KA 350 models, respectively. "These aircraft will be dedicated to bolstering maritime domain awareness, a critical aspect of safeguarding Sri Lanka's interests in the Indian Ocean region," he said.

Last year, State Minister of Defence Premitha Bandara Tennakoon said Sri Lanka would cut the number of Army personnel by a third to 135,000 by this year and to 100,000 by 2030, as part of the government’s efforts to overhaul its finances. He said that the move aims to create a “technically and tactically sound and well-balanced” defence force by 2030. 

The size of Sri Lanka’s armed forces peaked between 2017 and 2019 with 317,000 personnel, according to World Bank data. That was more than a decade after the end of the armed conflict which culminated in the Mullaivaikkal genocide. Numerous branches of the military were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Despite nearly fifteen years since the end of the armed, and continuous calls to demilitarise the Tamil homeland, the Sri Lankan army continues to take over various functions of civilian life in the North-East. The residents in the affected areas have said that the military’s intrusion into their daily lives plays a huge role in unemployment, alcohol abuse and drug exploitation in the areas. The invasive nature of the military has led to many military-owned businesses operating across the North East. The army’s position in maintaining farms and businesses limits local economic development and leaves the Tamil population unable to sustain themselves independently.

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