Decision to cut troops raises doubts about ‘US war ability’

Updated 09 July 2015

Decision to cut troops raises doubts about ‘US war ability’

WASHINGTON: The US Army is to cut 40,000 soldiers from its ranks over the next two years at home and abroad, a defense official said Tuesday, in a move that will raise doubts about its ability to fight wars.

Under the cost-cutting plan, the army will be down to 450,000 soldiers at the end of the 2017 budget year, even though in 2013 it argued in budgetary documents that going below 450,000 troops might mean it could not win a war, USA Today said.
By comparison, the army swelled to 570,000 men and women during the peak of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newspaper said.
Some 17,000 civilians working for the army will also be laid off, the official told AFP, confirming the USA Today report.
The paper quoted a document it had obtained and said the cuts are being made to save money.
It will affect virtually every army post domestically and abroad, USA Today said
The defense official told AFP that the army plans to announce the cuts soon, with USA Today adding that the matter would be addressed this week.
Across-the-board government budget cuts are due to kick in in October and if Congress does not avert these the army will have to lay off another 30,000 soldiers on top of the 40,000, according to the document quoted by USA Today.
It comes just a day after President Barack Obama said that the US-led coalition fighting the Daesh group would step up its campaign in Syria, while cautioning a long battle remained.
Brigades stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska will be among those downsized, USA Today said.
Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, told the paper that the cutdown “makes no strategic sense.”
More than a year after IS fighters overran much of Iraq and Syria, the US and its allies are struggling to turn the tide against the extremists in an air campaign known as Operation Inherent Resolve.
The Pentagon last month said it was sending 450 additional US troops to act as advisers to help Iraqi forces seize back control of the western city of Ramadi from fighters.
Speaking to reporters after a briefing at the Pentagon on Monday, Obama warned the war “will not be quick. This is a long-term campaign.” He added that more needed to be done to train government forces and Sunni tribal fighters in Iraq, as well as moderate Syrian rebels.


‘Terminator’ Rajapaksa storms to victory in Sri Lanka

Updated 17 November 2019

‘Terminator’ Rajapaksa storms to victory in Sri Lanka

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism
  • His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists

COLOMBO: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who spearheaded the brutal crushing of the Tamil Tigers 10 years ago, stormed to victory Sunday in Sri Lanka’s presidential elections, seven months after Islamist extremist attacks killed 269 people.
Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism in the Buddhist-majority country following the April 21 suicide bomb attacks blamed on a homegrown militant group.
His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists and possibly some in the international community following the 2005-15 presidency of his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mahinda, with Gotabaya effectively running the security forces, ended a 37-year civil war with Tamil separatists. His decade in power was also marked by alleged rights abuses, murky extra-judicial killings and closer ties with China.
Gotabaya, a retired lieutenant-colonel, 70, nicknamed the “Terminator” by his own family, romped to victory with 51.9 percent of the vote, results from the two-thirds of votes counted so far showed.
“I didn’t sleep all night,” said student Devni, 22, one of around 30 people who gathered outside Rajapaksa’s Colombo residence. “I am so excited, he is the president we need.”
Rajapaksa’s main rival, the moderate Sajith Premadasa of the ruling party, trailed on 42.3 percent. The 52-year-old conceded the race and congratulated Rajapaksa.
On Sunday three cabinet members resigned — including Finance Minister Mangalar Samaraweera.
The final result was expected later on Sunday with Rajapaksa due to be sworn in on Monday. Turnout was over 80 percent.
Premadasa had strong support in minority Tamil areas but a poor showing in Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese heartland, a core support base where Rajapaksa won some two-thirds of the vote.
Saturday’s poll was the first popularity test of the United National Party (UNP) government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe’s administration failed to prevent the April attacks despite prior and detailed intelligence warnings from India, according a parliamentary investigation.
Premadasa also offered better security and a pledge to make a former war general, Sarath Fonseka, his national security chief, projecting himself as a victim seeking to crush terrorism.
He is the son of assassinated ex-president Ranasinghe Premadasa who fell victim to a Tamil rebel suicide bomber in May 1993.
But Gotabaya is adored by the Sinhalese majority and the powerful Buddhist clergy for how he and Mahinda ended the war in 2009, when 40,000 Tamil civilians allegedly perished at the hands of the army.
Under his brother, Gotabaya was defense secretary and effectively ran the security forces, allegedly overseeing “death squads” that bumped off rivals, journalists and others. He denies the allegations.
This makes the brothers detested and feared among many Tamils, who make up 15 percent of the population. Some in the Muslim community, who make up 10 percent, are also fearful of Gotabaya, having faced days of mob violence in the wake of the April attacks.
Under Mahinda, Sri Lanka also borrowed heavily from China for infrastructure projects and even allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Colombo in 2014, alarming Western countries as well as India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Sunday that India looked forward to “deepening the close and fraternal ties... and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region.”
The projects ballooned Sri Lanka’s debts and many turned into white elephants — such as an airport in the south devoid of airlines — mired in corruption allegations.
Unlike in 2015 when there were bomb attacks and shootings, this election was relatively peaceful by the standards of Sri Lanka’s fiery politics.
The only major incident was on Saturday when gunmen fired at two vehicles in a convoy of at least 100 buses taking Muslim voters to cast ballots. Two people were injured.
According to the Election Commission the contest was, however, the worst ever for hate speech and misinformation.