Attrition: Even Deserters Love A Winner


June 1,2008: The Sri Lankan army has a problem with desertion. Currently there are about 15,000 army deserters at large. But late last year, it was worse, with about 20,000 deserters on the books. In the past, the army has managed to get deserters to return by offering an amnesty.The most recent one, that was available the first two weeks of May, was extended another two weeks because the initial response was so great. The army expects to get about a third of its wayward soldiers back.

The main cause of the desertion is the 25 years of fighting with Tamil rebels. This has killedover 70,000 Sri Lankans. About a third are Tamils (18 percent of the population), most of the rest are soldiers. Since the army is only about 150,000 strong, and the heaviest fighting has taken place in the last decade, it's no wonder so many recruits changed their minds.

The Sri Lankan army has always been an all-volunteer force. But once you are in, you are obliged to stay in as long as your contract specifies. If you want to leave before that time is up, you are classified as a deserter. The army does not make a big effort to hunt down deserters and bring them back. That would cause civil unrest.

A better solution has been victory in combat. And that's what the army has been doing for the past year. Nothing succeeds like success. The generals have been keeping army casualties down, while taking down lots of the enemy. So a record number of deserters are returning.


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