An eye in the sky for ending the drug menace | Daily News


An eye in the sky for ending the drug menace

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa having assumed duties as the President made a firm pledge to eradicate the drug menace from this country, while the Defence Secretary too vowed to do the same, irrespective of the challenges they may have to face in achieving this goal.

The Defence Secretary’s declaration comes on the heels of several other actions by the government to arrest the threat posed by the drug racketeers in the country. Also, it comes on the heels of some apparent aggressive measures taken by the law enforcement authorities against the drug racketeers, drug users and the officials who had been assisting the drug mafia while being paid by the state to uphold the law and prevent such illegal activities.

In the past too, many successive governments had pledged to eradicate the drug menace but failed in their attempts due to members of these governments being involved with these drug rackets.

Hence, these were all temporary proclamations made by state leaders and law enforcement authorities either for political mileage or other personal gains. However, this time several officials who had been tasked to fight this menace – the officials of the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) ­– have been apprehended for the first time for being hand-in-glove with the criminals.

The Army, Navy, Police, STF, Customs and PNB have all been on their toes over the recent past and many drug and underworld racketeers, including some with prominent connections, have been arrested and many successful drug busts have been made as a result of these combined efforts and the will of the government.

While the ground forces are engaged in raids and arresting these racketeers and seizing large stocks of drugs and raiding illicit drug and liquor dens, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) has also been silently doing their part.

Accordingly, the Sri Lanka Air Force intelligence operatives together with troops from the Sri Lanka Police Special Task Force conducted raids on eight identified cannabis cultivation sites within the Udawalawe Forest Reserve on August 20.

Acting on the directives of the Head of the Presidential Task Force to rid the country of the drug scourge, Major General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne and under the guidance of theAir Force Commander Air Marshal Sumangala Dias and with the coordination of the STF Commandant Deputy Inspector General of Police Waruna Jayasundara, the raids were carried out on August 20 within the Udawalawe Reserve.

The sites were identified and confirmed by observations made by the Beach King aircraft of the SLAF. Two SLAF helicopters – a Bell 212 and an MI-17 – were utilized to infiltrate the selected sites by air. The Sri Lanka Police STF troops were airlifted and dropped at the locations by these helicopters and these infiltrations were followed by SLAF and STF troop also raiding the locations from the ground as well.

The cannabis plants grown in these sites amounted to approximately 160,000 which were all destroyed during this operation.

Many of these cannabis cultivations are carried out in heavily forested areas making it impossible for ground troops to locate them. These illegal cultivations have thrived as a result. However, with the deployment of the Air Force for surveillance operations by air, many of these cultivations had been spotted and having recorded the coordinates of these locations, the ground troops could easily be directed to these locations to destroy these cultivations. The Sri Lanka Air Force thus has been silently rendering huge support to the ground troops in such operations. The Air Force ground troops too have been rendering notable support to the Army, police and STF during ground operations.

Apart from locating cannabis cultivations, the Air Force has also been able to identify illegal breweries operating in heavily wooded areas. These operations have been functioning for a long period undetected as they are carried out in thickly forested areas which serve to conceal their operations.

However, with the deployment of Air Force helicopters for surveillance operations, many of these illegal liquor operations have also been identified from the air and measures have been taken to destroy these operations and arrest those engaged in such illegal activities.

In one such operation, a large-scale illegal liquor production operation which was observed by aerial reconnaissance operations conducted by the SLAF and ground reconnaissance of the SL Police STF SWAT Teams was destroyed on August 28. This illegal operation was located within the Muthurajawela Forest Reserve.

According to the Air Force, the Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Nation, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society was enacted by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with the intension of curbing illegal activities such as the distribution of drugs and also large scale production of illegal liquor. With these intentions in mind and the instructions of the Head of the Presidential Task Force Major General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne, the SLAF together with the SL Police STF SWAT Teams located a large-scale illegal liquor production operation.

Having identified this location and handing over the coordinates of this location to the relevant authorities, the SL Navy Special Boat Squadron Troops and Special Task Force Troops from the Sri Lanka Police launched a raid on the identified location which was within the Muthurajawela Forest Reserve. A Bell 212 Helicopter from the No 7 Squadron was utilized for this special operation to transport and drop the STF troops by air. The SL Navy SBS troops infiltrated the location by boat using the waterways of the forest reserve. The illegal brewery was successfully destroyed as a result of this joint effort.

It is notable to mention the efforts and contribution of the Air Force in the success of this operation as without their aerial surveillance and contribution by air, locating this illegal operation would not have been possible.

Further, with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Air Force intelligence surveillance wing, eight annabis cultivations were identified in the Udawalawe reserve and destroyed. This operation was carried out by the Air Force Special Forces and the STF under the directives of the Defence Secretary and the Air Force Commander.

On the directives of the Air Force Commander, intensified reconnaissance missions are also being carried out at the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) to monitor illegal drug trafficking operations and illegal migration through sea routes due to the increased COVID-19 pandemic situation in South East Asia. Accordingly, SLAF conducts a considerable number of intensified reconnaissance missions per week which are carried out during the daytime and also at night.

For these missions, the SLAF unitizes aerial platforms such as Y-12, Beach King aircraft from the No 8 Light Transport Squadron and No 3 Maritime Squadron respectively and also Bell 212 Helicopters from the No 7 Helicopter Squadron. In addition to these missions, additional reconnaissance missions are also carried out by the SLAF on requests made by the SL Navy and other stakeholders with respect to the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) of Sri Lanka.

The Air Force not only contributes to eradicating the drug menace from the country, but with the clear intentions of the government to eradicate the use and spread of dangerous drugs in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Air Force rendered valuable assistance in apprehending a suspect together with 50kgs of Kerala cannabis.

The raid was conducted by members of the Police Special Branch at Kilinochchi together with intelligence operatives from the Air Force in early August. The suspect was arrested by the Police Team and taken in to their custody.

Amply supporting the efforts of the government in eradicating the drug menace from the country, the Air Force has also taken steps to ensure that the Air Force personnel conform to these standards. Accordingly, the Sri Lanka Air Force also launched a comprehensive awareness programme for all SLAF personnel. With a clear ‘zero-tolerance’ policy for dangerous drugs within the SLAF, all personnel were made aware of the dangers and consequences.

This special three-day programme was initiated on the instructions of the Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sumangala Dias. The Commander addressed the entire Sri Lanka Air Force via a live stream which was transmitted by the Air Force Headquarters in early August. The Commander stressed on the dangers of using dangerous drugs not only to the SLAF, but also how it would adversely affect our loved ones at home as well.

With the address by the Commander, an island-wide awareness programme was launched covering all service personnel and civilians serving within the entire Sri Lanka Air Force. The three-day programme included special discussions, speeches, informative dramas, screening of short documentaries and even guest lectures by experts in the field.

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