Trials produce triumph. When you are tested, then you can be trusted. This can be proudly said of the men and women who serve within the Special Task Force, the elite unit of the Sri Lanka Police. With the onset of insurgent activities gaining momentum in the early 1980s, Police officers deployed in north of the country were increasingly being targeted, seriously hampering the enforcement of law.
The need was felt to form a Special Military unit within the Police in order to deal with the escalating terrorist threat. The Ministry of Defence, under which purview the Police functioned, decided to establish an armed unit within the Police with rapid striking capability.Subsequently, the first batch of sixty officers were selected and transformed into combat ready commandos by the Army in 1983. Retired Senior DIG Bodhi Liyanage holds the distinction of being the first Officer to command this new wing. Initially, these men were deployed to secure Police Stations in Jaffna. On May 5, 1984, the unit was renamed as Special Task Force (STF) under then Commandant SSP Zerney Wijesuriya. The present Commandant is DIG Ranjith Perera, a pioneer and a veteran of the force.
Subsequently, the services of Instructors from the world renowned British SAS – Special Air Service were obtained for training. During this time the weapons were upgraded with the American made M-16 rifle. (Introduced in 1973 during the Vietnam War the M-16 is a rotating bolt action rifle with a target range of 600 yards able to fire 950 rounds per minute.) This paved way for the STF to be officially recognized on par with foreign Special Forces by being authorized to wear the coveted Green Beret. As the conflict escalated the security of Batticaloa District was entrusted to the STF who were able to repulse the threats and win the respect of the local communities.
As high profile assassinations drew attention, the STF faced a daunting challenge in securing VIP convoys and began training bodyguards for close protection duties in 1987. This was enhanced by the formation of Search and Explosives Ordnance Disposal teams which would meticulously look for hidden explosives and neutralize explosives devices.
In 2000, the Bomb Disposal Unit began active, duty being trained by the Police service of Israel, a nation that has withstood violent threats.
During the three decades of conflict, there was impending danger in the border villages of Digamadulla area. To counter this threat a special team was given extensive training in jungle warfare and deployed into the forests as Small Teams to take the fight to the enemy rather than reacting to enemy attacks. (The concept of deep penetration units was originated by Maj.Gen Charles Wingate, a British officer during World War 2 as the British fought the Japanese.) The STF units made a silent contribution in eliminating plantations of illegal cannabis (ganja) in the Moneragala and Uva districts by utilizing experience they gathered by operating deep inside enemy territory.
In 1996, two dozen men were trained and formed the Quick Reaction Team, which has the ability to fire at targets whilst riding motorbikes at top speed. Keeping abreast of growing security needs the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams were formed in 2005. The recruits are trained in fighting at close quarters and hostage rescue. Enlisted students of SWAT must master their basic parachute skills to enter high risk situations. SWAT teams use the MP5 and Israeli made Uzi weapons to maintain high level of accuracy in shooting. These valiant men are tasked with protection of visiting foreign dignitaries and sporting teams.
They showed their prowess in counter terrorism when they were invited to share their security expertise at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The security of a visiting Pope was also entrusted to the Special Task Force. As terrorist threats take new dimensions globally the STF is being geared to face new challenges. Besides para-military training, focus has been shifted to provide training on upholding law and order as the STF strives to enhance law enforcement within our country.
There are specialized teams to deal with accidents related to Radiological Materials, Public Protests, Natural Disasters, Organized Crimes and Narcotics, high risk arrests and prisoner transportation. Presently, a team is under training for deployment with the UN for peace keeping missions.
The hallmark of the STF is its discipline, discernment and respect for all communities in the discharge of their duty, and rapid mobility. They continue to be primed, indomitable and ready to face any challenge.