Military Matters


Tigers, military differ on ‘theatres’ of war

Government Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella, on Monday, shed much light over the role played by the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS).

In response to an observation by a foreign journalist, during a media briefing, that the MCNS was whitewashing the military, Minister Rambukwella, said that the centre was set up, not only to provide information related to the country’s current security but also, to provide counter propaganda against the LTTE.

In doing so, the spokesman has, unwittingly, admitted to the propaganda role played by the MCNS. When any form of propaganda, that includes counterpropaganda, is adulterated with the role of providing information, credibility suffers.

Propaganda blurs truth
This is what happened to TamilNet at the tail end of Eelam War III. Even before its cadres could reach Jaffna town, the website posted a story to the effect that Jaffna had fallen to the Tigers.
This put paid to the credibility of TamilNet as an authentic source of information.

Instead of stating that the MCNS was refuting false information provided by the Tigers, the administration’s Defence spokesman unwittingly admitted that the media centre was running counterpropaganda.
Rambukwella only confirmed what has been observed in the choice of posting stories on the government’s Defence ministry website.

Propaganda war
This suggests that Psy-Ops, as a military tactic being used to weaken the resolve of the Tigers, to counter the military operations of the security forces. In addition to riding on the back of the successes in the East, the military, which has hitherto not been all that successful in penetrating the Wanni, has planned a war of attrition.

In such a war, propaganda and hyping of casualty figures is very much the way to go, the military feels. Hence, the need for bloating the casualty figures of the enemy.

In some instances, it is reported that heavy fighting took place and dozens of Tigers were killed, while two soldiers were injured.
However, it is likely that the military is beginning to spring surprises on the Tigers, by storming locations and returning to base.
Having secured the East, sector by sector, the military plans to, initially, wrest control of the Madhu area in the Wanni. Besides, the war of attrition, this would serve as a morale booster for troops, as they advance into the Tiger stronghold.

Ground war
The operation to wrest control of Madhu, considered a strategic opening into the Wanni, continued this week, as security forces advanced, despite Tiger artillery fire from the direction of the Madhu church.

The military, which has been trying to secure the Madhu area since March, by penetrating the jungles in small numbers, was gradually making headway.

On Thursday, a Tiger security barrier in Periyathampane area fell to the security forces that destroyed a row of LTTE bunkers and returned. Intercepted LTTE messages revealed that 13 Tiger cadres were killed and 10 others injured during the confrontation that saw six solders injured.

Originally, soldiers from the10th Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment (10VIR) were not able to penetrate the area, as the LTTE had obstructed the advance. However, the Special Forces cleared the obstructions. A dozen soldiers, including Capt. Kumara, were injured in the offensive.

During confrontations in Vilatthikulam and Yodhawewa areas on Monday, five Tigers were killed and six others injured. Security Forces advanced from the direction of Vilattiikulam and Pokkaravanni and launched an offensive at Mullikulam.
The military claims that intercepted LTTE radio messages revealed that 20 Tigers killed and 15 injured, while a soldier was killed and seven others injured.

Brig. Chula Dias and Brig. Charlie Gallage are conducting the operation coordinated by Wanni Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya.

Tiger Propaganda
The Tigers too used Psy-Ops to a great deal to overpower the forces in many of their victories during their ‘Unceasing Waves’ operation. The areas captured then, are the very ones the troops are planning on wresting control of.

In 1999, the Tigers captured Mankulam and Oddusudan along a horizontal axis and Kanarankilam and Pulliyankulan along the A-9 Road. Eventually, after overrunning Elephant Pass in April 2000, they were heading for Jaffna, but were stopped in their tracks at Kilali, Muhamalai and Nagarkovil, thanks to the Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) that arrived from Pakistan and the then military commanders.

The Tigers entrenched in the Wanni are ready for pitched battles with the security forces. What they lack for full-scale conventional battles though is MBRLs. It is very likely that they would try their best to capture these big guns from the forces.

Tiger tactics
The Tigers, too, have their own strategies in this crucial stage of a decisive war.
They are bent on taking economic targets and frustrating military efforts by affecting tourist arrivals for the upcoming winter season.

Take for instance, Monday’s attack on the Thalgasmankanda detachment camp in Yala that killed six soldiers and injured three more. This was followed by a pressure mine explosion in which a tractor sent to bring back the bodies was targeted. A soldier died and three more were injured in this explosion.

One theory that could be proffered is that the attack was a tactic to temporarily divert military attention away from the Wanni, where the security forces are pressing hard to breach Tiger defences.
As it has been said before, the Tigers try to get more than two birds with one strike.

Economic targets
The dual attacks this week in Yala, on October 15 and 16, coincide with the first anniversary of the daring attack in the South last year on October 18 on the Galle Harbour, targeting SLNS Dakshina. The attack last year came hot on the heels of the military debacle in Muhamalai on October 11, where the military went awry.

The attacks in the South, both years, came ahead of the tourist season, to cripple the Tourist industry. In fact, the attack on Yala was launched days before wildlife authorities planned to re-open the Yala sanctuary, after its closure for more than a month.
Travel agents, this week, discussed at length, problems caused by the attack, while the possibility of cautionary travel advisories were contemplated by some countries.

Days after the attack last year on the Galle harbour, Senpathi observed thus:
“One such explanation is to hit the tourist industry and the economy, by getting various countries to issue travel warnings against visiting Sri Lanka.”

Last year, within days of the Galle port attack, the Australian and German governments issued travel warnings. Why didn’t the security forces anticipate such an attack, particularly, in the backdrop of Tigers fleeing Ampara jungles during the Special Task Force (STF) and army operations?

The authorities have again tried to close the proverbial stable door after the horse has bolted. A massive military search operation was launched on Tuesday, to track down the Tigers who had made the trek to Yala, after fleeing from the Ampara jungles, consequent to STF operations.

While the military undertakes Psy-Ops in the Wanni, the Tigers have a different strategy at this juncture. While digging in, in the Wanni, the Tigers are keen on economically and politically weakening the country and the government.

Tiger casualties as civilian casualties
Also, another strategy of the LTTE, at present, is to keep mum about military claims of casualty figures in the Wanni and North. However, the Tigers have begun another type of propaganda, and that is to highlight civilian casualties, to draw the attention of the international community and place the government in an awkward position.

Take for instance the reporting on the latest attack by the Navy, 40 km offshore from Mannar. Two children and their grandfather were killed and another two children, with their mother, were seriously wounded Thursday early morning. TamilNet spoke of the fate of the ‘refugee-family from Ira’naimaatha Nakar in Naachchikkudaa.’

Reporting air-strikes that resulted in civilian casualties, has been on the rise, in contrast to the jubilant mood of the Tigers, when describing LTTE aircraft exploits several months back.

Govt credibility
The international community is already beginning to take cognizance of human rights violations by the security forces prosecuting a ferocious war. That is evident by the pressure to set up a Human Rights monitoring office here. Even the country’s rating on media freedom has plummeted to 156 in a list of 169, while being allied with countries at war and just above China, Burma, Cuba, Iran, and North Korea, all hated and despised by the ‘international community.’

While the military is battling it out on several fronts on the battlefield, the LTTE is fighting the war on several fronts not confined solely to the battlefield, in its pursuit of a separate State.


70 punished in accidental B-52 flight

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) - The Air Force said Friday it has punished 70 airmen involved in the accidental, cross-country flight of a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber following an investigation that found widespread disregard for the rules on handling such munitions.

“There has been an erosion of adherence to weapons-handling standards at Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale Air Force Base,” said Maj. Gen. Richard Newton, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations.

Newton was announcing the results of a six-week probe into the Aug. 29-30 incident in which the B-52 was inadvertently armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flown from Minot in North Dakota to Barksdale in Louisiana without anyone noticing the mistake for more than a day.

The missiles were supposed to be taken to Louisiana, but the warheads were supposed to have been removed beforehand.
A main reason for the error was that crews had decided not to follow a complex schedule under which the status of the missiles is tracked while they are disarmed, loaded, moved and so on, one official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

The airmen replaced the schedule with their own “informal” system, he said, though he didn’t say why they did that nor how long they had been doing it their own way.

“This was an unacceptable mistake and a clear deviation from our exacting standards,” Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne said at a Pentagon press conference with Newton. “We hold ourselves accountable to the American people and want to ensure proper corrective action has been taken.”

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said she believed the Air Force had done a thorough investigation, but the findings were “a warning sign that there has been degradation” of attitudes toward the handling of the weapons.

“These are not just rules that people dreamed up ... just so they could check off the boxes,” she said. “This is fundamentally important to the security of the country and the world.”
Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists was among those skeptical that the August flight represented an isolated incident.

He said a decline in Air Force standards for nuclear weapons maintenance and security was documented by the government a decade ago. In recent years, he said, Minot and Barksdale have both gotten poor marks during inspections routinely required for certification.

“Part of the reason is that after the end of the Cold War, and the disappearance of the Soviet nuclear threat, the nuclear career was not very sexy — it was not the way to go if you wanted to” advance in the military. A shortage of people with the right skills, training and mentality followed, something the Air Force has worked to improve, he said.

Newton acknowledged that the Air Force needs to “restore the confidence” lost among the American people after the August incident, which raised questions about the safety of the country’s nuclear arsenal.

“We are making all appropriate changes to ensure this has a minimal chance of ever happening again,” Wynne said.
Newton said the flight in question resulted from an “unprecedented string of procedural errors,” beginning with a failure by airmen to conduct a required inspection of the missiles before they were loaded aboard the B-52 bomber at Minot. The crew flying the plane was unaware nuclear warheads were on its wing, though it wasn’t explained what role they played in the mistake.

Highest ranked among those punished were four officers who were relieved this week of their commands, including the 5th Bomb Wing commander at Minot — Col. Bruce Emig, who also has been the base commander since June.
In addition, the wing has been “decertified from its wartime mission,” Newton said.

Some 65 airmen have been decertified from handling nuclear weapons. The certification process looks at a person’s psychological profile, any medications they are taking and other factors in determining a person’s reliability to handle weapons.
After it was loaded with the missiles, the B-52 sat overnight at Minot, flew the next morning to Louisiana, and then sat on a tarmac again for hours before anyone noticed the nuclear warheads.

Newton avoided repeated questions on what extra security would have been required if crews had known the nuclear weapons were on the plane. But another official later said privately that security was increased as soon as the nuclear warheads were discovered.

The Air Combat Command ordered a command-wide stand-down — instituted base by base and completed Sept. 14 — to set aside time for personnel to review procedures, officials said.

The incident was so serious that it required President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to be quickly informed.
Wynne prefaced his remarks about the B-52 incident by saying that, in publicly confirming that nuclear weapons were involved, he had authorized a one-time exception to U.S. policy, which states that the location of nuclear weapons will never be confirmed publicly. He said he made this exception because of the seriousness of the episode and its importance to the nation.

The weapon involved was the Advanced Cruise Missile, a “stealth” weapon developed in the 1980s with the ability to evade detection by Soviet radar. The Air Force said in March that it had decided to retire the Advanced Cruise Missile fleet soon, and officials said after the breach that the missiles were being flown to Barksdale for decommissioning.


He told us so, we didn’t heed

By K. Godage
Visiting Sri Lanka for the International Conference on Countering Terrorism (ICCT) organised by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, is Dr Gerard Chaliand, an international expert on counter terrorism. Dr Chaliand last visited Sri Lanka in May 1999 and studied the situation here. I had a meeting with him at the end of his visit and, since he was not afforded an opportunity by the powers at the time, I thought it would be useful to inform them of what he had to say.

His first observation was that “the LTTE is the best organized and most powerful militant organization in the world today” (this was in 1999). He stated that, at this stage of the conflict, the government may have taken over territory but, may not have absolute control over it, as the government does not have the troop strength to secure the territory. He mischievously stated that the military seemed to be in the real estate business. He further stated that, “It may be an LTTE tactic to allow the government to scatter its troops. This would result in the Sri Lanka Armed Forces becoming extremely vulnerable. At a chosen time, the LTTE would go through you like a knife going through butter and then, attack Elephant Pass”! This was the prophetic statement made by Dr. Chaliand. He stated, “Though territory has been captured, nothing of vital importance to the LTTE has been touched.” By this, he meant that their logistics has not been disrupted or cut, neither have we been able to reduce their manpower significantly---and lastly, their infrastructure, both here and abroad, remains undisturbed. He stated, “You must break the arms and legs of the LTTE”.

He was of the view that we have lost a lot of men fighting the LTTE, because we “do not have a clear and bold policy towards the LTTE. If we are to reach a new ‘situation’, he was of the view that;
1) The government should have a bold policy and needs to have a concrete offer on the table. He agreed that the proposals set out by the government, identified as ‘the package’, did represent a bold policy and a concrete offer intended to bring the Tamils into the mainstream but, he stated “much more remains to be done”.
2) You MUST weaken the LTTE, within the country and abroad. When asked how this could be done, he stated as follows:-
(a) Once again referred to eliminating their logistics,
(b) Reducing the LTTE’s manpower, killing terrorists is more important than gaining or holding territory.
(c) De-linking the LTTE from the people, reaching out to the diaspora,
(d) Better coordination of Intelligence,
(e) Training at least 5,000 Specialist Counter Intelligence Commandos.
(f) Better propaganda. For example, invite select media people from key countries in the ‘West’—where there is a strong Tamil diaspora. “We are Democratic, they are totalitarian fascists,” should be the ‘line’, he stated.
3) Decisions must be on the basis of a five-year plan, “you cannot destroy the LTTE in months, as some politicians have been boasting from 1983.”
4) Work at restoring the confidence of the Tamil people in a possible settlement, and the achieving of peace.
5) Military strategy should not be aimed at achieving ‘spectacular victories’ at the cost of many lives--the State cannot afford to lose troops in the war—“you must remember that you are a small country”.

In response to a question as to what the LTTE’s tactics may be in the near future (this was in May of 1999), Dr. Chaliand stated that they would most likely indulge in more urban terrorism against selective targets. They will seek to disperse government troops, to have more breathing space in the territory they hold today As to whether the LTTE is concerned about international opinion, Dr. Chaliand referred to the bombing of the Dalada Maligawa and said that whilst this was a horrendous act of desecration to Buddhists, and Sri Lanka Buddhists in particular, it was yet another act of terrorism to the rest of the world. He stated that the LTTE would avoid situations where there would be heavy civilian casualties but, would concentrate on selective acts of terrorism such as the elimination of leaders and others in key positions working against their interests.
Dr. Chaliand referred to the manner in which the LTTE has taken out our political leaders and also Rajiv Gandhi and changed the political map of South Asia.

He stated that we were a ‘soft society’ with a ‘soft culture’ and not one bent on revenge or avenging a crime. He referred to western society, particularly, to Israel, and stated that the latter country has survived only because it aggressively went after its enemies. He was of the view that persons such as Kumaran Pathmanathan and Anandaraja who are the weapons procurers of the LTTE, must be taken out. He stated that this is possible and has been done by other so-called democratic countries. Dr. Chaliand stated that our attitude must be—“they have killed our leaders and are all the time trying to kill us, we must get them before they get us”. He stated that our main target should be to get Prabhakaran.

He stated that with proper training, the methods and weapons are available for such operations. We must treat the war with the LTTE as a matter of life or death, for that is the basis on which the LTTE has approached the conflict.
This above stated information was conveyed to the then government at the highest possible level but, sad to say, it was wholly ignored.