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Military Matters


After the CFA:
 The military way

The ‘official’ resumption of hostilities on Wednesday (16), coincides with the period when the North-East monsoon is in full swing.

When the monsoon is on its way out between mid March and end April, the war would be at full throttle, in view of the August deadline set for victory.

During the monsoon, which also affects ground, sea and air operations, the military abandons armoured operations, which give it a distinct advantage over the LTTE in pitched battles. The Mechanized Infantry Brigade led by Col. Ralph Nugera, is also set to bring in the element of surprise.

But, military plans must not be drawn and executed to achieve political ends. To coincide with the unveiling of the 2008 Budget on November 10, plans to push through the Muhamalai Forward Defence Lines (FDL) and the Kilali and Nagakovil thrusts ended in disaster. Mistakes, very similar to those committed during the Muhamalai debacle on October 11, 2006, were repeated.

Gearing for war
The Army is now bracing for the big battles ahead and the difference between the declared and the undeclared Eelam War IV would be in the casualty count. There would be more conventional battles ahead.

Unlike at the beginning of the undeclared war, the military does not have to be too mindful of the fallout on account of high casualty figures.

Working to a plan, the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) is ready for the big battles on four different fronts.
It goes into battle with the east under its belt and the Tigers depleted in strength by the almost unlimited limited operations in the Wanni and the north over a period of a year from end February 2007 to mid January 2008.

“As a precursor to the anticipated battle, the SLA is trying to chip away at the LTTE, as well as probing the LTTE’s strength through small-scale skirmishes at the periphery. We understand their tactics, we haven’t underestimated their strength either,” said senior LTTE member K. Balakumaran, in a military response to the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

Each side had ample opportunity to assess/evaluate the other’s strengths and weaknesses during operations and counter operations in the Wanni and the northern FDLs

Neither side was able to make a major breakthrough in terms of securing real estate. This is because the LTTE fiercely resisted all moves to penetrate its defences. The LTTE, which strategically withdrew in the east, to fight another day, has been largely fighting a defensive battle in the Wanni and the north, preventing any inroads.

Testing the waters
In the past few weeks, the Army has been making some headway in the Adampan and the Uyilankulam areas, northwest of the Giant’s Tank. Last week, there was heavy fighting in the Parappankandal areas northwest of the tank. After prolonged stiff resistance by the LTTE, the Army was able to break through. The areas are heavily mined, making the operations all the more difficult.

In the undeclared war, except for some major pitched battles, the Army was content in securing the east and conducting limited operations in the north across the FDLs.

But, you can’t dislodge the LTTE from their FDLs with these small missions. You need the unceasing waves to exhaust the Tiger defences to push through. And one such way is to engage them on several fronts.

Major operations are likely to be conducted by the military, which has expressed its intent, by calling off the CFA and inducting several new strike divisions- 57, 58 and 59.

Learning from the mistakes of previous Eelam Wars, the Army did not want to go bulldoze into major operations and earn the condemnation of the people. A couple of instances when major operations were conducted, the LTTE hit back with heavy casualties.

What would be seen in this phase of the war are many pitched battles, strategically fought by the Army, towards achieving the overall objective of defeating the LTTE.

The Security Forces (SF) certainly have the upper hand, given the high morale among the troops, as reflected in the successful recruitment drive.

The Navy has done its part well in all the battles at sea, as well as destroying nearly a dozen shiploads of arms and ammunition designated for the organisation, during the six-year CFA.

As we have said before, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) wreaked havoc on Tiger infrastructure, including training camps, bunkers, fuel and ammunition dumps and gun positions.

No sooner the East was cleared in July last year, LTTE military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan lamented: “We can’t keep a training base for a long time in this (Wanni) area,” alluding to the threat of air strikes.

The position has not changed and the frequency of the air strikes has increased over the past six months. The SLAF also began targeting key Tigers, killing even Political Wing Leader S.P. Thamilselvan (November 2) and injuring the ‘invincible’ Tiger Supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran on November 26.

Enter STF
The Special Task Force (STF), which contributed significantly, in the clearing operation in Amparai, has been operating in Batticaloa, ever since the east was cleared. This week, the STF killed LTTE Intelligence Wing Leader Shankar during a confrontation at Vavukade, Batticaloa.

But the more shocking news for the LTTE military intelligence was the killing of its head Shanmuganathan Ravishankar alias ‘Col.’ Charles, on the Mannar-Pooneryn Road on January 5. As military operations are in full swing in the Wanni, Col. Charles was constantly on the move feeding the LTTE’s military planners of the possible moves by the SF.

The deep penetration unit of the Army, which has been putting a scare into the organisation, by successfully targeting key leaders in the past several months, did the trick. Significantly, his van was plying the A-32 Road in the uncleared areas, when it got caught to a claymore mine explosion.

Options
It was only last week that Balakumaran warned the Army that its plans to reach Pooneryn along the A-32 Road or, its attempts to use the A-34, to advance through Oddusuddan, were likely to meet with disaster.

“One of these highways will result in being re-named the highway of death. Whichever path Sri Lanka chooses to enter into the Wanni, they have to directly confront our fighters,” Balakumaran told National Television of Tamileelam (NTT), adding that the organisation would stall any SLA advance along the A-32 to Pooneryn or A-34 through Oddusuddan. This may be part of the psy-ops carried out by the organisation that has been receiving a beating.

The military says that on Friday alone 66 Tigers were killed and many more injured when the Army continued to attack LTTE defences in the Wanni and Jaffna battlefronts. A soldier was killed and 28 more were injured. The Army has opened up fronts in Vavuniya, Mannar and Weli Oya. Troops yesterday overan an LTTE strong point in Palaikkuli general area killing 15 Tigers, the military claims adding that the bodies of six cadres were handed over to the ICRC at Omanthai entry/ exit point.

Balakumaran says that a bloodbath is inevitable, and he may not be wrong, as skirmishes give way to conventional battles.

Army Chief Lt Gen Fonseka, in an interview with our sister paper Rivira, said that two offensive Divisions from Jaffna, are to join the advancing troops from Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli Oya fronts

The newly inducted 59 Division under Brig. Nanda Uduwatte is playing a key role in a new front from Weli Oya. He is assisted by Brig. P.W.B. Jayasundera as Deputy General Officer Commanding (GOC) Weli Oya. Three Brigade Commands – 591, 592 and 593- have been established.

The LTTE must be aware of the route the Army took in Jaya Sikurui from Weli Oya through Nedunkerni and on the A-9 Road through Puliyankulam, where the Army got stuck. From Nedunkerni, the Army was forced to send units to relieve Puliyankulam, to allow the Army to advance. The Tigers that lay in wait at Oddusudan, started their counter offensives from there.

Alive to the Army’s intentions, Balakumaran’s mention of Oddusuddan, could be a deliberate attempt at sending the military a grim reminder of what happened back in November 1999. LTTE’s Unceasing Waves counter offensive, launched from Oddusuddan, not only helped recover territory lost to Jaya Sikurui, along the Mankulam-Oddusuddan axis, but extended right up to the present Omantai entry-exit point on the A–9 Road. Having failed in its feigned attempt to go further south and wrest control of Mannar, the Tigers sprung a surprise and went for Paranthan and even Elephant Pass, which it tried for decades and failed. Even when there was a battalion or a brigade, the Army defended the strategic EPZ base, which is the neck to the peninsula. But, in 2000, the LTTE managed to rout a whole division and proceed right up to the present FDL at Kilali, Muhamalai and Nagarkovil, the flashpoint for several skirmishes during the past 18 months.

For any Army chief, Elephant Pass is a prize catch, not only in a strategic sense, but also because of the pride attached to it. It is a smaller area, easier to control than the Wanni, which is a huge expanse.

Game plans
If the Army succeeds this time at Oddusuddan and could proceed to Mullativu, another column could proceed to this same destination along the coast from Pulmoddai and Kokotudawai.

As the Army seems concentrating in the Adampan area, it might be tempted to wrest control of Vidattaltivu, where the first LTTE FDL begins close to the A–32 Pooneryn Road. The support of the Navy and Air Force will be enlisted to assist the Army in wresting control of Pooneryn, given the LTTE’s gun positions that target the Jaffna FDLs.

For the military, such ambitious moves might sound easier on paper than in execution. But, it certainly would be harder on the LTTE, which has to face the enemy on several fronts.

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Political solution: The final way

“To declare war and peace,” is the President’s Constitutional prerogative.
No one has the authority to challenge that Constitutional function of the Executive President, who is also commander in chief of the armed services.

After all, this is a separatist war that has to be crushed, as separation is not the solution.

But, there is also an ethnic conflict that requires a political solution and the LTTE, which came up with an interim solution (ISGA) that was no doubt preposterous, gave the new government time to come up with a political package.

The President, who is also Head of Government and Head of State, must come up with a reasonable and viable solution, after 25 years of war that has seen only a change of control of territory after each phase of the war.

“The new government should come forward soon with a reasonable political framework that will satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people. This is our urgent and final appeal,” said LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in his 2005 Heroes’ Day policy statement.

After months of deliberations, the ruling SLFP came up with an equally preposterous solution that had the district as the basis for a settlement. This was discarded in 1981 and, in 1987, under Indian auspices, a temporarily merged North and East was the unit of devolution. With modifications, the Indo-Lanka Accord might be the diamond the President would offer Tamils on the Diamond Jubilee of Independence.

“If the new government rejects our urgent appeal, we will, next year (2006), in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self determination, our struggle for national liberation, to establish self government in our homeland,” according to Prabhakaran’s policy statement.

Negotiating from strength
So, in a way, the LTTE, as far back as November 27, 2005, gave a less formal notice to resume hostilities.
In terms of the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA), each party had the right to unilaterally abrogate the CFA, provided the 14-day formal notice was given to the Norwegian facilitators. The government duly gave notice on January 2, and the CFA would become ineffective from January 16.
The LTTE, in its reaction, said it was “shocked and disappointed that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) had unilaterally abrogated the CFA.”

The statement also says that the government was forced to sign the CFA in 2002, after the LTTE brought a military balance of power through a series of large-scale military victories.

While the east was not demarcated in terms of lines of control, the north and the Wanni were with well marked out Forward Defence Lines. The new government would obviously want to militarily have an upper hand, before it negotiates.

But, if the administration is pressing for a military solution, then it is barking up the wrong tree.
Though the administration has been dragging its feet on a political package, for the past two years, it has progressed militarily in the meantime.

The truth is that neither party wants to negotiate from a position of military weakness. The LTTE, which negotiated with the UNF government, from a vantage position, could have secured a political settlement, if only it pursued it with all earnestness. Negotiating a political settlement necessarily means coming to a compromise. If either party wants to stick to its guns, then war is the only option.

According to the LTTE statement, the organisation was still willing to implement every clause of the CFA and respect it 100 per cent. Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella rejected LTTE’s call to revive the CFA.

While the Tigers’ pledge to implement the CFA 100 per cent, at a time the war is raging, smacks of dishonesty, there may be other reasons for this anachronism.

The LTTE may want to stick to the CFA that has recognised line of control that may soon be threatened. This unrealistic pledge may be to further bring the government into disrepute, in the eyes of the international community, from which it has requested the lifting of several bans on the organisation.

In the first place, why did the LTTE start undermining the CFA after its first anniversary? The LTTE failed to uphold the ruling of the SLMM, with regard to the Manirasakulam camp and several other rulings, and even risked the lives of monitors, by reckless behaviour.

It must be conceded that any agreement, like any law, is prone to be violated or broken. But, if the LTTE was keen on keeping the agreement, it should not have blocked Tamils from uncleared areas from voting at the presidential polls. Most of them would have voted for the presidential candidate that signed the CFA, that formed the framework to negotiate a solution. The SLFP had criticised the agreement severely and its candidate was unlikely to have received much support.

Having enthroned Mahinda Rajapaksa in the hot seat, the LTTE, by a string of hostile actions, gave this administration, waiting to resume the war, the handle to do so.

Attempting to assassinate the Army chief, was a clear sign that the LTTE wanted to resume hostilities, killing the Army’s deputy chief of staff, was the second, while the third and immediate cause to commence the undeclared Eelam War IV was to shut the Mavil Aru sluice gates, depriving water to thousands.

In fact, this gave the military a humanitarian reason to commence the war. Almost all operations that followed in the east were made out to be humanitarian, to rescue the Tamils from the grip of the Tigers. In times of war, the Tigers will use civilians as human shields.

Free for all
The difference between the period after the official resumption of hostilities (post-January 16, 2008) and the undeclared war in the past 18 months, is that the monitors will no longer be there.

Civilians would be at the mercy of the Tigers, who are fighting with their backs to the wall. For the security forces, in more hostile territory, the fate of civilians will not be an issue. During operations in the East, strict orders were given from the Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka to avoid civilian casualties at all costs.

For the two warring parties, there are no more fetters and constraints; no more excuses or cover-ups when conducting offensives and operations. It is open sesame, with no more rulings on violations.

While the combatants would fight it out, the non combatants are likely to be caught in the crossfire, with no monitors out there to cry foul. While the security forces will go flat out, the Tigers were likely to use the civilians as human shields. The Tigers were likely to fire artillery and mortars from civilian locations to force the Army to reciprocate and commit genocide. In the first phase of this war, there were just one or two major accidents where civilians were injured.

Besides the North and East, civilians elsewhere will bear the brunt as hostilities spill over to the rest of the country. If the LTTE could, on June 15, 2006, blast a CTB bus carrying people at Kebethigollewa, how unbridled it would be to take on soft targets, after war has been declared.

It will try to demonstrate to the people, the folly of the government in withdrawing from the six-year-old CFA.
Pushed against the battlefront wall, the Tigers will unleash terror outside the north and east, to a magnitude that the authorities will not be able to comprehend.

If the number of incidents outside the north and east, during the period of notice of withdrawal, is anything to go by, the post CFA incidents are beyond comprehension.

Circling the wagons
Alive to anticipated chaos, the Defence Ministry appointed Deputy Inspector General of Police Nimal Lewke as Chief of the Western Province Security Coordination with effect from Thursday (January 10).

This appointment follows a string of bomb blasts in the past fortnight. DIG Lewke, who has been assigned the unenviable task of handling western province security, has a tough call. He has been given roughly 1,000 personnel to operate in Colombo. Director General, Civil Defence Force, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara will also deploy around 1,000 personnel to step up security in the city and its suburbs. Maj. Gen. Lawrence Fernando will continue to function as the Western Province Operations Commander.

With the military and police drawing a dragnet around Colombo and the suburbs, where a Red Alert has been issued, the Tigers would go beyond this demarcation to unleash terror.

Between two security checkpoints, a suspected Tiger could board a bus and leave a parcel bomb. We saw similar incidents during the undeclared war. The sheer frequency of these happenings would compel western countries to issue travel advisories for their citizens. This would badly affect the tourist industry, burdening an already burdened economy.

Govt lives on ‘war’ alone
At the end of Eelam War III, there were no real victors; it only bequeathed a negative growth for the first time in post independent history.

The seemingly victorious LTTE, which undertook the 2002 peace process from a vantage position, and moved out of the process to build on its military successes, has ended up with reversals.

The apparent victory of the forces would be undermined, when the economy sends the cost of living and inflation soaring.
Judging by the undeclared war so far, the declared one would be fought with greater sophistication, ensuring a further drain on the economy.

If, as the military strategists say, the war could be fought to a finish by August, then there is hope of a political solution that would help bring in stability and prosperity. But, many governments, starting from J.R. Jayewardene and ending with Chandrika Kumaratunga, dreamed of victory that eluded the forces, as this is not strictly a conventional war.

The international community, including India, would not allow a genocidal approach in finishing this war, where the Tigers would use civilians as human shields.

After issuing separate statements, the Co-Chairs followed it up with a strong joint statement yesterday. Apart from urging the government ‘to finalise a politically sustainable devolution plan,’ the statement made it mandatory that all parties must comply with their obligations under international law, to protect civilians and provide humanitarian aid agencies with access to populations in need. The Co-Chairs are demanding the government provides its representatives access to Kilinochchi.

The Japanese Government, the principal aid donor to Sri Lanka, will threaten to stop aid to the entire country, given the ground situation after the CFA is abrogated. Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi will discuss this issue and seek to clarify the ground situation, the government’s political package, as well as the human rights situation. Back in 2003, when the LTTE asked the Japanese Government to postpone the international Tokyo Donor Conference on Sri Lanka, Akashi made it clear that his government would not do so, even if the LTTE insists on boycotting the event. The international community works in tandem and is too powerful a force to be ignored. The LTTE is continuing to pay for its acts of indiscretion during the peace process when it hoodwinked the international community.

The organisation has not only been banned by the US, EU, Canada, UK and others, during the past year, its international operations have been undermined, its activists have been hauled before courts and its funding badly hit.

On Friday, the LTTE was aptly described by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in the United States as the “most dangerous and deadly extremist” outfit in the world. The way to tackle the LTTE is to defang it like the CFA did.

The government wants to weaken the LTTE by declaring war on it. This is with the hope of bringing the LTTE back to the negotiating table. But, India and the international community think the government is trying to pull the wool over its collective eyes by pledging a political solution while, in fact, carrying out the military option.

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