Tigers sustain three-pronged strategy
Positional warfare, guerrilla attacks and terrorism used to
pursue LTTE goal
chimera in Greek mythology was a fire-breathing monster with a
lion’s head, goat’s body and a serpent’s tail. According to the
mythical tale, the hero Bellerophon killed it with the help of
the winged horse Pegasus.
Nowadays, the word chimera is used at times when referring to a
thing of hybrid character. Chimerical is the adjective derived
from the noun chimera.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organisation is
ostensibly fighting for the goal of national liberation. The
LTTE wants to set up an independent state called Tamil Eelam,
comprising the Tamil dominated Northern and Tamil majority
Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka.
The Tigers are often chimerical in the methods used to pursue
their goal. Their mode of armed struggle has trilateral aspects.
The LTTE adopts positional warfare like a conventional army or
militia when it is trying to capture or defend territory. It
engages in guerrilla attacks when it targets the armed forces or
Police. And it indulges in terrorism when innocent civilians are
killed in bomb attacks or while assassinating democratic leaders
The Tigers have in the past used all three modes. This mixed
methodology makes it difficult to ‘label’ the Tigers
effectively. Friend and foe would selectively pick what they
want and brand the LTTE accordingly.
Some treat each act of the LTTE on an individual basis. In what
seems to be a very simplistic approach, each instance is treated
on a case by case basis and categorised accordingly. Events of
the past weeks have demonstrated the LTTE’s tri-fold dimensions
In the north, the LTTE is engaging in positional warfare to
defend the territory it holds. The Tigers have been fighting the
armed forces on multiple fronts in Mannar, Muhamaalai and Manal
The high watermark in this was the manner in which a military
push by elements of the 53 and 55 Divisions were beaten back on
the Muhamaalai front.
As for guerrilla attacks, there was the landmine attack in
Thutuwewa killing two Special Task Force personnel and the
pressure mine explosion at Kalmadhu in which Capt. Bandara, Lt.
Ratnayake, Cpl. Wickramaratne and Pvt. Padmasiri of the 6 Vijaya
Regiment, travelling in a tractor, were killed.
The more spectacular attack was done by air when the LTTE’s
fledgling Air Wing known as ‘Vaanpuligal’ dropped three bombs in
the Manal Aaru / Weli Oya region. Once again Tiger aircraft were
able to drop explosives and get away safely despite the
reportedly set up air defence systems.
The LTTE received much kudos for its fighting prowess in
Muhamaalai and its Air Tiger exploit in Weli Oya / Manal Aaru.
Both demonstrated that the LTTE was a fierce fighting force and
could not be written off lightly.
Yet, whatever its gains in the positional warfare and guerrilla
attack spheres, the LTTE lost it all by exploding a bomb in a
bus at the Piliyandala bus station. The gruesome incident, in
which 26 innocent civilians were killed and 38 injured, was a
blatant act of terrorism.
Acts of terrorism in which innocent civilians are victimised
must be condemned. This goes for acts of state terrorism also.
If the Tigers had hoped to prove a point or two by the tenacious
militaristic display at Muhamaalai, their brutal act of
terrorism at Piliyandala turned the tables on them.
The LTTE strategy may have been to show that it was capable of
inflicting a military defeat in the frontlines as well as
infiltrating a Colombo suburb and planting a bomb but the end
result was counterproductive.
Both the national and international media publicised the
pathetic plight of the civilian victims locally and abroad.
Given the overwhelming international and national mood against
terrorism, the bus incident got more coverage than the
Had the LTTE refrained from the terrorist action of killing and
injuring innocent civilians in a bus, the case of those arguing
against the march of folly towards a military solution could
have gained more strength.
Peace doves weakened
Once the LTTE exploded a bomb with terrible consequences, the
proponents of a political solution were effectively silenced.
One cannot advocate political dialogue over military
confrontation in the aftermath of a brutal terrorist attack.
A Colombo-based diplomat told this columnist immediately after
Muhamaalai about a tentative plan to meet President Mahinda
Rajapaksa and emphasise the need to suspend war and promote
peace talks. The move was aborted after the Piliyandala bomb.
“Our position on the need to suspend war and engage in talks
still remains the same. The fighting in the north and the
explosion in the south strengthen our stance that the solution
can only be politically evolved and not militarily imposed. But
timing is important in matters like these. Friday’s Piliyandala
bombing has screwed up matters,” the diplomat said.
Despite the Muhamaalai debacle, the Rajapaksa regime’s hand has
been strengthened further. There is very little pressure on the
government to call off the war.
To the contrary, the hawkish sections in the corridors of power,
who had been dumbstruck after the Muhamaalai debacle, have begun
reasserting themselves. More war seems to be on the agenda.
Each time the LTTE engages in an act of terrorism, the
hard-liners get reinvigorated. The underlying justice of the
Tamil cause gets undermined. The terrible situation of the Tamil
people is overlooked. The Tamil problem is easily distorted into
a terrorist problem.
Battle hawks strengthened
The LTTE plays into Colombo’s hands by such acts. The
government’s so-called war against terrorism gains wider
acceptance. The peace doves are weakened. The battle hawks are
Meanwhile, Police sleuths investigating the April 25 bombing of
the bus at Piliyandala claimed to have made a distinct
breakthrough when they arrested three persons in connection with
the incident. Two relatives of an arrested suspect are also
According to informed sources, two of those arrested were Tamils
and the third a Sinhalese. One of those arrested is suspected of
being a seasoned Tiger operative. The identity card in his
possession says that his name is Lawrence David Raju. It is
doubted whether that is really his name.
This man had allegedly placed the deadly bomb in the bus at
Piliyandala bus station. He is known by the name ‘Appan’ and has
also used the names Prakash and Vasanthan.
The Sinhala accomplice who allegedly took ‘Appan’ to the bus
station is a 21-year-old youth called Ranasinghe Aarachilage
Buddhika.He is being interrogated intensively.
The third person arrested is also a Tamil who was residing at
210/2, Horana Road, Piliyandala. The man named Devendran
Sinnaiah has a brother, Vijayendran Sinnaiah, in Kilinochchi.
Vijayendran is a hardcore Tiger and has been involved along with
his brother Devendran in transporting LTTE cadres to Colombo and
suburbs. Another brother, Rajendran Sinnaiah, is being held at
the Negombo jail for a weapon related offence.
A fourth brother is a Police sergeant attached to the Traffic
Division at the Colpetty Police station. His wife is a Police
inspector. Both are being questioned now.
Though investigations are still incomplete, this columnist was
informed by knowledgeable sources that two lines of inquiry are
One is that of a ‘London link.’ Apparently the attack was
conceived of and coordinated by Tiger bigwigs in Britain. The
LTTE cell operating in Piliyandala was being handled via London,
it is suspected.
The modus operandi seems to have been that of ‘communication’
between the Kilinochchi command and the Piliyandala cell being
conducted by telephone via London.
It was only a few days ago that three persons aged 46, 39 and 33
were arrested in London by the British authorities for suspected
A high level Police delegation may leave for London shortly to
pursue investigations regarding both the London link in the
Piliyandala explosion as well as the Tiger involvement of the
trio recently arrested by the British Police.
The second line of inquiry being pursued is whether the
Piliyandala cell had originally intended to target a businessman
named Kumar Rajapakse in the Mount Lavinia-Dehiwela area,
allegedly involved in the arms and armament dealings.
It is suspected that there was a sudden change of plan after the
killing of the Catholic priest cum human rights activist, Fr.
Mariampillai Xavier Karunaratnam on April 20 in the LTTE
controlled Wanni region.
Fr. Karunaratnam was targeted at Ambaikulam between Vavunikulam
and Vannivilankulam through a claymore device in what was a
deliberate killing perpetrated by a special assassination squad
run by Military Intelligence.
While fighting continued between the security forces and LTTE
along many fronts in the Mannar-Vavuniya area, the spotlight has
been shifting gradually to the Manal Aaru / Weli Oya region.
The Manal Aaru region comprises areas from the Mullaitivu,
Vavuniya, Anuradhapura and Trincomalee Districts. Tamil
inhabitants from 28 villages and 40 hamlets and farm settlements
were driven out in the 80s of the last century in a flagrant
exercise of ethnic cleansing by the United National Party (UNP)
regime under Junius Richard Jayewardene.
The region was then settled by Sinhala agriculturists and
fisher-folk brought from different parts of the country. A
network of military camps was established to ‘protect’ the new
settlers, many of whom were trained as home guards.
The area has been rapidly Sinhalaised with the ancient Tamil
names being changed to Sinhala. Names like Mankindimalai,
Kurunthumalai, Thannimurippu, etc., have gone out of use. There
are new militarised settlements like Janakapura, Kalyanipura,
Even streams and rivers known by their old Tamil names have been
translated into Sinhala. Thus Paalamai Odai has become Kiri
Iibban Wewa. Aanai Vizhulunthaan Aaru is now called Ali Wetuna
The process began in the 80s itself when Manal Aaru became Weli
Oya just as Kudumbimalai is now becoming Toppigala.
The sad irony in this that both the Tamil and Sinhala names have
the same meaning in many instances, except where new militarised
settlements have sprung up.
Aanai Vizhunthaan Aaru and Ali Wetuna Wewa, for example, mean in
English, ‘the river that the elephant fell in.’ So too is Weli
Oya and Manal Aaru, meaning sandy river or stream.
The creation of Weli Oya in the Manal Aaru region is a
politico-military project. The ethnic cleansing of Tamil
inhabitants along with the militarised Sinhalaisation of the
region was a calculated scheme to interdict territorial
contiguity between the Tamil dominated Northern Province and
Tamil majority Eastern Province.
Escalation of military activity
The Weli Oya / Manal Aaru region has seen an escalation of
military activity in recent times. The 59 Division, under the
command of Brig. Nandana Udawatte, is stationed there.
LTTE cadres drawn mainly from the Imran-Pandiyan Infantry
Division and Sothiya Women’s Brigade are stationed at the Manal
Aaru Kalamunai (Weli Oya battlefront) under the command of
Balraj, a former member of the People’s Liberation Organisation
of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), hails from Puthukudiyiruppu and is an
original son of the Wanni soil. He was at one time a protégée of
ex-LTTE Deputy Leader Gopalswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya.
Balraj rose rapidly in the ranks and was responsible for early
victories of the LTTE in Kokavil and Mankulam. He was made
Deputy Military Commander of the LTTE and played a crucial role
in the war for Elephant Pass in 2000.
‘Col.’ Balraj led a sea-borne invasion that landed at Kudaarappu,
which made its way clandestinely to the A9 Highway and
interdicted supplies at Inthaavil between Elephant Pass-Iyakkachchi
and Eluthumadduvaal. This was the turning point, which paved the
way for the ultimate defeat.
Balraj, who underwent severe injuries to his leg, walks with a
slight limp at times. He also underwent an operation in Colombo
during the ceasefire.
In recent times, two senior LTTE leaders, ‘Col.’ Sornam and
‘Col.’ Bhanu, have been sent to the Manal Aaru / Weli Oya region
to assist and supplement the efforts of ‘Col.’ Balraj.
The frontlines are about 12 km in length extending from
Aanaivizhunthaan Aaru in the interior to Kokuthoduvaai along the
coast. An elaborate complex of military installations and
forward defence lines has been set up along this 12 km line of
There have been many skirmishes and ‘limited’ offensives by the
armed forces in recent times. There have also been intermittent
exchanges of artillery fire.
The Army has also infiltrated into Tiger territory in small
groups and engaged the LTTE. The Army has succeeded in injuring
some Tigers through landmines, including a senior Tiger leader.
Basically, the 59-3 Brigade has been active along the
Kokuthoduvaai-Alambil front; the 59-2 has been active in the
Naayaaru-Kumulamunai front; the 59-1 is concentrated along the
Though not spectacular, some significant advances have been made
by the 59 into Tiger territory. An area of about four-and-a-half
to five km has been seized from the LTTE, although the overall
strategy at this juncture is not to acquire real estate.
The 59 Division has been actively engaged in combat from January
1, this year. According to military reports, the 59 Division
claims to have killed 537 LTTE cadres in the period between
January 1 and April 30.
It is also claimed that 653 Tigers were injured during this
period. The bodies of 47 LTTE cadres were recovered by the
soldiers in these four months.
It is apparent that the strategic importance of this front is
likely to cause increased military activity in the near future.
The fact that LTTE Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran has
‘transferred’ two senior leaders, Sornam and Bhanu, from Mannar
to Mullaitivu denotes this fact.
‘Col.’ Bhanu is in overall charge of the Kittu Artillery Corps
as well as the Kutty Sri Mortar Unit. Both Kittu and Kutty Sri
took their lives and sank with the LTTE ship Ahad on January 16,
1993, when surrounded by the Indian Navy in international
There has been a departure in the pattern of artillery-mortar
fire after Bhanu moved in. Instead of targeting FDL positions
alone as in the past, the LTTE is now targeting the Army’s area
headquarters positions and field command posts also.
The Tiger artillery shells have also fallen into civilian
settlements like Parakramapura and Sinhapura. This has resulted
in a minor exodus.
There has been a marked increase both quantitative and
qualitative after ‘Col.’ Bhanu entered the scene. On April 26,
for instance, a total of 37 shells were fired within a
relatively short period. Six soldiers were killed and 13
The Army gauged that the shells were being fired from a point in
the Nedunkerny area. The Army retaliated by using Multi Barrel
Rocket Launchers (MBRL).
It is not known whether the Tiger artillery was hit but the
TamilNet claimed that two civilians, an elderly man and woman,
were injured in Nedunkerny. The Army, however, states that
intercepts of radio messages reveal that 29 Tigers were killed
and 53 injured in the firing.
Military circles have noted with concern that there has been a
conspicuous increase in artillery and mortar firing by the LTTE
in the recent past.
At one point the LTTE was using its artillery and mortar very
economically due to the difficulties it was facing in procuring
regular supplies via sea. The Navy and Air Force had succeeded
in circumscribing marine supply routes, it was said.
However, in recent times, the LTTE has been very ‘liberal’ in
using mortars and artillery. Apart from using its homemade
‘Ragavan’ artillery shells and the mortar shells named Paseelan
and Kumarappa, the Tigers have also been using ‘imported’ stuff.
This is visible in multiple fronts in Mannar, Mullaitivu and the
Apparently, the Tigers have succeeded not only in getting a
fresh supply of artillery and mortar shells but also have
procured adequate ‘raw material’ to manufacture their own
varieties. The induction of fresh supply of shells was confirmed
in two recent intelligence reports.
Fresh supplies via sea route
The State Intelligence Service in a report submitted to the
Joint Operations Command stated that two LTTE ships had unloaded
arms and other military related supplies on February 16 and 17,
The vessels were stationed deep sea and the unloaded stuff was
fetched to different points along the Vettrilaikerny-Challai
coast by trawlers. A firsthand account has been obtained from
‘persons’ who had purportedly been involved in carrying boxes.
In another report presented by the Military Intelligence
Division to the National Security Council, it was said that
another LTTE ship, on March 28, had brought war materials, fuel,
medicine, etc., from the Indian coast to Nachikudah, along the
The fact that three LTTE ships have reportedly broken through
the naval cordon was not a pleasant fact to digest. There is
also the possibility that more ships may have transported
additional armaments and war material.
While the Navy is going on with its sea patrols, focusing mainly
on the Trincomalee-Mullaitivu coast, there has been visible
lethargy in taking pro-active initiatives.
Some defence circles believe that the December 2007 incident of
a Navy Fast Attack Craft (FAC) being destroyed by the LTTE in
the Neduntheevu seas, the February 2008 ‘seizure’ of a naval
water jet in the Talaimannar seas and the recent demolition of
another FAC through a submersible device in the Nayaaru seas
have altogether had a cumulative effect on the Navy.
There is also the additional deterrent of explosive-laden boats
manned by Black Sea Tiger suicide cadres accompanying LTTE
flotilla. All this has led to a slackening of proactive naval
activity and has led to breaches in maritime naval cordons, it
There is also suspicion that the ‘international’ support
provided in curtailing LTTE maritime movement is not readily
forthcoming as in the past. If correct, this may be related to
growing international displeasure over the gung ho policies of
the Rajapaksa regime.
The LTTE also ‘scored’ politically when it reactivated its
hibernating Air Wing, described as the ‘Tamil Eelam National Air
Force.’ Two small Ziln planes carrying two bombs each flew up
from a clandestine airstrip along the Mullaitivu coast.
They were targeting an artillery pad and a military command post
in the Weli Oya / Manal Aaru region. Three of the four bombs
exploded but failed to inflict any serious damage.
The important point, however, was the fact that the Tiger planes
were able to come from nowhere, drop bombs and return safely
without any problem in spite of the elaborate air defence
systems said to be in place. It is said that a Tiger helicopter
was also scouring the skies simultaneously in what may have been
either a diversionary tactic or aerial surveillance mission.
There have been a number of reports in the media about the Air
Force having destroyed several LTTE airstrips and related
installations. The latest attack shows that the Tiger Air Wing
is not merely alive and kicking but flying and dropping.
In a separate development, the LTTE sustained a ‘cultural’ loss
when Subramaniam Kannan alias Major Silambarasan a.k.a.
‘Kuttikannan’ was killed in the fighting. Kuttikannan, hailing
from the Trincomalee District, was a well-known singer of Tamil
His most famous number was Aandaandu Kaalamathaai (For Many,
Many Years of Our Time). He was called Kuttikannan to
differentiate between the senior musician Kannan and him. LTTE
Political Commissar Balasingham Nadesan presided over the
special funeral ceremony.
These then are the fluctuating fortunes of war. The bloodshed
and mayhem goes on relentlessly. Even as the armed opponents
pursue the illusion of a military solution, the helpless
civilians continue to bear the brunt.
Jeyaraj can be reached on email@example.com)