News Features

Tigers sustain three-pronged strategy

                Positional warfare, guerrilla attacks and terrorism used to pursue LTTE goal             

The 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.

Trilateral aspects

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 and officials.

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 effectively.

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 Aaru.
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.

Spectacular attack

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 battlefront debacle.
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 strengthened.

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 being questioned.

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 being pursued.

‘London link’

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 LTTE links.

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.

Spotlight shifts

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, Parakramapura, etc.

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 Wewa.

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 ‘Col.’ Balraj.

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 control.
There have been many skirmishes and ‘limited’ offensives by the armed forces in recent times. There have also been intermittent exchanges of artillery fire.

Army infiltration

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 Janakapura-centred FDLs.

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 waters.

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.

Marked increase

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 injured.
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 Muhamaalai region.

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, this year.

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 Mannar coast.
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 is felt.
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.

Flying high
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 nationalist songs.

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.
(D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached on djeyaraj2005@yahoo.com)