Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September 10th, 2004

Jaffna’s most beloved Brigade Commander killed in LTTE suicide attack

As the ongoing “Opera tion Jaya Sikurui” (Victory Assured) entered its second year last Thursday, the defence establishment was jolted by two major incidents.

In the security forces controlled Jaffna peninsula, an LTTE suicide bomber exploded himself killing Brigadier Liyana Aratchige Rupasiri (Larry) Wijeratne, outgoing 524 Brigade Commander. He was the second Brigade Commander to die since the peninsula was re-captured three years ago. Brigadier Ananda Hamangoda was killed when a female suicide bomber exploded herself on July 4, 1996, at Stanley Road, Jaffna.

In Chettikulam, barely a few kilometres away from the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH) in Vavuniya, the nerve centre for counter terrorist operations, Army and Police personnel going home on leave in a convoy of buses were attacked by Tiger guerrillas. It led to the deaths of 13 soldiers, a policeman and a civilian. Forty two others were injured.

In the case of Brigadier Wijeratne, a colleague and friend had warned him to be cautious when he attended public functions before his departure.

At Chettikulam, Military Intelligence officials said, the area Brigade Headquarters had been warned of Tiger infiltration and possible attacks.

Brigadier Wijeratne flew into Jaffna last Wednesday, in what was to be his last official visit. He was relinquishing command as Brigade Commander (524 Brigade). Colonel Sanath Karunaratne (former Brigade Commander, 22 Brigade, Trincomalee) had also arrived in Jaffna on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, Brigadier Wijeratne formally handed over command to Colonel Karunaratne. Later in the week, he was to assume office as Deputy Commandant of the Kotelawala Defence Academy. With the formalities over, Brigadier Wijeratne, who like the Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Major General Lionel Balagalle, was most popular with the Jaffna public, left the Brigade Headquarters in Point Pedro that afternoon for a farewell lunch in his honour. It was being hosted by the Vadamaratchi Traders Association at the National Savings Bank building which adjoins the Point Pedro bus station.

With that over, he was returning to the Brigade Headquarters. It was around 3.20 p.m when Brig. Wijeratne’s Double Cab was barely 100 metres outside the main entrance, driving over a hump ahead of the first sentry point manned by Policemen. Just then a youth with explosives strapped to his chest emerged from a bylane and darted towards the Double Cab. He was a few feet away, to the rear left side when he exploded himself.

Three pellets penetrated Brig. Wijeratne’s head. He was seated in the front together with his driver who escaped injury. However, Lance Bombardier Dharmasena and Gunner Ratnayake who were in the back seat also sustained head injuries. They were rushed to the Jaffna Hospital where Brigadier Wijeratne was pronounced dead.

Rains which broke out early Thursday morning had somewhat receded when the incident occurred. But the bad weather conditions continued.

So much so the pilot of a Sri Lanka Air Force Bell helicopter that was airborne to provide cover for an SLAF AN 32 that was due to take off, landed at Kankesanthurai. It remained there and the AN 32 on the tarmac in Palaly until the weather cleared.

Senior officials at the Security Forces Headquarters in Palaly held the AN 32 on ground until Brigadier Wijeratne’s body and the two soldiers were brought by road from Point Pedro to Palaly. They arrived in Colombo in the AN 32 flight later that evening.

As the news of the incident spread, shops put up shutters. There were fears of an Army retaliation. Col. Karunaratne drove around the town speaking to shop owners. He assured them protection and urged that the shops re-open. Some did.

Investigations into the incident revealed that one of the sponsors of the farewell lunch to Brigadier Wijeratne received a letter of warning from the LTTE. It had asked him not to felicitate the Brigadier. It is not immediately clear whether the recipient of the letter informed the relevant authorities of its contents.

On Friday, black and even white flags flew in most buildings in Point Pedro. That included houses. Schools in the area closed early as a mark of respect for Brigadier Wijeratne. A public rally is also being planned in Jaffna to protest against the incident.

LTTE’s clandestine radio, The Voice of Tigers, confirmed on Friday that one of its suicide bombers carried out the attack on Brigadier Wijeratne. The radio was monitored by security forces in Vavuniya.

The attack at Chettikulam came after a group of Tiger guerrillas, said to be around 40, had infiltrated the town area. Last Thursday morning, they had taken up position at various places including the grounds of the hospital. Troops later learnt that they had placed a machine gun in the lawn. Ten buses escorted by armoured Buffels were to travel to Anuradhapura.

Hardly had the journey begun when claymore mines began to explode. It was followed by machine gun and small arms fire by guerrillas who had taken cover in the area. Two of them pretended to be pumping water from a tube well. When a Buffel approached, they pulled out a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and fired damaging the armoured vehicle and killing its driver.

Soldiers travelling in the first three buses were injured in the incident. As the attackers withdrew, 15 were dead and 42 injured. The dead included two officers – Captain Ruwan Dissanayake and Lieutenant Arjuna Kodippily. The Chettikulam area was considered secure by the security authorities particularly after “Operation Edibala” which led to the re-opening of the Vavuniya – Mannar road. The Chettikulam town lies south of this road.

One of the reasons attributed for the easy infiltration by Tiger cadres is said to be the withdrawal of some defence lines manned by the Police. An Army official said the men had been inducted to hold positions in the areas re-captured during “Operation Jaya Sikurui.”

The suicide bomb explosion that killed Brig. Wijeratne came as further confirmation that there had been a marked rise in the levels of LTTE infiltration in the peninsula. To their credit, the security forces personnel are not only carrying out the difficult task of securing the area but also carrying out a multitude of tasks relating to civil administration. This is in the back drop of a substantial number of soldiers being inducted from Jaffna to “Operation Jaya Sikurui” thus denying the security forces command in the north the possibility of conducting large scale search and clear operations to counter infiltration.

Quite clearly, the year long “Operation Jaya Sikurui” is having its impact, both directly and indirectly, on the security scenario. As previously mentioned in these columns, troops from the eastern theatre of conflict have been thinned out and deployed in the Wanni. So are Police personnel from many divisions. Whilst this is at the expense of security in the depleted areas, it has also denied to the security forces the possibility of mounting another large scale offensive.

The LTTE marked the anniversary of “Operation Jaya Sikurui” with events both in the Wanni and the east. Its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, issued a lengthy statement on the year long operation. He admitted that 1,300 LTTE cadres had died so far, a figure that matched the security forces death toll in the year long offensive.

Prabhakaran said “Before the launching of “Operation Jaya Sikurui”, the Sri Lankan political and military high command miscalculated the military strength and determination of the LTTE. Based on our strategic withdrawal from Jaffna peninsula and on our non-engagement in the “Edibala” operation, Sri Lanka Government entertained a theory that the LTTE was militarily weakened.

This misconception led the Army high command to believe in an assured victory and made them to issue time-frames for the campaign. Ultimately the military establishment has had to face humiliation.

“We were prepared to confront Jaya Sikurui troops. We reorganised and re-structured our military machine to engage in a conventional mode of offensive. Our successful campaign at Mullaitivu strengthened our fire power. On the basis of our newly acquired weaponry we built up artillery and mortar units, anti-tank and anti-aircraft units to form a well integrated military structure capable of confronting a conventional military thrust. On the basis of such practical experience we devised new offensive and defensive strategies and constructed impenetrable defence lines. By such method we prepared ourselves to face the biggest ever offensive undertaken by the enemy.

“In the Jaya Sikurui military operation the Sri Lankan Army has adopted various strategies and tactics. It experimented with new offensive manoeuvres found in contemporary military sciences. Furthermore, it implemented war plans charted by foreign military experts. Yet, the armed forces could not break or weaken LTTE’s determined resistance. Rather, such offensive thrusts resulted in serious setbacks and heavy losses to the army.”

Pointing out that in every confrontation during this prolonged battle “We gained new experience and learned a lot in the art of war,” Prabhakaran said “that has helped to develop our fighting ability.” He called it a battle which was “a baptism of fire”.

In marked contrast, there was no word on the “Operation Jaya Sikurui” from the man who is running the military machine against the LTTE, General Anuruddha Ratwatte. He chose not to speak about the year long operation.

But the need to raise more cadres and continue the thrust of Operation Jaya Sikurui was very much uppermost in his mind. Speaking to newspaper editors and senior journalists last week, Gen. Ratwatte declared if a recruitment drive failed, conscription would have to be resorted to. But later in the same week, his colleague, Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, declared at the weekly media briefing that ‘the Government is not contemplating the introduction of a compulsory military service at this point of time’.

“There is absolutely no such plan. It was just mentioned by Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte as an alternative if all other efforts failed,” Mr. Samaraweera said. Obviously the usually genial Media Minister was concerned that reports of conscription would have an adverse bearing on the PA Government’s image, particularly in the backdrop of no decision being made on such a sensitive issue.

Early this week, Gen. Ratwatte was taking part in official events in Mr. Samaraweera’s electoral district Matara. In speeches he made, Gen. Ratwatte referred to the current efforts to persuade deserters to surrender and the upcoming recruitment drive. The Sri Lanka Rupavahini English news bulletin on the night of May 12 quoted Gen. Ratwatte as saying “If this was not done, I will be compelled to propose to the Government to conscript youth from the age group of 18 to 30 for the forces.” Gen. Ratwatte can propose but whether his Cabinet colleagues would readily endorse what he wants is another billion dollar question. It is a well known fact that in the conduct of the separatist war during the past three years, Gen. Ratwatte’s only achievement has been directing the military campaign to re-capture the Jaffna peninsula. Since then many a military action under his control has been shrouded in controversy not to mention the human and material losses.

A recruitment drive has now become inevitable. Out of an estimated 15,000 deserters, Army officials claim that over 5,500 had availed themselves of the last amnesty. However, other defence sources doubted the claim and said the number was much less.

Be that as it may, the short fall has prompted officials at the Army Headquarters to hurry with plans for a nation-wide recruitment drive. As revealed in these columns, such a drive will target school leavers too.

If this drive also meets with little success, as Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte says, he would be compelled to propose to the Government to conscript youth between the age groups 18 to 30.

The stage is now set for the second year of Operation Jaya Sikurui, the beginning of which is anything but auspicious with the killing of Brigadier Wijeratne and the ambush at Chettikulam. Without appearing to be skeptic, good or bad omens do not portend the outcome of wars. It is sound planning, well thought out strategies and effective application of force that produces results.

In this regard, the pronouncement by Prabhakaran should arouse interest. From what he says, it would appear that the LTTE has made good use of the stalemated situation to consolidate itself organisationally to counter the conventional approach of the Army. With the obvious knowledge that the cutting edge of the armed forces is in their superiority in armour, artillery and air power, the LTTE seem to have focused to neutralise that advantage.

Military observers have often commented that the LTTE should not be given respite to consolidate and that only relentless mobile operations against them will keep them off balance. This, the Army does not seem to have been able to effectively implement.

This is for the singular reason that the Army is too heavily committed on the Jaya Sikurui strategy in addition to the security and quasi administrative management of re-occupied areas.

Whether this is a result of wrong strategic choices or under estimation of resources, both manpower and material, is a matter for evaluation by those charged with the responsibility of conducting the war. This they must for a stalemated situation, as it now exists, favours the LTTE. The paradox is that such a situation fortuitously gives the LTTE greater flexibility in the choice of multiple operations. More security forces and civilian targets come under pressure as a result of that advantage.

This in turn slows operational resilience and compels the security forces into increased positional security measures. That is the Catch 22 situation which the Army has got into and from which it must untangle itself by regaining a capability for a widespread choice of operations in as wide an area as possible.

Undoubtedly manpower is a key factor in revamping operational dynamism. But military observers say that increased resources should be accompanied with multiple strategies to tie down the LTTE in such a manner as to deny them space and ability to manoeuvre.

It is questionable whether the Army’s plan to attract deserters by the offer of amnesty will be successful. That it has been tried several times earlier without significant success casts doubts whether it will be effective this time. There is no doubt that re-enlisting deserters is one way of getting trained cadres. It is questionable if deserters can be relied on, or whether others in service have confidence in them.

The whole question of recruitment reflects the dilemma faced by the country in regard to the conduct of the war. Whether conscription is an answer is debatable.

If the shortfall of cadres is only 15,000 as has been declared by the forces, then conscription seems an overkill. On the other hand, if it is to be for large-scale recruitment, other issues come to play.

In the hindsight of two southern insurgencies, a growing gun culture, an ever increasing Mafia, economic uncertainties, and other potentially volatile fault lines in our society, not to mention the North-South divide, the wisdom of conscripted military service is a question that requires a great deal of consideration.

The post war rehabilitation of excess soldiery and hopefully demobilised militants is a frightful thought by itself, and it is something to which the Government should give some thought even though there is no immediate hope in sight of the war ending.

The question of recruiting methods apart, the reasons as to why there appears to be little enthusiasm to join the forces at the time when the nation is at war bears examination.

That many would rather not undergo the rigours of military service or expose themselves to risk life and limb is understandable, however much arguable in the context of patriotic fervour. But there are many other underlying issues which need to be addressed.

Does it manifest a lack of public enthusiasm for the war? Or, does it reflect a lack of faith in the leadership? Or else, is it simply a lack of public motivation? Or, could it be a credibility gap created by the ever-defaulting political promises of victory, mistrust of political motives and increasing public awareness of corruption in high places in regard to military procurements.

It is sine quo non that public support is essential for national wars.

The best and perhaps the most recent example of military reversals for lack of public support was the US involvement in Vietnam.

Further alienating the public mind is the all too common knowledge of corruption by high officials responsible for equipment evaluation and procurement. The flaunting of ill-gotten gains by way of expensive purchases of real estate and the emergence of nouveau riche military mudalalis have not gone unnoticed by an alert public. Nor, have the scandals relating to the purchase of equipment assured the public that the best cost-effective procurements are being made.

The slowness with which the Government has acted even when the media has exposed some of these incidents, and the seeming lack of interest of government agencies like the permanent commission on bribery and corruption or the tax department to investigate these reports, often supported with some factual material, have contributed to widen the credibility gap.

The lack of a national policy in the conduct of the war and the acerbic hostility between the mainstream political parties has not in anyway contributed to generate public unity. Political acrimony is a continuing hindrance to garner public support. This situation has exacerbated the conditions brought about by other factors to create suspicion of the sincerity of the war effort.

The lack of what could be a viable political solution to problem also diminishes public enthusiasm of what seems a never-ending problem.

These contradictions demand that both the government and the opposition take stock of the situation before it deteriorates further. It would do well for the political and defence establishment to remember that a fundamental axiom in insurgent-guerrilla warfare is to exploit contradictions that manifest in the enemy. Time, they believe will create those conditions. This calls for a national effort to end this war. It means a national defence policy, a national support for recruitment and national support to end corruption.

(Situation Report – 17th May 1998 )

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Jaffna’s most beloved Brigade Commander killed in LTTE suicide attack

As the ongoing “Opera tion Jaya Sikurui” (Victory Assured) entered its second year last Thursday, the defence establishment was jolted by two major incidents.

In the security forces controlled Jaffna peninsula, an LTTE suicide bomber exploded himself killing Brigadier Liyana Aratchige Rupasiri (Larry) Wijeratne, outgoing 524 Brigade Commander. He was the second Brigade Commander to die since the peninsula was re-captured three years ago. Brigadier Ananda Hamangoda was killed when a female suicide bomber exploded herself on July 4, 1996, at Stanley Road, Jaffna.

In Chettikulam, barely a few kilometres away from the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH) in Vavuniya, the nerve centre for counter terrorist operations, Army and Police personnel going home on leave in a convoy of buses were attacked by Tiger guerrillas. It led to the deaths of 13 soldiers, a policeman and a civilian. Forty two others were injured.

In the case of Brigadier Wijeratne, a colleague and friend had warned him to be cautious when he attended public functions before his departure.

At Chettikulam, Military Intelligence officials said, the area Brigade Headquarters had been warned of Tiger infiltration and possible attacks.

Brigadier Wijeratne flew into Jaffna last Wednesday, in what was to be his last official visit. He was relinquishing command as Brigade Commander (524 Brigade). Colonel Sanath Karunaratne (former Brigade Commander, 22 Brigade, Trincomalee) had also arrived in Jaffna on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, Brigadier Wijeratne formally handed over command to Colonel Karunaratne. Later in the week, he was to assume office as Deputy Commandant of the Kotelawala Defence Academy. With the formalities over, Brigadier Wijeratne, who like the Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Major General Lionel Balagalle, was most popular with the Jaffna public, left the Brigade Headquarters in Point Pedro that afternoon for a farewell lunch in his honour. It was being hosted by the Vadamaratchi Traders Association at the National Savings Bank building which adjoins the Point Pedro bus station.

With that over, he was returning to the Brigade Headquarters. It was around 3.20 p.m when Brig. Wijeratne’s Double Cab was barely 100 metres outside the main entrance, driving over a hump ahead of the first sentry point manned by Policemen. Just then a youth with explosives strapped to his chest emerged from a bylane and darted towards the Double Cab. He was a few feet away, to the rear left side when he exploded himself.

Three pellets penetrated Brig. Wijeratne’s head. He was seated in the front together with his driver who escaped injury. However, Lance Bombardier Dharmasena and Gunner Ratnayake who were in the back seat also sustained head injuries. They were rushed to the Jaffna Hospital where Brigadier Wijeratne was pronounced dead.

Rains which broke out early Thursday morning had somewhat receded when the incident occurred. But the bad weather conditions continued.

So much so the pilot of a Sri Lanka Air Force Bell helicopter that was airborne to provide cover for an SLAF AN 32 that was due to take off, landed at Kankesanthurai. It remained there and the AN 32 on the tarmac in Palaly until the weather cleared.

Senior officials at the Security Forces Headquarters in Palaly held the AN 32 on ground until Brigadier Wijeratne’s body and the two soldiers were brought by road from Point Pedro to Palaly. They arrived in Colombo in the AN 32 flight later that evening.

As the news of the incident spread, shops put up shutters. There were fears of an Army retaliation. Col. Karunaratne drove around the town speaking to shop owners. He assured them protection and urged that the shops re-open. Some did.

Investigations into the incident revealed that one of the sponsors of the farewell lunch to Brigadier Wijeratne received a letter of warning from the LTTE. It had asked him not to felicitate the Brigadier. It is not immediately clear whether the recipient of the letter informed the relevant authorities of its contents.

On Friday, black and even white flags flew in most buildings in Point Pedro. That included houses. Schools in the area closed early as a mark of respect for Brigadier Wijeratne. A public rally is also being planned in Jaffna to protest against the incident.

LTTE’s clandestine radio, The Voice of Tigers, confirmed on Friday that one of its suicide bombers carried out the attack on Brigadier Wijeratne. The radio was monitored by security forces in Vavuniya.

The attack at Chettikulam came after a group of Tiger guerrillas, said to be around 40, had infiltrated the town area. Last Thursday morning, they had taken up position at various places including the grounds of the hospital. Troops later learnt that they had placed a machine gun in the lawn. Ten buses escorted by armoured Buffels were to travel to Anuradhapura.

Hardly had the journey begun when claymore mines began to explode. It was followed by machine gun and small arms fire by guerrillas who had taken cover in the area. Two of them pretended to be pumping water from a tube well. When a Buffel approached, they pulled out a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and fired damaging the armoured vehicle and killing its driver.

Soldiers travelling in the first three buses were injured in the incident. As the attackers withdrew, 15 were dead and 42 injured. The dead included two officers – Captain Ruwan Dissanayake and Lieutenant Arjuna Kodippily. The Chettikulam area was considered secure by the security authorities particularly after “Operation Edibala” which led to the re-opening of the Vavuniya – Mannar road. The Chettikulam town lies south of this road.

One of the reasons attributed for the easy infiltration by Tiger cadres is said to be the withdrawal of some defence lines manned by the Police. An Army official said the men had been inducted to hold positions in the areas re-captured during “Operation Jaya Sikurui.”

The suicide bomb explosion that killed Brig. Wijeratne came as further confirmation that there had been a marked rise in the levels of LTTE infiltration in the peninsula. To their credit, the security forces personnel are not only carrying out the difficult task of securing the area but also carrying out a multitude of tasks relating to civil administration. This is in the back drop of a substantial number of soldiers being inducted from Jaffna to “Operation Jaya Sikurui” thus denying the security forces command in the north the possibility of conducting large scale search and clear operations to counter infiltration.

Quite clearly, the year long “Operation Jaya Sikurui” is having its impact, both directly and indirectly, on the security scenario. As previously mentioned in these columns, troops from the eastern theatre of conflict have been thinned out and deployed in the Wanni. So are Police personnel from many divisions. Whilst this is at the expense of security in the depleted areas, it has also denied to the security forces the possibility of mounting another large scale offensive.

The LTTE marked the anniversary of “Operation Jaya Sikurui” with events both in the Wanni and the east. Its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, issued a lengthy statement on the year long operation. He admitted that 1,300 LTTE cadres had died so far, a figure that matched the security forces death toll in the year long offensive.

Prabhakaran said “Before the launching of “Operation Jaya Sikurui”, the Sri Lankan political and military high command miscalculated the military strength and determination of the LTTE. Based on our strategic withdrawal from Jaffna peninsula and on our non-engagement in the “Edibala” operation, Sri Lanka Government entertained a theory that the LTTE was militarily weakened.

This misconception led the Army high command to believe in an assured victory and made them to issue time-frames for the campaign. Ultimately the military establishment has had to face humiliation.

“We were prepared to confront Jaya Sikurui troops. We reorganised and re-structured our military machine to engage in a conventional mode of offensive. Our successful campaign at Mullaitivu strengthened our fire power. On the basis of our newly acquired weaponry we built up artillery and mortar units, anti-tank and anti-aircraft units to form a well integrated military structure capable of confronting a conventional military thrust. On the basis of such practical experience we devised new offensive and defensive strategies and constructed impenetrable defence lines. By such method we prepared ourselves to face the biggest ever offensive undertaken by the enemy.

“In the Jaya Sikurui military operation the Sri Lankan Army has adopted various strategies and tactics. It experimented with new offensive manoeuvres found in contemporary military sciences. Furthermore, it implemented war plans charted by foreign military experts. Yet, the armed forces could not break or weaken LTTE’s determined resistance. Rather, such offensive thrusts resulted in serious setbacks and heavy losses to the army.”

Pointing out that in every confrontation during this prolonged battle “We gained new experience and learned a lot in the art of war,” Prabhakaran said “that has helped to develop our fighting ability.” He called it a battle which was “a baptism of fire”.

In marked contrast, there was no word on the “Operation Jaya Sikurui” from the man who is running the military machine against the LTTE, General Anuruddha Ratwatte. He chose not to speak about the year long operation.

But the need to raise more cadres and continue the thrust of Operation Jaya Sikurui was very much uppermost in his mind. Speaking to newspaper editors and senior journalists last week, Gen. Ratwatte declared if a recruitment drive failed, conscription would have to be resorted to. But later in the same week, his colleague, Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, declared at the weekly media briefing that ‘the Government is not contemplating the introduction of a compulsory military service at this point of time’.

“There is absolutely no such plan. It was just mentioned by Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte as an alternative if all other efforts failed,” Mr. Samaraweera said. Obviously the usually genial Media Minister was concerned that reports of conscription would have an adverse bearing on the PA Government’s image, particularly in the backdrop of no decision being made on such a sensitive issue.

Early this week, Gen. Ratwatte was taking part in official events in Mr. Samaraweera’s electoral district Matara. In speeches he made, Gen. Ratwatte referred to the current efforts to persuade deserters to surrender and the upcoming recruitment drive. The Sri Lanka Rupavahini English news bulletin on the night of May 12 quoted Gen. Ratwatte as saying “If this was not done, I will be compelled to propose to the Government to conscript youth from the age group of 18 to 30 for the forces.” Gen. Ratwatte can propose but whether his Cabinet colleagues would readily endorse what he wants is another billion dollar question. It is a well known fact that in the conduct of the separatist war during the past three years, Gen. Ratwatte’s only achievement has been directing the military campaign to re-capture the Jaffna peninsula. Since then many a military action under his control has been shrouded in controversy not to mention the human and material losses.

A recruitment drive has now become inevitable. Out of an estimated 15,000 deserters, Army officials claim that over 5,500 had availed themselves of the last amnesty. However, other defence sources doubted the claim and said the number was much less.

Be that as it may, the short fall has prompted officials at the Army Headquarters to hurry with plans for a nation-wide recruitment drive. As revealed in these columns, such a drive will target school leavers too.

If this drive also meets with little success, as Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte says, he would be compelled to propose to the Government to conscript youth between the age groups 18 to 30.

The stage is now set for the second year of Operation Jaya Sikurui, the beginning of which is anything but auspicious with the killing of Brigadier Wijeratne and the ambush at Chettikulam. Without appearing to be skeptic, good or bad omens do not portend the outcome of wars. It is sound planning, well thought out strategies and effective application of force that produces results.

In this regard, the pronouncement by Prabhakaran should arouse interest. From what he says, it would appear that the LTTE has made good use of the stalemated situation to consolidate itself organisationally to counter the conventional approach of the Army. With the obvious knowledge that the cutting edge of the armed forces is in their superiority in armour, artillery and air power, the LTTE seem to have focused to neutralise that advantage.

Military observers have often commented that the LTTE should not be given respite to consolidate and that only relentless mobile operations against them will keep them off balance. This, the Army does not seem to have been able to effectively implement.

This is for the singular reason that the Army is too heavily committed on the Jaya Sikurui strategy in addition to the security and quasi administrative management of re-occupied areas.

Whether this is a result of wrong strategic choices or under estimation of resources, both manpower and material, is a matter for evaluation by those charged with the responsibility of conducting the war. This they must for a stalemated situation, as it now exists, favours the LTTE. The paradox is that such a situation fortuitously gives the LTTE greater flexibility in the choice of multiple operations. More security forces and civilian targets come under pressure as a result of that advantage.

This in turn slows operational resilience and compels the security forces into increased positional security measures. That is the Catch 22 situation which the Army has got into and from which it must untangle itself by regaining a capability for a widespread choice of operations in as wide an area as possible.

Undoubtedly manpower is a key factor in revamping operational dynamism. But military observers say that increased resources should be accompanied with multiple strategies to tie down the LTTE in such a manner as to deny them space and ability to manoeuvre.

It is questionable whether the Army’s plan to attract deserters by the offer of amnesty will be successful. That it has been tried several times earlier without significant success casts doubts whether it will be effective this time. There is no doubt that re-enlisting deserters is one way of getting trained cadres. It is questionable if deserters can be relied on, or whether others in service have confidence in them.

The whole question of recruitment reflects the dilemma faced by the country in regard to the conduct of the war. Whether conscription is an answer is debatable.

If the shortfall of cadres is only 15,000 as has been declared by the forces, then conscription seems an overkill. On the other hand, if it is to be for large-scale recruitment, other issues come to play.

In the hindsight of two southern insurgencies, a growing gun culture, an ever increasing Mafia, economic uncertainties, and other potentially volatile fault lines in our society, not to mention the North-South divide, the wisdom of conscripted military service is a question that requires a great deal of consideration.

The post war rehabilitation of excess soldiery and hopefully demobilised militants is a frightful thought by itself, and it is something to which the Government should give some thought even though there is no immediate hope in sight of the war ending.

The question of recruiting methods apart, the reasons as to why there appears to be little enthusiasm to join the forces at the time when the nation is at war bears examination.

That many would rather not undergo the rigours of military service or expose themselves to risk life and limb is understandable, however much arguable in the context of patriotic fervour. But there are many other underlying issues which need to be addressed.

Does it manifest a lack of public enthusiasm for the war? Or, does it reflect a lack of faith in the leadership? Or else, is it simply a lack of public motivation? Or, could it be a credibility gap created by the ever-defaulting political promises of victory, mistrust of political motives and increasing public awareness of corruption in high places in regard to military procurements.

It is sine quo non that public support is essential for national wars.

The best and perhaps the most recent example of military reversals for lack of public support was the US involvement in Vietnam.

Further alienating the public mind is the all too common knowledge of corruption by high officials responsible for equipment evaluation and procurement. The flaunting of ill-gotten gains by way of expensive purchases of real estate and the emergence of nouveau riche military mudalalis have not gone unnoticed by an alert public. Nor, have the scandals relating to the purchase of equipment assured the public that the best cost-effective procurements are being made.

The slowness with which the Government has acted even when the media has exposed some of these incidents, and the seeming lack of interest of government agencies like the permanent commission on bribery and corruption or the tax department to investigate these reports, often supported with some factual material, have contributed to widen the credibility gap.

The lack of a national policy in the conduct of the war and the acerbic hostility between the mainstream political parties has not in anyway contributed to generate public unity. Political acrimony is a continuing hindrance to garner public support. This situation has exacerbated the conditions brought about by other factors to create suspicion of the sincerity of the war effort.

The lack of what could be a viable political solution to problem also diminishes public enthusiasm of what seems a never-ending problem.

These contradictions demand that both the government and the opposition take stock of the situation before it deteriorates further. It would do well for the political and defence establishment to remember that a fundamental axiom in insurgent-guerrilla warfare is to exploit contradictions that manifest in the enemy. Time, they believe will create those conditions. This calls for a national effort to end this war. It means a national defence policy, a national support for recruitment and national support to end corruption.

(Situation Report – 17th May 1998 )

Read Full Post »

For the first time since the so-called Eelam War III, Tiger guerrillas simultaneously took on three major targets in the east last Thursday – the main Sri Lanka Air Force base in China Bay in Trincomalee, the Vavunathivu Army Camp and the Headquarters of the Three Brigade, both in Batticaloa.

The offensives began under cover of darkness late Wednesday night and continued through dawn Thursday. When it ended, Tiger guerrillas left behind a trail of destruction and a grim reminder that they were not as weakened an enemy as they were perceived to be.

Doubts of LTTE capabilities, particularly by the defence establishment, grew after the little or no resistance the LTTE offered to “Operation Edibala” – the military offensive that linked Vavuniya with the western seaboard town of Mannar.

A weekly Sinhala newspaper two weeks ago described the offensive as a “peace march in the jungle” – a remark which underscored the smooth conduct of the operation without enemy resistance. Of course that was in the western flank of the theatre of conflict, a flank which has not witnessed any major attacks or bloody confrontations in the almost three years of “Eelam War III.”

Last Thursday’s LTTE actions made it clear that the lack of resistance to “Operation Edibala” was not because it was taken by surprise, but rather because the LTTE was not detracted to the western flank from its strategic focus on the east, at least for the present. A studied unconcern perhaps even though “Operation Edibala” seemed to be part of a larger strategy aimed at establishing MSRs (Main Supply Routes) to link up Vavuniya to Mannar on the one hand and on the other to link up Vavuniya to Kilinochchi thus connecting up the Jaffna peninsula.

Whether the latter option if executed will be a “peace march in the jungle” because of the strategic value of that route to the LTTE is quite another matter.

If the attack on the SLAF Base in China Bay caused a loss of more than Rs. 125 million with the Chinese-built Harbin Y12 aircraft being destroyed, the over-running of the Vavunativu Army Camp (which was later recaptured) led to the deaths of over 75 soldiers. More than 70 soldiers were wounded, some of them seriously. What is strongly believed to be artillery fire, fell on the Three Brigade Headquarters in Batticaloa killing two women soldiers and a Police Constable. Six Policemen were wounded.

The attack on the Sri Lanka Air Force Base at China Bay, a key defence installation came as midnight approached on Wednesday. Mortars began to rain on the complex from its north west end, the Kappalthurai side.

A group of around 15 guerrillas including suicide squads breached the perimeter fence and walked in firing 40mm grenades and spraying their assault rifles all round. At one point, the entry became easier when a sentry reportedly abandoned his bunker to go and alert a group of colleagues nearby. Guerrillas who had arrived at the tarmac began firing Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). One hit a Chinese built Y12 aircraft setting it alight. Hours later, only a charred, fully burnt out body and frame of the aircraft remained.

Attempts by Tiger guerrillas to enter the adjoining hangar to fire at another Harbin Y12 that remained parked there failed. Air Force personnel were offering resistance and a gun battle ensued. As this went on, more LTTE mortars fired from near a railway track was falling within the China Bay Air Force complex. Officials in the Operations Room radioed for help. Russian built Mi 24 helicopters which took off from Anuradhapura began strafing LTTE positions.

By the time Air Vice Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody, Director (Operations) arrived from Colombo to take control of the situation, it was break of dawn. The drama had ended. Bodies of the three LTTE men lay on the tarmac.

Retaliatory fire by airmen had severed the head of one of the Tiger guerrillas. SLAF officials found he was wearing a Denim lined suicide bombers jacket. Army reinforcements sealed off the area and conducted a search of the scrub jungle around. The attackers had made a hasty retreat.

Vavunativu (or Buffalo) island lies south east of the main military airfield in the eastern provincial capital of Batticaloa. An Army base located here made up of troops from the Sixth Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment and a battalion of the National Guard, is tasked with the responsibility of providing security cover to the airfield.

Later, on Wednesday night, Tiger guerrillas blasted the Valairavu bridge – the only land route that linked the islet with mainland Batticaloa and simultaneously directed artillery/mortar fire on the Army Camp. (The bridge was partly damaged. Traffic has begun to move again whilst repair work is now underway).

Boatloads of Tiger guerrillas, which the Ministry of Defence claimed was 800 strong, made an assault landing on the Army camp. As hours went by, the camp was over-run. “The men put up stiff resistance before they were forced to make a tactical retreat,” one Army official said.

On Thursday, the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence said in a news release,”The attack which came in waves were successfully repulsed by the troops inflicting heavy casualties on the terrorists. Ground troops confirmed that over 160 terrorists were killed and a large number injured.” The press release added: “Forty eight bodies of own troops killed in action have been recovered. Troops are searching the area forward of the detachment.”

In a news release on Friday, the MOD said, “Total of own troops killed is 65 including two officers and 35 injured. Terrorists have left behind a large number of weapons, one Canter truck and two tractors….”

But Friday evening, Sri Lankans who watched CNN or BBC television and heard foreign radio broadcasts learnt of an entirely different story. They were told that the Vavunativu camp was completely over-run and was re-captured by the troops on Thursday. Even Colombo based correspondents of international news agencies had filed the same report.

Perhaps for reasons better known to themselves, the Ministry of Defence, like during the LTTE attack of the Mullaitivu military base, chose to play down the incident. But it was an exercise in futility since Sri Lankans were learning of a major incident in their own country from foreign broadcasts. Even the Sinhala service of the BBC, the Sandesaya gave the details.

Not only that. Highly placed military officials I spoke to, said that after the camp was over-run, Tiger guerrillas removed a sizeable quantity of weapons from the Vavunativu Army camp – machine guns, assault rifles, ammunition and communications equipment.

Reinforcements to re-capture the Vavunativu Army Camp rushed in boats with SLAF air support. By Thursday afternoon they re-established control. Senior Military officials at the Joint Operations Headquarters said that the LTTE also suffered “heavy” casualties. However, it is difficult to independantly verify the Defence Ministry’s claim of “200 deaths and over 120 injured.”

A senior Army official in the east who spoke on grounds of anonymity said that the stiff resistance offered was because the troops had a forewarning from Military Intelligence, just two days before, of the possibility of the camp being attacked. It is, however, a matter of observation that in spite of the warning, the defence preparations were not stiff enough to forestall the camp from being over-run by the enemy in the face of which the Army made a “tactical retreat.” Furthermore, that counter attack was not launched by reserve forces to deny and prevent the camp from being over-run shows clearly some deficiency in contingency plans particularly in view of intelligence warnings.

The LTTE has remained silent on the attack on Vavunativu. In its usual press release, the Tigers only made reference to the attack on the SLAF Base at China Bay and gave the names of its cadres who were killed. They were “Major Sittampalam, Captain Nivethan and Captain Vijayaruban”.

As the attack on Vavunativu continued, Tiger guerrillas fired artillery/mortar at the Three Brigade Headquarters located in the Batticaloa town. Two women soldiers and a Police Constable were killed. Six more Policemen were injured. The Policemen had arrived at the Brigade Headquarters for a briefing on security related duties.

Military Intelligence officials confirm that the artillery fire aimed at the Two Brigade Headquarters and at Vavunativu was from artillery guns the LTTE seized after they attacked the Pulukunawa Special Task Force (STF) detachment early this year.

The simultaneous attack on three service establishments which included the massive SLAF Base in China Bay disproves the claimed theories that Operations Riviresa, Sathjaya and Edibala have weakened the LTTE. As if Mullaitivu did not earlier prove this fact.

The attack on the SLAF Base at China Bay raises several questions. The fact that the LTTE had infiltrated into the tarmac which is the core of the operational zone indicates that the outer perimeter and all positions in depth have been successfully penetrated. This is an unacceptable situation.

The fact that a Harbin Y 12 was destroyed is relative in terms of loss of money and hardware. But the more significant fact is that the enemy has infiltrated into a major and vital defence complex – Vital not only in itself, but also in its strategic role as the base for air-logistics and support in the conduct of the war. This is not the first time that a major air force base has been infiltrated in depth.

It was only a few years ago that the Palaly Air Base, which was equally of strategic importance, was also infiltrated. To the public mind a mass LTTE attack on isolated camps and bases is understandable as a fact of war. However, it is irreconcilable as to how a major and a strategically vital base could be infiltrated into such depths.

Defence measures of major establishments, especially containing such hi-tech military hardware critical to the support of the war have to be guarded against sabotage and infiltration. Logically that would be the tactic the enemy would adopt rather than attempt a conventional attack en masse on a major defence establishment.

The LTTE attack on Vavunativu Army Camp also demonstrates a military weakness that in spite of intelligence of an impending attack that the military was unable to prevent the camp being over-run with the consequent loss of lives and weaponry.

The fact that Vavunativu camp was established in the overall defence planning of the Batticaloa airfield could well mean that the LTTE is targeting the Air Force. The total air superiority enjoyed by the armed forces is a crippling disadvantage to the LTTE which has no real counter to it. Furthermore, any loss of aircraft not only reduces the logistics and air support to the forces, but also confers to the LTTE greater mobility free for observation and attack.

It is also of interest that the Army’s Directorate of Military Intelligence confirms that the artillery fire on the Vavunativu Camp and Brigade Headquarters was also from artillery weapons seized from the Pulukunawa Camp of the Police Special Task Force (STF). If this is so, it manifestly demonstrates the ability of the LTTE to move men, heavy weapons and material in the eastern province freely. This seriously questions the effectiveness of the Government and the security forces control, or the lack of it, in a province which only two years ago was adequately under Government control for elections to be held.

This again questions the wisdom of the strategy of attaching lesser importance to the eastern province. One will not be over-stating the importance of the eastern province in the overall Eelam strategy. The Weli Oya basin is a strategically important gateway to the eastern province which has seen a bloody pogrom of ethnic cleansing of the unarmed Sinhala villages by the LTTE.

Trincomalee and its environs with its Air Force and Naval bases is the plum and the perceived capital of Eelam. The mixed population of the eastern province, the Muslims of which have faced the LTTE pogrom of ethnic cleansing, is territorially strategic and psychologically important.

Recent developments of LTTE infiltration into the Yala jungles in the deep south is additional reason to secure the eastern province to deny the Tigers space to expand their operations. The fact that the hill country with its large concentration of Tamil population of Indian origin is contiguous to the eastern province cannot be ignored.

Recent operations by the LTTE in the eastern province, including the capture of the Mullaitivu base, suggests that the serious focus of the Tigers is on the east. In contrast to this, the western Wanni including Mannar, is of secondary importance.

This has been historically so in the 14 years old war. To permit further deterioration of the situation in the east and its corridor to the North will not only escalate the magnitude of security threat but will also generate tensions which will exacerbate existing socio-ethnic and political differences at a national level. This will be sweet music to the Tigers.

(Situation Report – 9th March 1997)

Read Full Post »

The degree to which troops have been af fected by being constantly deployed in operations and by chronic logistical problems was quite evident when the LTTE overwhelmed the Nochchimoddai – Thandikulam area on Tuesday. Many may desist from expanding on the subject for self imposed stipulations about what they presume to be ‘national interests’. The defenses of the army were preposterously weak in many areas contiguous with the Vavuniya town’s western suburbs. Some ex -Tamil militants who work with the army in the area say that it is absurdly suicidal to resist a massed LTTE attack on this part of the outer defenses of the cleared areas of Vavuniya. As they did in Mullaithivu, the Tigers completely overwhelmed the whole Nochchimoddai-Thandikulam complex before the troops or their commanders could react. Each attack group knew exactly what to take on inside the main defenses. The four kilometre long Thandikulam -Nochchimoddai military complex and the villages contiguous with it to the west and northwest were dominated by the attack groups of the LTTE for more than twenty six hours. They were busy ransacking whatever was left of the army’s positions in this high security zone. The army had good reasons to feel quite secure in its defenses in the Thandikulam – Nochchimoddai area because it had been an absolutely uncontested part of the larger Vavuniya security zone since 1990. The western and northwestern FDL of this zone was expanded in several stages between 1992 and 94. The army in the Thandikulam – Nochchimoddai area had to face the LTTE directly only to the north in the direction of Omanthai until Jayasikurui began. And after that with thousands of troops massed up on the road all the way up to Periyamadu through Omanthai, there was little or no danger, logically that is, from the northern approach which had also become immensely secure. To the east were Sinhala villages such as Mamaduwa and Mahakachchakodiya which were supervised by the Police and homeguards. Tamil groups in Vavuniya grumbled when the army tried to further secure its positions in Thandikulam – Nochchimoddai by resettling Sinhalese in the village of Kokkuveli east of the complex in 1993. To the west and northwest were well populated Tamil villages which had been little disturbed by the ravages of the Eelam wars. These were also well supervised and defended by the PLOTE and to some extent by the TELO. The EPDP also recently stationed some of its cadres in this area. Immediately to the south, of course, was the well defended town of Vavuniya with the sprawling Joseph Camp and the Eerattperiyakulam camp two miles further to the south by the trunk road. The Thandikulam-Nochchimoddai zone, therefore, was well covered and protected. It was therefore assumed that the Tigers would find it very difficult to carry out reconnaissance work or infiltrate the Thandikulam -Nochchimoddai high security zone without alerting the local population – Sinhala and Tamil -on either side or the Tamil groups operating with the army. It was hence perfectly logical to locate the nerve centre – the head – of Operation Jayasikurui here. The whole thing looked so impregnable that visiting foreign diplomats were taken up to Thandikulam and even beyond. This is what gave the LTTE a near perfect advantage of surprise in the attack.

The Tigers have intimated supporters in the Wanni that they have brought back some very valuable military hardware from 55 division forward headquarters. They have not specified what these items are. (The complete list of material which the Tigers removed from the Paranthan – Elephant complex in January this year was not revealed immediately after the operation. Only two months later did they acknowledge three 120 mm heavy mortars that they had captured from the Umayalpuram camp in the western sector of the base). The LTTE may have also taken an officer of the army prisoner.

Ex-Tamil militant sources in Vavuniya who could listen to the ‘open’ conversations on the handsets of the attackers less than two kilometers away in Kurumankaadu, said that the Tigers who captured him had called their commander to find out whether they should bring the man back with them. “Only if he can be of any use” was the terse reply.

The LTTE is looking not only for special instruments and artillery pieces in the military bases which they overwhelm and destroy but also for Sri Lankan army officers with special skills. It has benefited greatly from what it has been able to extract from these officers through coercion and persuasion. (Some are even working with them).

Many officers and soldiers in Thandikulam – Nochchimoddai who were surprised and overwhelmed surrendered. The LTTE’s priority, however, was to remove hardware. And hence, as usual, very few prisoners, whose capture will not be acknowledged, were taken.

In fact many officers were able to flee the scene of Tuesday’s carnage to safety because of the confusion which arose in the first phase of the attack when a large number of civilians rushed towards Vavuniya from their villages to the west of the Thandikulam-Nochchimoddai military complex such as Patakaadu, Ganeshapuram and Samayapuram. Some security forces personnel, according to ex Tamil militant sources in the Vavuniya suburbs, had made good their escape by getting into civilian clothing apparently taken from the fleeing Tamil population.

The magnitude of the destruction that the Tigers have caused in Thandikulam-Nochchimoddai zone have led some to claim (an inevitable reaction of unimaginative official propagandists ) that the attack involved the best units of the LTTE. This, they say, will have a very deleterious impact on the organization’s well trained, battle hardened manpower in the short term. Nothing can be more naive or incorrect.

The reconnaissance(recce) work, planning, training and logistics for all LTTE operations in the Wanni directly or indirectly connected to the stalling of Op. Jayasikurui were handled by the LTTE’s headquarters. This apparently began a few months before Mullaithivu was overrun. It is understood that Prabhakaran had devised and put in place an unusually localised logistical system for the battles, assaults and counterstrikes in the Wanni for which he has been gearing his organisation since it withdrew from the peninsula.

The units selected and sent in for the Thandikulam -Nochchimoddai Operation were from some of the troops the LTTE had raised in 1995 -96, including several female groups. The latter were given some key tasks in the ‘interior operation’ in which the army’s 55 division headquarters and artillery positions were targeted.

The attack on Tuesday did not involve any of the LTTE’s battle hardened units except for some group leaders drawn from these for the operation. The Charles Anthony ‘brigade’ and the Jeyanthan ‘brigade’ still remain in the background engaged in other preparatory work.

The Thandikulam-Nochchimoddai attack is not the main operation that the Tigers have been preparing for since they overran the Paranthan- Elephant Pass complex. It is yet to come.

(The Sunday Times – 15th June 1997 )

Read Full Post »

Jaffna’s most beloved Brigade Commander killed in LTTE suicide attack

As the ongoing “Opera tion Jaya Sikurui” (Victory Assured) entered its second year last Thursday, the defence establishment was jolted by two major incidents.

In the security forces controlled Jaffna peninsula, an LTTE suicide bomber exploded himself killing Brigadier Liyana Aratchige Rupasiri (Larry) Wijeratne, outgoing 524 Brigade Commander. He was the second Brigade Commander to die since the peninsula was re-captured three years ago. Brigadier Ananda Hamangoda was killed when a female suicide bomber exploded herself on July 4, 1996, at Stanley Road, Jaffna.

In Chettikulam, barely a few kilometres away from the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH) in Vavuniya, the nerve centre for counter terrorist operations, Army and Police personnel going home on leave in a convoy of buses were attacked by Tiger guerrillas. It led to the deaths of 13 soldiers, a policeman and a civilian. Forty two others were injured.

In the case of Brigadier Wijeratne, a colleague and friend had warned him to be cautious when he attended public functions before his departure.

At Chettikulam, Military Intelligence officials said, the area Brigade Headquarters had been warned of Tiger infiltration and possible attacks.

Brigadier Wijeratne flew into Jaffna last Wednesday, in what was to be his last official visit. He was relinquishing command as Brigade Commander (524 Brigade). Colonel Sanath Karunaratne (former Brigade Commander, 22 Brigade, Trincomalee) had also arrived in Jaffna on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, Brigadier Wijeratne formally handed over command to Colonel Karunaratne. Later in the week, he was to assume office as Deputy Commandant of the Kotelawala Defence Academy. With the formalities over, Brigadier Wijeratne, who like the Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Major General Lionel Balagalle, was most popular with the Jaffna public, left the Brigade Headquarters in Point Pedro that afternoon for a farewell lunch in his honour. It was being hosted by the Vadamaratchi Traders Association at the National Savings Bank building which adjoins the Point Pedro bus station.

With that over, he was returning to the Brigade Headquarters. It was around 3.20 p.m when Brig. Wijeratne’s Double Cab was barely 100 metres outside the main entrance, driving over a hump ahead of the first sentry point manned by Policemen. Just then a youth with explosives strapped to his chest emerged from a bylane and darted towards the Double Cab. He was a few feet away, to the rear left side when he exploded himself.

Three pellets penetrated Brig. Wijeratne’s head. He was seated in the front together with his driver who escaped injury. However, Lance Bombardier Dharmasena and Gunner Ratnayake who were in the back seat also sustained head injuries. They were rushed to the Jaffna Hospital where Brigadier Wijeratne was pronounced dead.

Rains which broke out early Thursday morning had somewhat receded when the incident occurred. But the bad weather conditions continued.

So much so the pilot of a Sri Lanka Air Force Bell helicopter that was airborne to provide cover for an SLAF AN 32 that was due to take off, landed at Kankesanthurai. It remained there and the AN 32 on the tarmac in Palaly until the weather cleared.

Senior officials at the Security Forces Headquarters in Palaly held the AN 32 on ground until Brigadier Wijeratne’s body and the two soldiers were brought by road from Point Pedro to Palaly. They arrived in Colombo in the AN 32 flight later that evening.

As the news of the incident spread, shops put up shutters. There were fears of an Army retaliation. Col. Karunaratne drove around the town speaking to shop owners. He assured them protection and urged that the shops re-open. Some did.

Investigations into the incident revealed that one of the sponsors of the farewell lunch to Brigadier Wijeratne received a letter of warning from the LTTE. It had asked him not to felicitate the Brigadier. It is not immediately clear whether the recipient of the letter informed the relevant authorities of its contents.

On Friday, black and even white flags flew in most buildings in Point Pedro. That included houses. Schools in the area closed early as a mark of respect for Brigadier Wijeratne. A public rally is also being planned in Jaffna to protest against the incident.

LTTE’s clandestine radio, The Voice of Tigers, confirmed on Friday that one of its suicide bombers carried out the attack on Brigadier Wijeratne. The radio was monitored by security forces in Vavuniya.

The attack at Chettikulam came after a group of Tiger guerrillas, said to be around 40, had infiltrated the town area. Last Thursday morning, they had taken up position at various places including the grounds of the hospital. Troops later learnt that they had placed a machine gun in the lawn. Ten buses escorted by armoured Buffels were to travel to Anuradhapura.

Hardly had the journey begun when claymore mines began to explode. It was followed by machine gun and small arms fire by guerrillas who had taken cover in the area. Two of them pretended to be pumping water from a tube well. When a Buffel approached, they pulled out a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and fired damaging the armoured vehicle and killing its driver.

Soldiers travelling in the first three buses were injured in the incident. As the attackers withdrew, 15 were dead and 42 injured. The dead included two officers – Captain Ruwan Dissanayake and Lieutenant Arjuna Kodippily. The Chettikulam area was considered secure by the security authorities particularly after “Operation Edibala” which led to the re-opening of the Vavuniya – Mannar road. The Chettikulam town lies south of this road.

One of the reasons attributed for the easy infiltration by Tiger cadres is said to be the withdrawal of some defence lines manned by the Police. An Army official said the men had been inducted to hold positions in the areas re-captured during “Operation Jaya Sikurui.”

The suicide bomb explosion that killed Brig. Wijeratne came as further confirmation that there had been a marked rise in the levels of LTTE infiltration in the peninsula. To their credit, the security forces personnel are not only carrying out the difficult task of securing the area but also carrying out a multitude of tasks relating to civil administration. This is in the back drop of a substantial number of soldiers being inducted from Jaffna to “Operation Jaya Sikurui” thus denying the security forces command in the north the possibility of conducting large scale search and clear operations to counter infiltration.

Quite clearly, the year long “Operation Jaya Sikurui” is having its impact, both directly and indirectly, on the security scenario. As previously mentioned in these columns, troops from the eastern theatre of conflict have been thinned out and deployed in the Wanni. So are Police personnel from many divisions. Whilst this is at the expense of security in the depleted areas, it has also denied to the security forces the possibility of mounting another large scale offensive.

The LTTE marked the anniversary of “Operation Jaya Sikurui” with events both in the Wanni and the east. Its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, issued a lengthy statement on the year long operation. He admitted that 1,300 LTTE cadres had died so far, a figure that matched the security forces death toll in the year long offensive.

Prabhakaran said “Before the launching of “Operation Jaya Sikurui”, the Sri Lankan political and military high command miscalculated the military strength and determination of the LTTE. Based on our strategic withdrawal from Jaffna peninsula and on our non-engagement in the “Edibala” operation, Sri Lanka Government entertained a theory that the LTTE was militarily weakened.

This misconception led the Army high command to believe in an assured victory and made them to issue time-frames for the campaign. Ultimately the military establishment has had to face humiliation.

“We were prepared to confront Jaya Sikurui troops. We reorganised and re-structured our military machine to engage in a conventional mode of offensive. Our successful campaign at Mullaitivu strengthened our fire power. On the basis of our newly acquired weaponry we built up artillery and mortar units, anti-tank and anti-aircraft units to form a well integrated military structure capable of confronting a conventional military thrust. On the basis of such practical experience we devised new offensive and defensive strategies and constructed impenetrable defence lines. By such method we prepared ourselves to face the biggest ever offensive undertaken by the enemy.

“In the Jaya Sikurui military operation the Sri Lankan Army has adopted various strategies and tactics. It experimented with new offensive manoeuvres found in contemporary military sciences. Furthermore, it implemented war plans charted by foreign military experts. Yet, the armed forces could not break or weaken LTTE’s determined resistance. Rather, such offensive thrusts resulted in serious setbacks and heavy losses to the army.”

Pointing out that in every confrontation during this prolonged battle “We gained new experience and learned a lot in the art of war,” Prabhakaran said “that has helped to develop our fighting ability.” He called it a battle which was “a baptism of fire”.

In marked contrast, there was no word on the “Operation Jaya Sikurui” from the man who is running the military machine against the LTTE, General Anuruddha Ratwatte. He chose not to speak about the year long operation.

But the need to raise more cadres and continue the thrust of Operation Jaya Sikurui was very much uppermost in his mind. Speaking to newspaper editors and senior journalists last week, Gen. Ratwatte declared if a recruitment drive failed, conscription would have to be resorted to. But later in the same week, his colleague, Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, declared at the weekly media briefing that ‘the Government is not contemplating the introduction of a compulsory military service at this point of time’.

“There is absolutely no such plan. It was just mentioned by Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte as an alternative if all other efforts failed,” Mr. Samaraweera said. Obviously the usually genial Media Minister was concerned that reports of conscription would have an adverse bearing on the PA Government’s image, particularly in the backdrop of no decision being made on such a sensitive issue.

Early this week, Gen. Ratwatte was taking part in official events in Mr. Samaraweera’s electoral district Matara. In speeches he made, Gen. Ratwatte referred to the current efforts to persuade deserters to surrender and the upcoming recruitment drive. The Sri Lanka Rupavahini English news bulletin on the night of May 12 quoted Gen. Ratwatte as saying “If this was not done, I will be compelled to propose to the Government to conscript youth from the age group of 18 to 30 for the forces.” Gen. Ratwatte can propose but whether his Cabinet colleagues would readily endorse what he wants is another billion dollar question. It is a well known fact that in the conduct of the separatist war during the past three years, Gen. Ratwatte’s only achievement has been directing the military campaign to re-capture the Jaffna peninsula. Since then many a military action under his control has been shrouded in controversy not to mention the human and material losses.

A recruitment drive has now become inevitable. Out of an estimated 15,000 deserters, Army officials claim that over 5,500 had availed themselves of the last amnesty. However, other defence sources doubted the claim and said the number was much less.

Be that as it may, the short fall has prompted officials at the Army Headquarters to hurry with plans for a nation-wide recruitment drive. As revealed in these columns, such a drive will target school leavers too.

If this drive also meets with little success, as Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte says, he would be compelled to propose to the Government to conscript youth between the age groups 18 to 30.

The stage is now set for the second year of Operation Jaya Sikurui, the beginning of which is anything but auspicious with the killing of Brigadier Wijeratne and the ambush at Chettikulam. Without appearing to be skeptic, good or bad omens do not portend the outcome of wars. It is sound planning, well thought out strategies and effective application of force that produces results.

In this regard, the pronouncement by Prabhakaran should arouse interest. From what he says, it would appear that the LTTE has made good use of the stalemated situation to consolidate itself organisationally to counter the conventional approach of the Army. With the obvious knowledge that the cutting edge of the armed forces is in their superiority in armour, artillery and air power, the LTTE seem to have focused to neutralise that advantage.

Military observers have often commented that the LTTE should not be given respite to consolidate and that only relentless mobile operations against them will keep them off balance. This, the Army does not seem to have been able to effectively implement.

This is for the singular reason that the Army is too heavily committed on the Jaya Sikurui strategy in addition to the security and quasi administrative management of re-occupied areas.

Whether this is a result of wrong strategic choices or under estimation of resources, both manpower and material, is a matter for evaluation by those charged with the responsibility of conducting the war. This they must for a stalemated situation, as it now exists, favours the LTTE. The paradox is that such a situation fortuitously gives the LTTE greater flexibility in the choice of multiple operations. More security forces and civilian targets come under pressure as a result of that advantage.

This in turn slows operational resilience and compels the security forces into increased positional security measures. That is the Catch 22 situation which the Army has got into and from which it must untangle itself by regaining a capability for a widespread choice of operations in as wide an area as possible.

Undoubtedly manpower is a key factor in revamping operational dynamism. But military observers say that increased resources should be accompanied with multiple strategies to tie down the LTTE in such a manner as to deny them space and ability to manoeuvre.

It is questionable whether the Army’s plan to attract deserters by the offer of amnesty will be successful. That it has been tried several times earlier without significant success casts doubts whether it will be effective this time. There is no doubt that re-enlisting deserters is one way of getting trained cadres. It is questionable if deserters can be relied on, or whether others in service have confidence in them.

The whole question of recruitment reflects the dilemma faced by the country in regard to the conduct of the war. Whether conscription is an answer is debatable.

If the shortfall of cadres is only 15,000 as has been declared by the forces, then conscription seems an overkill. On the other hand, if it is to be for large-scale recruitment, other issues come to play.

In the hindsight of two southern insurgencies, a growing gun culture, an ever increasing Mafia, economic uncertainties, and other potentially volatile fault lines in our society, not to mention the North-South divide, the wisdom of conscripted military service is a question that requires a great deal of consideration.

The post war rehabilitation of excess soldiery and hopefully demobilised militants is a frightful thought by itself, and it is something to which the Government should give some thought even though there is no immediate hope in sight of the war ending.

The question of recruiting methods apart, the reasons as to why there appears to be little enthusiasm to join the forces at the time when the nation is at war bears examination.

That many would rather not undergo the rigours of military service or expose themselves to risk life and limb is understandable, however much arguable in the context of patriotic fervour. But there are many other underlying issues which need to be addressed.

Does it manifest a lack of public enthusiasm for the war? Or, does it reflect a lack of faith in the leadership? Or else, is it simply a lack of public motivation? Or, could it be a credibility gap created by the ever-defaulting political promises of victory, mistrust of political motives and increasing public awareness of corruption in high places in regard to military procurements.

It is sine quo non that public support is essential for national wars.

The best and perhaps the most recent example of military reversals for lack of public support was the US involvement in Vietnam.

Further alienating the public mind is the all too common knowledge of corruption by high officials responsible for equipment evaluation and procurement. The flaunting of ill-gotten gains by way of expensive purchases of real estate and the emergence of nouveau riche military mudalalis have not gone unnoticed by an alert public. Nor, have the scandals relating to the purchase of equipment assured the public that the best cost-effective procurements are being made.

The slowness with which the Government has acted even when the media has exposed some of these incidents, and the seeming lack of interest of government agencies like the permanent commission on bribery and corruption or the tax department to investigate these reports, often supported with some factual material, have contributed to widen the credibility gap.

The lack of a national policy in the conduct of the war and the acerbic hostility between the mainstream political parties has not in anyway contributed to generate public unity. Political acrimony is a continuing hindrance to garner public support. This situation has exacerbated the conditions brought about by other factors to create suspicion of the sincerity of the war effort.

The lack of what could be a viable political solution to problem also diminishes public enthusiasm of what seems a never-ending problem.

These contradictions demand that both the government and the opposition take stock of the situation before it deteriorates further. It would do well for the political and defence establishment to remember that a fundamental axiom in insurgent-guerrilla warfare is to exploit contradictions that manifest in the enemy. Time, they believe will create those conditions. This calls for a national effort to end this war. It means a national defence policy, a national support for recruitment and national support to end corruption.

(Situation Report – 17th May 1998 )

Read Full Post »

A string of recent suc cesses by the Sri Lanka Navy appears to have piqued the Tiger guerrillas.

They broke a two month long lull last Thursday to attempt a strike at the Sri Lanka Navy’s small base at Kilali on the northern fringe of the Jaffna lagoon.

This came as the only major incident since Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte and the three service commanders escaped an LTTE mortar barrage in Oddusuddan in December, last year.

An encounter between Tiger guerrillas and the Navy which broke out shortly after 1 a.m. on Thursday was joined in by the Army an hour later. It went on till past 3 a.m. The Navy men engaged the LTTE in the lagoon. Army fired artillery into the lagoon and hurriedly changed directions of a shore based radar to track down movements of Tiger boats.

During the three hour melee, the LTTE seized a Navy Water Jet (or Inshore Patrol Craft) bearing identification number P 174 worth over Rs 6.3 million. The water jet built locally by Blue Star Marine is 13.5 metres long and 3.18 metres wide. Delivered to the Navy in 1995-96, it is equipped with a 12.7 mm Machine Gun. It is also equipped with a sophisticated radar system. At the time of the attack, it is said to have also carried night vision devices and other armaments on board.

There were conflicting reports on the sequence of events. In the wake of a string of successes against the LTTE, a Navy spokesman, perhaps to avoid embarrassment, gave a version that contradicted almost all other official and independent accounts.

That was to later cause uneasiness at the highest levels of the Navy. It also raised issues about the futility of distorted or diluted versions being issued for public consumption whenever losses or reversals occur.

The Navy spokesman told the media on Thursday morning that some eight to ten LTTE boats had entered the Jaffna lagoon from the uncontrolled Pooneryn side. This was whilst a group of guerrillas, who had infiltrated through land, had kept firing at the base.

According to the Navy spokesman, two Water Jets deployed in the lagoon for night patrol came under attack. One had managed to come within the precincts of the base area whilst the other was hit and sunk outside. He claimed several attackers were killed and added that the guerrillas withdrew after they suffered heavy losses. He declared that one sailor was missing in action and two others were injured.

But some 18 hours after the incident, (on Thursday night) interception of LTTE radio transmissions by the security forces, both in the Jaffna peninsula and the Wanni, revealed Tiger claims that they had seized the P 174 Water Jet. The transmission gave details of items found on board.

Published accounts in the media on Friday, based on claims by the official Navy spokesman, surprised higher echelons of the defence establishment and even embarrassed some senior officials at Navy Headquarters. Of particular concern was the claim that the P 174 Water Jet had sunk.

Navy divers had on late Thursday searched the bottom of the sea in the general area, largely shallow and clear terrain, where the confrontation had occurred. They retrieved only a General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) and a grenade. There were no signs of a wrecked Water Jet.

If further doubts on the fate of the P 174 Water Jet were reflected in a news release put out by the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence, the Security Forces Headquarters in Jaffna, had not only obtained confirmation that it was in LTTE hands but also pieced together the sequence of events. That account, of course, did not tally with the claims made by the official Navy spokesman.

In its news release (No 122) on February 19 (Friday), the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence said:

“Further to the information released on the terrorist attack on the Naval detachment, Kilaly on 18 Feb 99, 01 water jet which was damaged due to the confrontation is supposed to be sunk. 02 Naval ratings were wounded and another is reported to be missing in action due to the incident.”

By using the words ‘supposed to be sunk,’ the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence seemed to be making it clear there was some, (if not full), doubt on the Navy’s claim. One cannot otherwise understand the use of the word ‘supposed,’ for it only goes to suggest that it was only a claim. And that claim came from the Navy in the form of remarks by their own official spokesman.

Major General Lohan Gunawardena, under whose overall purview comes the area where the incident occurred, is due to send a full report to the Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya. In fact the headquarters of 52 Division (under his charge) had reported the incident to Army Headquarters last Thursday (February 18) itself.

A brief detail of this incident was one of the items listed in the daily Situation Report (Sitrep) circulated to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga , senior defence and security forces officials. This is how Thursday’s incident was referred to:

‘A NAVY BOAT CAME UNDER ENEMY FIRE WHILE PATROLLING IN KILALY LAGOON. 01 X WATER JET AND 01 X SAILOR REPORTED MISSING. 02 X SAILORS WERE INJURED.’

Independent accounts and details put together by intelligence agencies speak of a different story. Verification of these for further veracity and confirmation is difficult since the media is banned from visiting the operational areas. The only exception has been the official visits programmed by state agencies.

Two Water Jets of the Navy were said to have been some 1.5 nautical miles off the Kilaly coast when groups of guerrillas in boats confronted them. When the latter began firing with RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades), Machine Gun and small arms fire, the Water Jets had headed towards the Kilaly base for cover. One had managed to rush towards the base.

Coming under intense fire, personnel on the second Water Jet (P 174) had reportedly jumped overboard and swum to the base except for one – LME (Leading Engineering Mechanic) Hewawasam. He has been declared Missing In Action. It is at this point that the P 174 had been captured. LTTE radio transmissions intercepted at that moment is said to have revealed that Tiger guerrillas sought an additional group to come over immediately.

There are conflicting reports on whether damage was in fact caused to the P 174 Water Jet. There are also conflicting reports on whether there was a land based attack simultaneously as the two Water Jets came under Tiger guerrilla fire. Whilst some security officials denied it took place, there were Navy officials who claimed Tiger cadres had in fact infiltrated the area.

But the billion dollar question that has baffled the security establishment is whether or not the men in the two Water Jets were manning the on board radar. If they were in fact doing so, they would have spotted the presence of the Tiger boats. That would have given them sufficient time to send out an urgent alert to shore based military installations.

Such an alert had in fact come only after the first Water Jet had reached the Navy base in Kilali. The response came, reportedly in a short time, from the Army units surrounding the area including the Army’s shore based Special Boat Squadron (SBS). Soldiers, some in their night clothes, clutched weapons and waded waist deep in the shallow waters to aim their guns and fire in the direction of the area where the LTTE boats had been spotted earlier. Artillery guns were soon trained in on the same area. Positions of shore based radar were changed to locate the position of the Tiger guerrilla boats. Two SBS Javelins, (the improved version of a dinghy but costing over Rs 250,000) were drifting in the shallow waters and had to be retrieved.

It was only on Wednesday, a day before the latest Kilali incident, that senior officials of the Army and Navy discussed possible LTTE threats at a top level conference at the Army’s 54 Division Headquarters in Elephant Pass. According to one source, General Officer Commanding, Major General Sarath Munasinghe, the one time Military Spokesman, is said to have warned of possible attacks that week on either Army defences in the area or the Navy patrols in the lagoon. By a strange quirk of fate, it followed the very next day at Kilali.

It was only last Tuesday, a cheerful Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera, briefed the National Security Council about the Navy’s latest success. It came on February 11 when the Navy’s Fast Attack Craft patrol in the Palk Straits intercepted two fibreglass boats south of the Delft island (Situation Report – February 14). They had arrived from Tamil Nadu shores, crossed the Palk Straits and were heading towards a Sea Tiger Base in Nachchikuda when the incident occurred.

A 32 foot fibreglass boat seized by the Navy contained a big load of medical supplies – saline bottles, sterilised water bottles, field dressings, antibiotic tablets etc. The detection revealed that the LTTE was using Tamil Nadu once again to obtain supplies including medical requirements. Just 24 hours after top officials in the security establishment learnt of the Navy’s success came the incident at Kilali, one which quite evidently, tended to obscure the earlier gains. But the fact that the official spokesman’s version of the incident sought to cover up some of the real details did upset some Navy senior officials.

One high ranking source said Vice Admiral Tissera had told the Ministry of Defence in a report on the Kilali incident that ‘the craft was missing or possibly sunk or towed away by the enemy…”

Who, then was responsible for a different official line ? Navy sources confirm that some senior officials directly concerned with the event were responsible but declined to elaborate.

Whoever was responsible, the move reflected badly on the credibility of the Navy, particularly at a time when they were gaining increased public confidence with their string of successes. Attempts at covering up losses with ‘official’ accounts will only contribute to a loss of image in the public eye and raise doubts even over the real achievements. More so with the Navy earning the wrath of the LTTE with its recent strikes.

Last Thursday’s loss of a Water Jet is the sixth for the Sri Lanka Navy. During an LTTE attack on the Pooneryn defence complex in November, 1993, the LTTE seized five Water Jets from the Navy’s detachment at Nagathevanthurai near Pooneryn.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who is personally directing the military machine against the LTTE, has declared that top priority should be given to strengthening the Navy. This stems from the defence establishment’s new priorities where Navy is being regarded as the first line of defence. The Ministry of Defence is to equip the Navy with an Israeli built Multi Purpose Vessel shortly.

A three member Navy team led by Rear Admiral D.W. Sandagiri, Chief of Staff and comprising Commander R.A.L. Gunasinghe, Captain Superintendent Dockyard and Commander J.C. Hettigama, Deputy Director, Naval, Electrical And Electronics, were in Israel to conduct a study and evaluate offers.

Israel was identified after three suppliers made bids when tenders were called for by the Ministry of Defence. The other two suppliers from Ukraine and Russia.

(Situation Report – 21st February 1999 )

Read Full Post »

What might have been the final phase of ‘Operation Jaya Sikurui’ or Victory Assured began last Thursday.

Troops broke out from their defensive positions at Puthur (north west of Puliyankulam) at dawn Thursday from both sides of A9, the main Kandy-Jaffna highway. They advanced towards Kanakarayankulam (south of Kilinochchi) under cover of heavy artillery barrages and limited close air support. With heavy rains muddying the area, their movement was severely impeded. Still they went ahead.

Barely 24 hours after General Anuruddha Ratwatte, Deputy Minister of Defence, who is personally directing the war machine against the Tiger guerrillas had briefed top brass of the Joint Operations Headquarters in Vavuniya, what was awaited in earnest had got under way. Men of the 53 Division led by Brigadier Vasantha Perera and his deputy, Brigadier Gamini Hettiaratchi, were directing the men to fight their way on the west and eastern flanks of A 9.

For over three hours troops overcame sporadic enemy resistance. Along their route of advance towards Mankulam, they were to neutralise three LTTE concentrations. These were said to be fortified bases with artillery or mortar positions. Commandos followed by infantry units who were given the task had moved deep into the area. If they were to overcome these positions and advance to Mankulam, their next move was to Kilinochchi thus accomplishing the aim of ‘Operation Jaya Sikurui.’ But that was not to be.

It was past 8 am that gloomy Thursday when all hell broke loose. The LTTE launched a fierce counter attack – Operation Do or Die Six. At least 147 soldiers, mostly commandos were killed and 22 reported missing in action. A further 396 who were injured have been admitted to hospitals in Anuradhapura and Colombo.

Even two days after the incident, the Joint Operations Headquarters high command were still piecing together the fuller details of what happened. The first news that the commandos have suffered their worst ever casualties reached the Regiment’s Headquarters in Ganemulla by late Thursday. However, by Friday morning, most of the statistics of the havoc wreaked by LTTE’s counter attack had reached the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence. By then, an officer and 35 men were known killed in action, 158 missing and over 320 injured. Of the missing number 24 returned to their base by Friday night.

But the Op Hq chose to be cautious in releasing the details early Friday. That morning, Parliament was taking up the votes of the Ministry of Defence during the Committee stage of the budget debate. That was to be followed by a debate on the extension of the State of Emergency. Government leaders felt the details, if released that morning, would be ammunition for the opposition during the debate.

Hence the Operational Headquarters came out with a carefully worded news release on Friday morning. It said:

‘Troops having advanced further from their earlier held positions confronted a large group of terrorists close to the Vavuniya- Mankulam road around 8.30 am on 04 December, 1997.

“Troops overcame heavy enemy resistance causing heavy casualties among them. Terrorists continued to engage troops with mortars and artillery. Troops retaliated with artillery and mortars.

“Ground troops confirmed terrorists have suffered heavy casualties. The details of own casualties will be released later. Those injured have been evacuated to Anuradhapura Hospital. Troops are now in the process of clearing the area.

“Troops continue to carry out offensive patrolling and small group operations in forward areas.”

It was at least three hours after Parliament sittings ended that the Op Hq gave the details that highlighted the seriousness of the situation. In a news release on Friday night which did not reach some sections of the media due to a prolonged country-wide power blackout, the Op Hq press release said:

“On December 4, 1997, terrorists engaged troops from well prepared defences when troops were approaching identified terrorist concentrations. Troops supported by artillery retaliated causing heavy casualties among the terrorists. Fighting was at close quarters and intense. Fighting which broke out at around 9 a.m. continued till late afternoon.

“Ground troops confirm that a very large number of terrorists were killed and injured. So far terrorist transmissions have revealed the names of 102 terrorists killed. The bodies of 36 soldiers including one officer killed have been handed over to their families.

“Although there was intimation by the ICRC that some of the bodies of soldiers were to be handed over, this has not taken place upto now. Troops at present are in control of the newly captured areas. The operation continues.”

As usual, the LTTE gave a higher casualty toll for the security forces. A press release from its ‘International Secretariat’ in London claimed 300 troops were killed when the Army “attempted to advance on two fronts from Puthur towards Mannankkulam, Kanakarayankulam.”

It said there was “heavy fighting between the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE from early morning till 3.00 p.m. in the evening.” The press release added that 133 bodies of soldiers were “recovered by the LTTE and out of these the 113 which were in good condition were handed over to the ICRC. The remaining 20 bodies which were in bad condition were cremated by the LTTE.”

The LTTE also claimed that 35 of its cadres including ten women died in the incident. An official at the Joint Operations Headquarters in Vavuniya dismissed the claim and said “the Tiger toll was much higher” but was unable to place a figure.

LTTE’s Operation Do or Die Six came just two days after Tiger guerrillas attacked an Army bus near Murunkan on the Vavuniya Mannar Road. In this incident last Tuesday, nine soldiers including two women who were travelling in an Army welfare bus were killed. It was only in February, this year, security forces re-captured the Vavuniya- Mannar highway during the unopposed ‘Operation Edibala.’

The LTTE claimed that this attack was in rememberance” of the deaths of two of its cadres – ‘Captain’ Elilrasan and ‘Captain’ Nithi at Murunkan on November 30.

Besides the body of an officer and 35 soldiers which were in security forces hands after the incident, ICRC officials yesterday handed over the bodies of 110 commandos to military officials.

A military team headed by Major General Asoka Silva, General Officer Commanding the army’s 53 Division took charge of the body after officers of the Commando Regiment who were armed with lists identified them. The take over of the bodies took place in an abandoned coconut plantation near Omanthai.

The bodies had been transported in four trucks from Mallawi to Uyilankulam and thereafter to Madhu before it was taken for the identification ceremony.

Military officials who transported coffins to the area placed the bodies inside and sealed them. They were despatched last night to the next of kin.

According to statistics available at the Joint Operations Headquarters in Vavuniya, a total of 158 soldiers and officers were missing in action. Of this number 24 had returned. With only 110 bodies handed over by the ICRC, the fate of 48 is yet to be accounted for. Unless there is word about their fate, they will remain classed as Missing in Action. The total number of soldiers killed so far, from the known statistics (110 bodies handed over by the ICRC and 36 bodies already handed over to their relatives) totals 147.

With Thursday’s LTTE counter attack, the security forces death toll in the seven month long “Operation Jaya Sikurui” now surpasses the 1,000 mark. The number injured exceeds 5,000 although the majority of the cases were of a minor nature.

The LTTE has not made public its total list of casualties since the ongoing military operation began on May 13. A military report containing statistics upto September 4 contains three separate accounts of LTTE casualties – (a) ground troops estimate 858 killed (b) Estimate 1305 killed (c) transmissions 515 killed. A further 59 Tiger cadres had been killed in Puliyankulam during the same period by snipers. The report also said 1469 Tiger guerrillas were injured until September 4. (Situation Report November 23)

Independent verification of casualties is diffcult since the media has been banned from visiting battle areas for the past three years.

The declared aim of “Operation Jaya Sikurui” is to open a land based main supply route to the Jaffna peninsula. Troops are fighting to re-capture an extent of 74 kilometres of the A 9, the main highway from Kandy to Jaffna. Although troops have extended themselves on the eastern flank on a defence line stretching up to Karuppadimurippu (on the Mankulam-Mullaitivu Road), an extent of over 20 kilometres on the A9 still remains to be re-captured.

Government leaders have become increasingly concerned about an early completion of “Operation Jaya Sikurui.” So much so General Ratwatte has told JOH top brass that he expects the operation to be completed by December 31.

It is not only the impending presentation in Parliament of the Government’s devolution proposals and the upcoming 50th anniversary of independence that have necessitated an early and successful completion of the ongoing operation. There is now the impending local Government elections.

The Government announced on Wednesday that nominations for Municipal Council, Urban Council and Pradeshiya Sabha in the Jaffna and a Pradeshiya Sabha in the Kilinochchi district will be held on December 23. There are also a number of other important factors. Government leaders believe that the opening of a land based main supply route would drastically reduce the cost of the 16 year old separatist war. At present, with the eastern seas turning choppy thus restricting Naval movements, the only major means of supplying the north is by air.

A fledgling Sri Lanka Air Force is finding it difficulty to cope up with this task. From last week, over 2,000 soldiers destined for Palaly are stranded at the Ratmalana air base. The men who were returning after leave are unable to board flights to Palaly. The SLAF has grounded even the limited flights on grounds of bad weather. However, Lionair, a private operator was continuing its flights. Commenting on this, a senior SLAF official said “they are taking a risk. But we cannot expose ourselves to that risk.” As a result, a large number of soldiers who are waiting to go on leave are also held up in Palaly.

Today is the 208th day since “Operation Jaya Sikurui” was launched. There has been six counter attacks so far. They are:

October 10 – Do or Die One – 180 soldiers were killed in action, 27 declared missing and 320 wounded.

June 24 – Do or Die Two – Attack on Omanthai – Rampaikulam defences. 75 soldiers killed and 201 wounded (Situation Report June 29).

August 1 – Do or Die Three – Attack on western defences between Omanthai and Puliyankulam. 70 security forces personnel including Policemen were killed.

September 30 – Do or Die Four – Attacks on security forces positions at Karuppakuththi, north east of Puliyankulam. 48 solders killed, 20 missing in action and 308 wounded.

October 6 – Do or Die Five – Attack on Karuppadimurippu (near Oddusuddan on the Mankulam – Mullaitivu Road) Vingnanakulam (north east of Kanakarayankulam). LTTE seized a massive haul of arms, ammunition during this attack. They also seized the air conditioned mobile command vehicle of officiating GOC of 53 Division, Brigadier Vasantha Perera. 30 soldiers were killed in action and 42 wounded.

All these attacks on the security forces came when troops were on defensive posture. However, Operation Do or Die Six, was staged when troops began their advance from Puthur towards Mankulam. The move prompted the troops to make a tactical withdrawl from areas they entered on Thursday.

The seven month old ‘Operation Jaya Sikurui’, the longest ever military offensive by the Sri Lankan security forces, has proved to be most expensive in terms of human and equipment losses. Whether the forces took this into consideration in forecasting the casualty rate for this operation is questionable. At least, it would appear so judging from the several predictions made by Deputy Defence Minister, General Anuruddha Ratwatte that this operation and the war would be concluded early. He declared last week that 92 per cent of the war had in fact been concluded.

The time frame given to military leaders executing ‘Operation Jaya Sikurui,’ it is well known, has been put off on several occasions and there still appears to be no political or military end in sight. High ranking military officials who are professionally competent say it would take two to three years to end the separatist war. That time table certainly surpases the current term of office of the PA Government. It would thus be apparent there is a clear conflict of thought between the political and military calculations.

If that was to be so in the higher echelons of thinking, the difference of opinion at the lower level also appears to bear a contradiction between military and political time tables. In fact in the military is that over a period of Operation Jaya Sikurui,’ some command changes were the result of conflicting opinions on operational matters.

Whilst the operation was under way, then Overall Operations Commander, Major General Asoka Jayawardena was named as Commandant, Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force whilst Major General Srilal Weerasuriya, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army succeeded him.

The fact that the war is political in content is not in dispute. However, it is axiomatic that the military strategy which is the extension of political aims should be in balance with the totality of national strategy. In other words, both should be harmonised with priority being given to strategic importance.

The most recent time table on ‘Operation Jaya Sikurui’ is that it will be ended by December 31 – three weeks away from now. Looking at it from hindsight of the past six months in which the security forces have secured approximately 50 kilometres of the A9, it seems unlikely that the balance of some 24 kilometres – 50 per cent of what has so far been achieved – could be completed in just three weeks. Particularly so considering the monsoon conditions which will greatly restrict ground operations.

Hence the declaration of terminating the war this year appears to be totally timed for the political programme of the devolution package, 50 years of freedom celebrations and now the local polls in Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts.

The political programmes are aimed at marginalising the LTTE politically. It will only be through a process of politically marginalising the LTTE that any headway can be made. The LTTE has stubbornly rejected the devolution package.

The LTTE will and has to resist both military and political excursions in to Jaffna. More so when they have lost control of the Jaffna peninsula where they ran a virtual parallel administrtion for a decade before a string of ‘Operations Riviresa’ ousted them. The loss of image they suffered over this was enormous.

Though that be so, the image of LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, as a military and a political alternative, remains in the Tamil psyche. It is this image that has to be demolished. This requires both a viable military and political strategy.

That is the drive behind LTTE’s military resistance over the seven months of ‘Operation Jaya Sikurui.’ Unitil that is overcome, the LTTE will remain a force to reckon with.

Already ‘Operation Jaya Sikurui’ has set a few military records – the longest operation in Sri Lanka’s history with the largest losses in human and material terms. But a major record is still waiting to be set – the opening of a land based main supply route to Jaffna. With that will come another record – sidelining the LTTE to the eastern part of the Wanni and a new sweep against them. Coming months will undoubtedly be crucial.

(Situation Report – 07th December 1997 )

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »