When the army engaged the LTTE in the outskirts of Kilinochchi a few moons ago, Prabhakaran threatened to turn that well-fortified township into a mass grave for the troops. A pompous Tiger chief audaciously roared that if President Mahinda Rajapaksa ever toyed with the idea of wresting control of that bastion, he was only daydreaming. Prabhakaran’s much-publicised threat gave a fresh impetus to the Opposition’s campaign to derail the country’s war effort.
Emboldened by Prabhakaran’s rhetoric, a UNP MP had the temerity to say in Parliament that the army was heading for Medawachchiya, while claiming to go to Kilinochchiya and instead of capturing Alimankada (Elephant Pass) it was moving towards Pamankada. These sarcastic remarks were redolent of a deep antipathy against the national military rather than anything else.
On Thursday, President Rajapaksa made his detractors eat their words by visiting Kilinochchi, accompanied by the Service Commanders. His visit is historic in the real sense of the term.
Before the 2005 presidential election, President Rajapaksa said he was prepared to meet Prabhakaran in Kilinochchi and discuss a political solution. Prabhakaran, intoxicated to the gills with his military might and cocky that he was capable of carving out a separate state militarily, pooh-poohed that offer and even before President Rajapaksa was ensconced in office, he promised to revert to war. He rode rough shod over the government which sought to resume peace talks he had unilaterally suspended under the UNF government in 2003 and plunged the country back into war first by killing police and military personnel with mine attacks, accounting for some of the military top brass, making attempts on the present Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and finally by capturing the Mavil Aru anicut.
Prabhakaran’s Great Immersion in Mavil Aru in 2006 marked a turning point in the conflict. It marked not only the commencement of the fourth phase of the so-called Eelam war but the beginning of the LTTE’s downfall.
Today, the President is visiting Kilinochchi, which was once dubbed ‘the administrative capital of Eelam’, without Prabhakaran. In 1994, the Tiger Chief spurned President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s offer of the entire Northern Province sans elections for a period of ten years. Had he been amenable to those offers, he would not have been in deep waters. One is reminded of rank hubris JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera exuded when President Ranasinghe Premadasa called for a meeting to thrash out a peace deal. Wijeweera went ahead with bloodletting and finally perished at the hands of the military. The same fate awaits the Tiger chief.
The President’s Kilinochchi tour is more than an attempt to twist the knife or a political gimmick in the run-up to the WPC polls. He has sent a clear message to Prabhakaran: He is determined to go the whole hog to finish off terrorists.
In eliminating the political causes of the conflict, defeating the LTTE terrorism is half the battle. Prabhakaran is in hiding just like the pro-Indian puppet militia, the Tamil National Army (TNA), whose combatants hid themselves even in public lavatories after the IPKF had left, only to be dragged out and massacred by the LTTE. He cannot go on playing hide and seek behind women’s clotheslines and babies’ cots forever. He will be made to pay for his crimes before long.
The day President Rajapaksa makes a trip to Puthukudiyiruppu may not be far off.
The Fallacy of the Stalingrad example
The Stalingrad-esque earth bund at Southern KILINOCHCHI. Source- SLA media.
The Summer of 1942 Hitler’s forces occupy western Europe. The previous year Hitler had turned his attention east and launched operation Barbarossa against the Soviets. Initially it sweeps everything before it before the Soviet winter grinds it to a halt when Stalin counter attacked. After stabilising his FDLs and re-equipping his men after the set back at the battle of Moscow, Hitler decides to move South towards the Caucasus to capture the vital Russian oil fields. Friedrich Paulus the commander of the German 6th army was handed the operation to capture the Caucasus. The operation was code named Blue.
In Paulus’s original campaign to take the Caucasus Hitler had not ordered him to consider the Soviet city of Stalingrad to be important. But after the initial success of Blue during the summer Hitler turns his eyes towards Stalingrad. Despite the city not being in initial German plans, Stalingrad with its population of 500000 was a key rail and transport centre on the West bank of the Volga river.
Stalingrad was however not an easy target. It straddles along 20 miles along the precipitous West banks of the Volga. On the North stands the industrial sites of the DZERZHINSKY tractor factory which was now turning out quarter of the red army’s tanks and other vehicles, the BARRIKADY arms plant, the Red October steels plant and the LAZUR chemicals plant. All these provided excellent opportunities for the defenders to dig in or to turn them into formidable defensive fortresses. Further South was the city centre. All these make up a lethal labyrinth in which attackers may get pinned down in pre-planned kill zones. Geographically there was another key hurdle Paulus had to face. The Tsaritsa river runs through the city in a 200 foot deep gauge to the Volga river. There are no bridges across the Volga so supplies and people have to be ferried across which should be a major disadvantage for the defenders. But this also meant that unless Paulus’s men can cross the Volga they will run the gauntlet of the Soviet guns on the Eastern bank.
In striking a key hub of the enemy such as STALINGRAD the battle planners must be absolutely clear on why they are getting locked into this particularly risky type of operation and how the target fits to the overall battleplan. It is therefore important to the commander who is considering putting his troops into a city to have a clear idea what he is trying to accomplish. In 1942 Stalingrad was not in Hitler’s original plan for the Southern area of the Soviet union and his drive to seize the oil fields of the Caucasus. The initial thrust of Operation Blue goes well for Hitler. This apparent success; apparent because the soviets have actually withdrawn to avoid mass loses leads a now confident Hitler to change his plan. He did not want to simply head for the oil fields, instead he wanted to take the whole Caucasus. And to prevent a buildup of Soviet forces there he wanted to take and destroy Stalingrad. But only when the Summer 1942 campaign appears to go well Hitler changed his mind and decided to take the city. This decision proved a serious lack of clarity in Hitler’s strategic thinking in 1942. Battle of Stalingrad was really fought as an afterthought at the end of that year. At the beginning of the Summer Hitler really wanted push to the South to the Caucasian mountains and open the gateway to the Middle East and importantly to gain the oil. But there was another reason for Hitler’s decision to strike Stalingrad and it was personal. Stalingrad was Stalin’s city. He had commanded the city for 4 months during the civil war of 1919-1921. In the summer of 1942 when Soviet resistance to the German advance collapses, Stalin decreed that Stalingrad would be a fortress from which there would be no retreat. And Hitler ordered that the city must fall. So Hitler’s decision to strike Stalingrad was partly a personal tussle; dictator against dictator.
At Stalingrad surprise was less important since when Soviet resistance at the German advance collapsed that summer Stalin expected an attack on the city. For General Paulus therefore the vital element was speed and momentum of the attack before Stalingrad’s defences can be strengthened. On August 23rd 1942 Paulus launched his attack. But his plans were already in danger due to Hitler’s indecision. A month earlier confident that Stalingrad will fall easily Hitler transferred the 4th Panzer brigade South fatally weakening the assault force for Stalingrad. The tank units attacking the Southern part of the city were severely understrength with their crews exhausted. Soviet artillery on the eastern bank of the Volga continued to bombard the German positions. German tanks were bogged down by heaps of rubble and barricades. Where they were able to move forward, they came under Soviet antitank fire from wrecked buildings.They were hemmed in by ravines that criss-crossed the area thus losing the all important impetus and momentum. Only on the last day of August do they breakthrough the outer Soviet defences and advance towards the heart of the city. Paulus’s infantry struck between the two German armoured thrusts to push the Soviets into the Volga. But German advances in the South meant that a large Soviet force was left untouched to the North. And Paulus is only too aware of the danger of attacks to his flank and rear by these. This makes him to delay his final push. Its not until September 13th, 21 days after the first advance that he pushes forward reluctantly. But the delay has cost him the essential requirement of speed and given the Soviet defenders vital time. This time allowed the Soviets to deploy the Elite 13th Division in sufficient strength that developed the concept of Kill Zones along heavily mined areas through which on they knew the way to face Paulus’s 200000 men. MG posts protruding through windows and anti-tank weapons littered the streets. Snipers also successfully inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans. Notable among them was Vasily Zaytsev. The Soviet Hugging tactics also meant that the Germans had to fight close quarter battles with the Soviets. The Germans used to leave swastika flags spread on the ground to mark ground controlled by them for the Stuka dive bombers but the Soviet tactics meant the Germans had to fight on their own or risk casualties from their own support fire.
In the first days of October Paulus launched what he hopes will be his final offensives against the 3 remaining Soviet strong points. The tractor factory, Red October steel works and the BARRIKADY arms plant. In 10 days half of the Red October plant and most of the BARRIKADY complex have fallen. By early November Paulus had reduced the Soviet held area to two small enclaves, one 8 miles long 1 mile deep and the other even smaller. Paulus appeared to have regained momentum. He seemed to be on the verge of victory. But the winter arrived.
As the winter begins to bite the Soviets continue to cling onto the two small enclaves. Factory workers were repairing damaged Soviet tanks, vehicles and weapons on the battlefield itself. Some volunteered to man tank gun positions. They were holding out and most crucially resupplying over the frozen parts of the Volga and via flotillas of small boats over non-frozen parts. Protected by gun boats these make over 35000 runs over the Volga bringing supplies and crucially men into Stalingrad. Many were killed as they waited to board the ferries by the Luftwaffe which had complete control of the skies before the winter struck. But still 120000 made it ashore. The Luftwaffe continued their air superiority into early November and Soviet aerial resistance during the day was nonexistent. But due to the heavy volume of 20000 sorties the number of serviceable aircraft of the Luftwaffe fell to 40%. The Kampfwaffe bomber force was hardest hit with almost 50% assets out of service. This was further compounded by the removal of substantial number of aerial assets for combat in North Africa hence the Germans found their air-arm to be spread thin across Europe and struggled to maintain its strength in the Soviet-German front. This meant the only hindrance to Soviet reinforcements and artillery across the Volga was out of the equation. Meanwhile factory workers repaired damaged Soviet tanks and other weapons close to the battlefield, sometimes on the battlefield itself. These civilians also volunteered as tank crews to replace the dead and wounded, though they had no experience or training in operating tanks during combat
Paulus on the other hand was facing serious resupply problems. His communication line stretched over 800 miles. Bomb damage made it difficult for him to get his supplies through the city. Attrition and the atrocious weather meant the Luftwaffe struggled to maintain the air bridge. But Paulus’s real problems haven’t even begun. At Stalingrad with his forces locked in battle in the city, Paulus is aware that the Soviets are building up their forces. Jo Stalin as ruthless as ever had turned Stalingrad into a trap. Stalin and his Generals were prepared to sacrifice the men defending the city to annihilate the German army there. He moved troops and equipment into the area secretly. He had moved his reserves from Moscow to the Southern Volga and strengthened the Soviet air arm, the Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily (VVS) at the Stalingrad region with platforms from the entire country. By mid November he had more than a million men, 13500 heavy guns, 900 tanks and 1100 aircraft in position. One Soviet offensive was to strike South East while the Second towards North West and trap the German armies in a lethal pincer movement. Stalin knew this was the best way to trap Paulus and his 6th army since most of the troops locked into Stalingrad were German. But the rest of the front including their all important rear and the flanks where the pincers will move in are held by poorly equipped allies; Romanians, Hungarians and Italians. The Soviets struck in the early morning of November 19th. After 4 days of fighting at the German flanks the two arms of the Red army pincers met. A quarter of a million Germans were now trapped to the East of Stalingrad.
To General Paulus at Stalingrad his exit strategy was clear. He signals Hitler to withdraw his troops from Stalingrad. Instead Hitler accepts Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goring’s commitment that his planes can fly in enough supplies and fly out the wounded until Paulus’s forces can be relieved and Stalingrad captured. Goring assures Hitler that he can drop 60 tonnes of resupplies everyday. A similar plan had been used successfully a year earlier at the Demyansk Pocket, albeit on a much smaller scale. Also, Soviet fighter forces had improved considerably in both quality and quantity in the intervening year. But the mention of the successful Demyansk air supply operation reinforced Hitler’s own views, and was endorsed by Hermann Goring several days later. Despite the bravery of his pilots and crews it was a vain offer. Only one or two days does the Germans receive more than 5 tonnes. As a result there was a massive deficit and one can only wonder where the Germans found the wherewithal to continue the fight. Despite the obvious, Hitler refuses to accept that Paulus and his men faced disaster. He orders Field Marshall Erich Von Manstein to batter the Soviets to a standstill so that Paulus can hold till spring to mount a counter offensive. But in reality all Manstein was able do was to provide Paulus and his besieged men a last chance to save themselves. German panzers seeked to carve a corridor through the Russian lines to give Paulus the way to breakout. They got to just 30 miles of the besieged men before they are halted. But this still gave Paulus a chance of a breakout. Paulus knew his losses would have been massive but he needed authorisation from Hitler for his exit strategy. Manstein also asked for Hitler’s permission to authorise the breakout. But Hitler does not even dare to reply. Paulus and his men are forced to fight on. Their situation increasingly became desperate. On Christmas day alone 1280 Germans die of frost bite, Typhus and starvation. To survive they ate their horses, dogs, even the frozen corpses of their dead comrades. Paulus finally surrenders on January 31st. In the 5 months of the Stalingrad campaign 750000 Germans and their allies had lost their lives. Soviets lose the same number including many civilians. In the end 108000 Germans are taken prisoner. Only 5000 returned to see Germany again.
The Sri Lankan theatre:
The Chinese Parliament: Maj Gen Jagath Dias discussing the second assault on the bund from Southern KILINOCHCHI with 574 brigade. Such discussions meant that unit leaders on the scene were making their own decisions, seizing fleeting opportunities and exploiting any weakness of the enemy. Source- SLA media
Just like Stalin had said that there will be no retreat from Stalingrad the ever elusive Tamil Tiger leader too made a similar decree that the fall of the KILINOCHCHI town was merely a day dream of the Sri Lankan Commander in Chief. But unlike Hitler who lacked a clarity in his overall theatre wide ambitions, the Sri Lankan Commanders knew exactly what their overall objectives were and what the exact strike points were to have a domino effect on Tamil Tiger defensive positions.
The vital PARANTHAN junction situated North of KILINOCHCHI proved to be the grounds of utmost tactical importance to the Sri Lankan forces since the fall of this vital junction opens the gateway; the A35 to the dense jungles of MULLATIVU, opens up the rear of the impregnable Tamil Tiger National Front via the A9 North and most importantly for the KILINOCHCHI objective – makes the KILINOCHCHI town a massive salient. A salient in military parlance is a vulnerability that any commander cannot ignore. Any troops or assets positioned in a salient must be evacuated because it is surrounded by 3 sides and risks being ‘pinched out’.
With this important potential exploit in mind the battle planners set to work.
First among the objectives was to secure a stable MSR close as much as to the theatre of operations. This objective fell on 574 which secured the TERUMURIKANDY Kovil junction on December 10th while the other two arms 571 and 572 kept on the pressure on the Tamil Tiger earth bund from the West and South West. This ensured the A9 was available for supplies and casualty evacuation since the available jungle routes were in dire straits due to the incessant rains.
One of the prime requirements of an assault on a highly defended town/city as explained above is to have surprise, speed and to maintain that speed and momentum not giving the defender sufficient time to further strengthen the defence. With 57 Division completely breaching the earth bund at AKKARAYANKULAM in September 08, it was no surprise for the Tamil Tigers as to where its next objective lay and hence even before the AKKARAYANKULAM bund was breached heavy earth moving equipment and civilians were brought into construct the L bund running all the way from the JAFFNA lagoon to the IRANAMADU tank. Having breached the AKKARAYANKULAM bund the 571/572 and 574 began its advanced scouting and mapping of the Tamil Tiger defences along with their own crumbling type operations to master their opening game as part of their war gaming process. This was while 58 Division made speedy progress to capture the POONERYN sector and reach the Earth bund that stood between them and PARANTHAN across the B69. In addition to the bund, a massive stream of water lay in front of them. Most of these waters came from the overflowing IRANAMADU tank which the Tamil Tigers had opened the sluice gates to the full. Tactical it may sound, however the heavy rains wouldn’t have allowed the Tamil Tigers any other option but to open the sluice even if 58 troops were not stationed on the B69.
Once 57 had laid the groundwork for a final assault it was not allowed to breach the L bund on its own before 58 reached it from the Northern end for several reasons.
- If 57 had initiated an assault on the L bund on its own the Tamil Tigers may have opted to withdraw from the bund as well as from the KILINOCHCHI town itself thus allowing 57 to expose their Northern flank and position itself as a salient. Armed with a fresh consignment of artillery and mortar shells the Tamil Tigers could have made light work of 57 troops and trapped them within KILINOCHCHI pretty much the same way the German 6th army was trapped in Stalingrad in 1942.
- If 57 had engaged KILINOCHCHI on its own, the Tamil Tigers would still have had easy access for reinforcements/supplies along the A9 North. Prior to the battle it was very well known that the Tamil Tigers were using the same reserve forces in defending KILINOCHCHI as well as the National Front. Harsh weather had made most of the routes impassable. Therefore the A9 was invaluable particularly through the marshy lagoon at EPS to re-induct reserve cadre to each battlezone depending on the need. Hence it was paramount to disable the Tamil Tigers ability to use the A9 connecting two theatres.
- The battle planners knew that 58 Division’s pressure and capture of PARANTHAN would make the KILINOCHCHI town limits a salient to the Tamil Tiger positions. Any stringent defences or kill zones the Tamil Tigers may have had in store for the Sri Lankan forces within the town limits were forced to dissolve with 58’s move further North. One may argue that the Sri Lankan forces should have engaged the enemy without letting it flee, however it must be emphasised that battle in urban environments is the most vicious form of warfare. The commanders must be clear on why they are committing their troops to this very risky and dangerous form of warfare where fighting may rage street by street, house by house even down to room by room. Therefore it was important to minimise confrontation within the town limits as much as possible.
On the 16th of December 08 despite the adverse weather the well coordinated assault on the L bund commenced. The assault in the midst of the heavy monsoons added the element of surprise to the Sri Lankan battleplanners. During the battle of Cambrai in the early morning of November 20th 1917 Hindenberg did not expect the Allied Commander Haig to launch an assault for the approaching winter usually signaled an end to the campaigning season until the spring next year. A similar surprise element was added by the Tamil Tigers during their failed JAFFNA offensive of August 2006 during the low tide season in an attempt to outflank the KILALY FDL by conducting a beach landing.
The element of surprise was further enhanced by a hurricane barrage on Tamil Tiger strongpoints. The hallmark of Indirect fire support throughout history has been its inaccuracy and the requirement of enormous amounts of time and ammunition thereby giving away the attacker’s objective and allowing the defender to counterconcentrate. The Hurricane barrages are not intended to destroy the enemy objective but suppress it enough while small units work their way forward. Such suppression must be maintained until the target objective is overrun and lifted to extend the coverage and to allow the assault team to reach the objective without taking casualties from friendly fire. This is in addition to the SLAF’s role in providing excellent CAS despite the unfavourable weather to keep the enemy’s heads down and break their will to resist . Such combined arms manoeuvres requires tremendous coordination.
The assault was initially conducted by a fixing assault courtesy of the combination of 53 and 55 Divisions stationed along the KILALY/MUHAMALE/NK axis by signaling an attempted breakthrough. This move prompted the Tamil Tigers to deploy its reserves to prevent a breakthrough by these two Divisions and were compelled to fix the reserves into position thereby preventing them from counterconcentrating at the L bund. With this opportune moment the 58 and 57 Division combined initiated their assault on the L bund. Well trained infantry teams spearheaded by Commandos and Special forces using cover and concealment headed towards their each individual objectives. In some locations sappers had cleared approach pathways under cover of darkness or smoke, some locations scouts had mapped pathways and some locations it was down to bangalore torpedos and saturation techniques. The extensive rehearsals conducted using captured earth bunds meant that even junior soldiers were trained well enough to operate independently in small units, using their own tactical judgement to solve problems and keep the assault moving forward, for any bogged down strike team on unfavourable ground can leave the team and the mission highly vulnerable. The units engaged in battle were so professional that unit leaders on the scene were making their own decisions, seizing fleeting opportunities and exploiting any weakness of the enemy even if it meant a slight change to the original approach. The assault was so successful that some points along the bund fell in a small matter of 15 minutes.
The well dispersed infantry teams meant the Tamil Tiger indirect fire support were highly negated. Dispersion reduces vulnerability by putting fewer targets in the splash damage radius of an incoming shell. Artillery was never meant to target small units of soldiers. They are meant to target the centroid of formations.
It is hard to target these highly mobile assault teams. Hence the Tamil Tigers directed at the one thing that is not mobile, their own earthbund and its strongpoints which were captured by the initial assault. These defences were further strengthened with mobile MG posts stationed on top and behind the earth bund to bring down any attacker who managed to overcome the initial defences. The MG posts behind the bund were missed out by recce teams since the huge earth mound had obscured their Line of Sight (LOS). Machine guns are direct fire-flat trajectory weapons and attackers can use directional cover by obscuring the line of sight (LOS). Mortars and artillery on the other hand can fire over intervening obstacles and engage targets without LOS. Hence working together, machine guns and artillery/mortars compliments for each other’s weaknesses. Such interlocking fields of fire reduces the cover or dead space thus complicates things for the attacker to find and exploit concealed positions.
However, the incessant monsoons meant the the MUHAMALE axis was highly unfavourable to conduct the special infantry/mechanised warfare. The marshy kadol area had made a sizeable chunk of land to be submerged making forward movement and casualty evacuation a nightmare for forward field operatives. Using their experience and judgement the commanders were compelled to reach the Clausewitz’s culminating point and pull back. This relieved a substantial amount of Tamil Tiger reserves and allowed them to counterconcentrate against 571 and 572 and by Saturday the 20th of December they managed to counterconcentrate against 574. The counterstrikes by the Tamil Tigers were aimed at achieving one objective. That was to regain the breachheads which the Sri Lankan forces would have otherwise used to pour in exploitation forces behind the enemy line to disrupt the Tamil Tiger FDL and render it incapable of fighting at full efficiency. Similar countertsrikes were conducted prior by the Tamil Tigers during the assault on the NACHCHIKUDA-AKKARAYAN earth bund. What made the difference this time was the heavy volume of mortar fire. The rate of fire at one grid location alone amounted to average 4 mortars per minute. Once the Sri Lankan forces withdrew from the breach heads the mortar fire concentrated ahead of the earth bunds with a reduced rate of around 4 mortars every 5-10 minutes. Exploiting the instrumental limitations on rough monsoonal seas the Tamil Tigers had managed to smuggle in a consignment of shells to maintain their high firing rate. However they were unable to persist with this rate since the Navy managed to intercept the floating warehouse on the 20th of December 08 some 70NMs off the MULLATIVU coast. After this interception, a significant reduction of Tamil Tiger fire support firing rates were observed.
After the bund was breached within the next ten days of fighting 58 initiated the task of assaulting the strategic PARANTHAN junction. This was achieved by isolating the junction by cutting off the A9 from the North from THADDUVANKODDI and KOMARIKUDAKULAM. This move also ensured that the Sri Lankan forces were in hold of the high ground of KOMARIKUDAKULAM which later came in handy for laying siege on the former 54 Division HQ at ELEPHANTPASS. By January 1st 2009 the Tamil Tigers were compelled to withdraw from the PARANTHAN junction and by next day they withdrew from the KILINOCHCHI town limits. The minor skirmishes faced by the advancing 571 and 572 troops were to ensure the Tamil Tiger rear units had made a safe withdrawal.
When the Sri Lankan forces had managed to divert and pin down reinforcements with 53/55 thereby siphoning forces away from major efforts while severely disrupting the enemy supplies by intercepting key routes and sea supplies, Paulus’s German 6th army did not achieve this requirement. The Eastern bank of Volga was strategically important for the Soviets in this sense as this did not allow the Germans to cross over to the Eastern bank. Even though the Stukas had wreaked much havoc during the summer, it could not maintain its momentum and keep the supplies across the Volga in check. The SLAF however played a pivotal role. If high altitude SLAF operations during Eelam War III had stifled the SLAF’s ability to provide effective Close Air Support, the current SLAF was a farcry to the previous era and were more than willing to ‘get down there’ to add the necessary punch. The results of SLAF sorties were also down to superior tactics and ordnance.
Just like the Sri Lankan armed forces the German military doctrine was based on combined arms teams with close support provided by tanks, artillery and aircraft. To counter this the Soviets had employed hugging tactics and killzones within Stalingrad to ensure fighting raged on house to house and room to room. When in 1942 the Soviets had a 80Km length of STALINGRAD and hence depth to grind the Germans down till the winter arrived, the Tamil Tigers had only 8Km of the town straddling along the A9 to grind down the Sri Lankan forces. 582 from the North, 571 from the West, 572 from the South West and 574 from the Southern edge of the town meant the Tamil Tigers had no defence in depth of the town at all compared to the depth the Soviets enjoyed at STALINGRAD. Furthermore strategically the Volga river ensured the Germans failed to completely cutoff the city from the Soviet mainland. Whereas in the Sri Lankan theatre even though the forces had not completely cut off either PARANTHAN or KILINOCHCHI, it had done enough to disrupt the fluid defence of the Tamil Tigers set up by the mobile reserves that switched theatres upon requirement and resupplies via the sea.
Hitler’s lack of clarity of the overall battleplan meant that the Germans were compelled to sacrifice many of its experienced troops and other assets to fight on among the rubble of a city which was strategically insignificant. Rather than pinning down his forces in a ferocious street battle, Hitler could have heeded his commanders’ advice and bypassed Stalingrad altogether to concentrate his total force on the Caucasus and the oil fields. The Sri Lankan battle planners however at any moment did not deviate from their overall objectives. They were very well aware that KILINOCHCHI was of little military value, however the fierce resistance of the Tamil Tigers especially of its highly valued reserves meant that it gave the battleplanners an opportunity to eliminate as much as reserves as possible then and there rather than engaging them again at the new defences that are coming up circumventing the MULLATIVU jungles. Furthermore was the fact that the KILINOCHCHI town being 8Kms in length meant 57 had to cross the town and its surrounding bund if it were to add pressure on the MULLATIVU jungles. Having also an eye towards preserving the town buildings as much as possible and avoiding a heap of rubble as in STALINGRAD the battleplanners took steps to avoid confrontations within the town. In addition to limiting collateral damage, as mentioned above, urban battle is the most vicious form of warfare and it is paramount that any commander avoid it as much as possible. Unlike in STALINGRAD the Tamil Tiger defences within the town dissolved once 58 Division had captured the PARANTHAN junction and making the KILINOCHCHI area into a salient.
There is no doubt the Tamil Tigers were intending to make KILINOCHCHI the crowning moment of their defensive battleplan. There are many facets of a defensive battleplan. One is to entice the enemy towards you to maintain the initiative to give the enemy an idea of vulnerability but to draw them into a situation from which they cannot return and then to launch a spectacular counterstrike. The other is to wear the enemy off by building strong defensive positions that fighting against them would cause the enemy huge casualties and huge distress. Whichever option the defending commander chooses, he always has to choose a spectacular counter attack as the end game. Such a counterstrike at any stages remains the crucial factor in the defensive battle, battleplan. It is almost always the last act. However the great danger of this battleplan is that the defensive battle commander may never really know the enemy’s full intentions. It very well might be the enemy who actually has the initiative intending to pin the defensive forces down and outflank them from elsewhere.
Once Paulus was trapped by the Soviets at STALINGRAD Hitler swiftly promoted Paulus to the rank of Field Marshall. With no German officer of this rank having ever surrendered, with the promotion Hitler had made clear to Paulus what he had to do. However being let down by the Führer due to his lack of clarity in the overall battleplan and for not authorising the breakthrough at the opportune moment had greatly disappointed Friedrich Paulus. Instead of turning the gun on himself he surrendered with his men famously saying “I have no intention of shooting myself for that Austrian corporal”. He later became a vociferous critic of the Nazis and joined the National Committee for a Free Germany.
With the Sri Lankan military juggernaut eating away the Tamil Eelam territory it will not be long before Tamil Tiger higher echleons will face the same dilemma as that of Friedrich Paulus on whether to stay faithful to its leader and fight till the end for a lost cause or to opt for a headline creating defection/surrender thus putting an end to the bloodshed of prospectful youth that has held back Sri Lanka’s development for quarter of a century. Only time will tell…
(The Long Ranger)
Kilinochchi: The Spectre of Stalingrad by B. Raman
The Battle of Stalingrad is considered the bloodiest battle with the largest battlefield casualties in the history of conventional warfare. Under a carefully worked out plan, the Soviet Army inveigled an advancing and over-confident Nazi Army into Stalingrad and then inflicted severe casualties on the Nazi Army. Many of those Nazi soldiers whom the Soviet Army could not kill were killed by “Gen. Winter”. The entire Sixth Army of the Nazis was trapped by the Soviet troops with the help of “Gen. Winter” and destroyed.
As the battle began on July 17, 1942, the Nazi Disinformation machine worked overtime to tell an unsuspecting German people that the fall of Stalingrad and the collapse of the Soviet Army were imminent. The German people waited with bated breath for the news of the fall. “Within two days”, they were told. Two days became two weeks. Two weeks became two months. Two months became seven months. The battle ended disastrously for the Nazis on February 2, 1943. This marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi dreams in the Second World War.
Is one seeing a mini version of Stalingrad in the battle for Kilinochchi, the current headquarters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)? It is difficult to say on the basis of the scanty information available from the battle front. From even this scanty information, two things are clear: Firstly, the Sri Lankan Army, which senses victory against the LTTE, has been doing well, but not as well as it claims to be. Secondly, the LTTE has been doing badly, but not as badly as projected to be by the disinformation machine of the Sri Lankan Army. The LTTE has shown that there is still a lot of fight left in it—- and a lot of intelligence and innovative thinking.
But intelligence and innovative thinking alone cannot win wars without resources and the wherewithal. The LTTE is deficient on both counts. But it has shown itself to be as resilient as the Taliban in Afghanistan and as fiercely-motivated. In 2003, the Americans thought and claimed that they had finished the Taliban once and for all. Their facile assumptions proved to be wrong. The Taliban came back—-as if it has risen from its much-proclaimed grave— and has been moving forward relentlessly. Neither air strikes by the most powerful Air Force in the world nor heavy artillery strikes by the most powerful Army in the world have been able to stop its advance. Reluctantly, senior NATO military commanders in Afghanistan have started admitting that the war against the Taliban is unwinnable and that one has to search for a political solution with neither victory nor defeat for either side. It has not only become unwinnable unless the Taliban commits some serious tactical mistakes, but is also likely to become increasingly unaffordable thanks to the financial and economic melt-down in the US and the rest of the world.
The LTTE is calculating that if it can keep fighting against the Sri Lankan Army for some more months, a prolonged war against the LTTE could become as unwinnable and as unaffordable for the rulers of Sri Lanka as a prolonged war against the Taliban for the NATO powers. The rulers of Sri Lanka are living in a fool’s paradise if they think that China and Pakistan would come to their rescue if the Government of India stops assisting them under pressure from public opinion in Tamil Nadu. The Pakistani economy is on the verge of a collapse. Even the Chinese were reluctant to help out their time-tested friend as they call Pakistan, as President Asif Ali Zardari found to his dismay when he visited China recently. The Pakistan Army is reeling under one set-back after another inflicted on it by the Taliban. To think that the Pakistan Army would rush to Sri Lanka to spite India would be the height of stupidity.
The Chinese, who are increasingly worried over the impact of the recession in the US on their manufacturing industries, which are heavily dependent on the US market, are hugging tight their foreign exchange holdings. They were reluctant to make any definitive commitment of help to Zardari. They are even showing a decline of interest in further developing the Gwadar port project. In a world beset with the most serious economic crisis it has known since the Great Depression of the 1930s, everybody, including China, is interested in saving every dollar and cent he can. Nobody wants a foreign adventure, which might drain off their depleting resources. If the Sri Lankan Army thinks that China would try to rush in if India stops helping, it is in for a disappointment.
The LTTE is calculating that if it can keep fighting against the Sri Lankan Army for some more weeks, “Gen. Monsoon” and “Gen. Recession” could put an end to the pipedreams of the Sri Lankan Army of a definitive victory over the LTTE.
Will its calculations prove right or will they be belied? Whatever happens, one thing seems likely there is going to be no definitive victory or no definitive defeat for either side in the on-going war.
Kilinochchi: A Stalingrad In The Making? By B. Raman
In pursuance of my article titled “Kilinochchi: The Spectre of Stalingrad”, I have been in receipt of many messages—- some complimenting me for drawing attention to the Battle of Stalingrad and others pointing out previous references to it by some LTTE cadres. I do not claim any credit for originality.
For some months now, there have been reports from West Europe claiming that pro-LTTE elements in the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora have been buying up all the books on the Battle of Stalingrad available in the local bookshops. This reminded one of a pre-1994 report from the British and others that pro-LTTE Tamils in their countries were spending a lot of money buying up books on flying and aircraft maintenance and that Flying Clubs in the UK and Switzerland had reported that some Sri Lankan Tamils were learning flying. In recent months, some persons, who have been following the fighting in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka closely, have been referring to Kilinochchi as a “Stalingrad in the Making”.
Rediff.com, the well-known Indian news web site, had also referred to the Stalingrad precedent in a report on the reactions in Tamil Nadu. The question is not whether Kilinochchi would turn out to be a Stalingrad-in-the-making. Most probably not. The question is how the LTTE’s mind works and how it tries to draw lessons from history. It is surprising that the Sri Lankan authorities, despite their having an inflated Deputy High Commission in Chennai—- which one fears meets the intelligence requirements of Sri Lanka as well as Pakistan—were not aware of the perceptions in Tamil Nadu.
Kilinochchi: The Kiss Of Death By B. Raman
(To be read in continuation of my earlier article , titled “Kilinochchi: The Spectre of Stalingrad “)
“Kilinochchi within kissing distance”.
So said the disinformation warriors of Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka, the Sri Lankan Army Commander, more than a week ago.
It has been a long and fatal kiss—-more for the Army than for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It has been a long kiss of death for the young hastily-trained Sinhalese recruits to the Sri Lankan Army who were rushed to the battle front by the General in his keenness to keep his promise of “In Kilinochchi before the New Year”.
Similar to the promise which Gen.Douglas McArthur, commanding the allied troops in South Korea during the Korean war, repeatedly made to the US troops fighting against the North Korean and Chinese Armies.
“To home before Christmas”, he used to promise.
Christmas came and Christmas went, but the North Koreans and the Chinese fought fiercely. McArthur’s promises were repeatedly belied. “Which Christmas?” people started asking sarcastically.
Ultimately, there were neither victors nor losers in the war. It ended in a stalemate after the loss of thousands of lives on both sides.
In bitter fighting on the outskirts of Kilinochchi since the beginning of this week, the SL Army and the LTTE have sustained heavy casualties. As normally happens in military conflicts, both sides are playing down their own casualties and exaggerating those of the adversary. However, the claims of the LTTE seem to be nearer the truth than those of the Army.
The LTTE claims to have killed 170 soldiers of the SL Army, but the Army insists that only 25 of its soldiers have been killed. However, the LTTE has been able to release the photographs of at least 36 soldiers killed, thereby proving that the fatalities sustained by the Army are many more than the 25 admitted by it.
Reliable accounts show that both sides have been fighting fiercely and losing many young people. The Army has lost many more arms and ammunition and other equipment than the LTTE. The fighting has been a bonanza for the LTTE, which has been able to replenish its dwindling stocks of arms and ammunition.
The odds are still against the LTTE. It has well-trained and well-motivated cadres, who have been fighting with great determination, but it is running short of arms and ammunition despite the seizures from the Army. It has no air cover against the repeated air strikes by the Sri Lankan Air Force.
The SL Army has the advantage of numbers and arms and ammunition procured with funds from China and Iran, but its soldiers are not as well-motivated and as well-trained as those of the LTTE.
The LTTE had shifted its offices from Kilinochchi many weeks ago in anticipation of the battle. Kilinochchi has now nothing but the death traps for the SL Army laid by the LTTE. The LTTE knows where those death-traps are, but not the Army. This gives an advantage to the LTTE.
The battle being fought for Kilinochchi is a combined miniature version of the battles of Stalingrad in the erstwhile USSR and El Alamein in North Africa. At Stalingrad, the Soviet Army beat back the Nazis after inflicting repeated heavy casualties on them. At El Alamein, the allied troops commanded by Gen. Bernard Montgomery (later a Field Marshal) beat back the advancing Nazi Army commanded by Gen.Rommel with heavy casualties. These two battles marked the turning points in the Second World War.
Making a statement on the defeat of Rommel’s army at El Alamein, Sir Winston Churchill, the then British Prime Minister, told the House of Commons: “There was no victory before Al Alamein. There will be no defeat after El Alamein.” He was proved right.
Will Kilinochchi prove a similar turning point in the battle being fought between the SL Army and the LTTE? If the LTTE loses the battle, it could mark the beginning of its end as an insurgent force, but not as a terrorist organisation. If the SL Army wins, it will be a Pyrrhic victory.
WILL THERE BE A ‘MOTHER OF ALL BATTLES’ FOR KILINOCHCHI? by S. Makenthiran
A combination of four factors namely weather, tiger resistance, Indian concern and the Governments professed commitment for civilian safety has served to circumscribe Colombo’s intention of waging an all – out war to take Kilinochchi.There was a moment when it could have done so. Colombo failed to seize the moment. That moment has now seemingly passed. At the moment the long awaited mother of all battles for Kilinochchi taking place seems a remote possibility. Even the anticipated fall of Kilinochchi seems unlikely to occur.
Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein captured the world’s imagination with his prediction about the ‘Mother of all battles’ in 1991 after seizing Kuwait.
The much-awaited mother of all battles turned out to be damp squib. It was a case of beginning with a tremendous bang and ending in a pathetic whimper.
Recent hype in sections of the media about the seizure of Kilinochchi preceded by a fierce battle, brings back memories of the mother of all battles that never occurred.
If current politico – military realities are taken into account all indicators are that the anticipated mother of all battles for Kilinochchi may not take place after all.
Multiple factors such as the serious concern evinced by New Delhi about the safety and security of Tamil civilians, the onset of North – Eastern monsoon rains, the defensive measures set in motion by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the pragmatically flexible military approach adopted by the Sri Lankan armed forces are leading to a dicey situation where Kilinochchi’s fate could be uncertain.
Kilinochchi was a fast developing town in the Northern mainland until the ethnic conflict escalated. The town lies alongside the Jaffna – Kandy trunk road known as the A – 9 Highway
It was earlier part of the Jaffna administrative district. Kilinochchi was re- demarcated as a separate administrative district with Kilinochchi town as its capital.
The name Kilinochchi is derived from “kili” meaning parrot and the tree “ nochchi “ (vitex negundo). Kilinochchi district is a sprawling agrarian region extending even into the Jaffna peninsula in the form of Pachchilaipalli AGA division.
Although Kilinochchi is a separate administrative district, it is also an electoral division forming part of the Jaffna electoral district when it comes to polls.
It could be seen therefore that the name Kilinochchi refers to the town, administrative district, electoral division and in a general sense the outlying region.
In recent times, Kilinochchi shot to fame when it became the de – facto administrative “capital” of LTTE controlled territory in the North.
Kilinochchi itself was wrested back by the tigers from Government control in 1998 through phase – two of the LTTE military operation codenamed “Oyatha Alaigal” or ceaseless waves.
The ceasefire agreement of February 23rd 2002 saw a period of relative peace.
It was during this period that Kilinochchi acquired importance as the LTTE began setting up various structures like an administrative secretariat, political headquarters, military headquarters, peace secretariat etc in Kilinochchi town and its suburbs.
Many other LTTE controlled organizations like the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) also set up office in K’nochchi. Other tiger departments like the radio “voice of Tigers/Tamil Eelam Radio” and TV “ Nitharsanam/Tamil Eelam TV” also established themselves in the area.
Several Non – Governmental organizations, International NGO”s and also International agencies located their regional offices in Kilinochchi. Visiting dignitaries, official delegations and key officials also met with LTTE officials including tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran in K’nochchi.
It is against this backdrop that K’nochchi evolved into an unofficial administrative capital of the LTTE.
This phenomenon has afforded Kilinochchi a great deal of symbolic value. Militarily K’nochchi town does not have the strategic merits of even Paranthan situated four miles to its north.
Kilinochchi’s short tenure of fame or notoriety as the LTTE “capital” has made it a prize target in Colombos calculations.
An ambiguous irony in this war is the “contradiction” visible between professed intention and actual implementation.
LTTE controlled territory is deemed as rightfully coming under Sri Lankan state writ and the people in those areas are legitimate citizens of this country. “re- unification” in essence is the rationale for war.
The manner in which the war is conducted suggests otherwise. It is as if war is being waged in a hostile country against an alien people. When military plans are formulated practically no concern is displayed for the fate of civilians.
Recently Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa boasted that the Sri Lankan air force had conducted more than six thousand air raids as opposed to the six done by the LTTE.
The tragic irony of an air force bombing its own people on its own soil six thousand times seemed to be lost on the defence secretary.
Thus the Tamil people are constantly reminded that the war is against the LTTE and not them, but the way in which it is conducted makes the people feel differently.
There is also a tendency to revive the atavistic past and introduce some elements of it into the current war in a spirit of conquest.
When Parayaanaalankulam was captured, former deputy defence minister Anuruddha Ratwatte who fancied himself as a latter – day Sapumal Kumaraya re-named it Sapumalpura.
Even Chandrika Kumaratunga despite her enlightened approach towards the Tamil national question re-enacted a medieval pageant of sorts when Jaffna was taken. In an elaborate ceremony, Ratwatte presented to her a scroll in a casket announcing the capture of “Yapapatuna”.
It is this mindset that is seemingly dominant when it comes to Kilinochchi. It is being projected indirectly as the tiger or Tamil capital. The hype is seemingly all about the imminent fall of an enemy capital.
Currently Kilinochchi is but an empty shell. The LTTE has withdrawn all its departments. The NGO’s and INGO’s have closed their offices. Even Government offices, departments, secretariat and hospital etc are re- located. Most people have left and it is fast turning into a ghost town.
In utilitarian terms Kilinochchi is of little practical value. It is not important even in military considerations as some other places like Paranthan, Thunukkai, Oddusuddan, Nedunkerni or Mankulam.
What it retains is the dubious prestige of having been a de – facto administrative capital of the LTTE. Given the Rajapaksa regime’s penchant for crass exhibitionism, there is a need to take Kilinochchi and flaunt its conquest to the nation at large.
It is this notion of conquest, which gives Kilinochchi its enhanced prestige and symbolic value.
Militarily it is not of great importance though sections of the Colombo media are fond of describing each military advance as being of strategic importance.
The other side of this Kilinochchi obsession is among sections of the Colombo Tamil media and Diaspora.
Like their counterparts in the English and Sinhala media, Tamil media also allots to Kilinochchi, undeserving prominence as an important Tamil capital like how Madurai was to the Pandiyans, Thanjai/Uraiyoor/Gangaikondacholapuram was to the Cholas and Nalloor was to the Arya Chakrawarthy dynasty.
So the anticipated fall of Kilinochchi by the “opposite” side is opposed by a counter – argument in Tamil media that is two – fold. On the one hand we are told that K’nochchi will not be allowed to fall and on the other that the war will continue regardless of Kilinochchi’s fate.
It is in this atmosphere pervaded by martial spirits that the fate of Kilinochchi town is being speculated upon. Great expectations have been aroused in the South about its imminent capture.
Some sections of the media have gone to the extent of stating that the armed forces are within a 1600 metre distance of Kilinochchi town limits. This news may provide a “feel good” feeling to many but ground realities are not so rosy.
The actual position seems to be this. The two closest points to K’nochchi held by the army are in the old Murugandy – new Kokkavil area and in areas south – east of the Akkarayankulam tank.
Both these locations west of the A – 9 are not along the highway though quite close to the road. The nearest villages along the A – 9 that are close to both points are either Kokkavil or Thirumurugandy.
Now Thirumurugandy is seven miles to the South of Kilinochchi. Kokkavil is nine miles to the south of K’nochchi on the A – 9. The shortest distance to K’Nochchi from Thirumurugandy and Kokkavil is along the A – 9.
As for Akkarayankulam, troops are currently in locations to the south of Akkarayan tank. The village Akkarayan is to the north of the tank. There is a C – grade road linking Akkarayankulam to Kilinochchi town. But that means a distance of 14 km.
There has also been a lot of hype about breaching the LTTE constructed bund and capturing Vannerikulam. It is certainly a military feat but again the geographical reality is that Vannerikulam is five km to the west of Akkarayankulam.
This means the distance to Kilinochchi is even greater. Likewise, Jeyapuram that was taken recently is another four km to the west of Vannerikulam. These military accomplishments do not reduce the distance to Kilinochchi in any way.
Given these geographical realities it is indeed puzzling to witness gleeful declarations of the armed forces being within kissing distance of Kilinochchi town. (Maybe it’s a flying kiss!)
Initially it was assumed that Kilinochchi would be taken by mid – October as further delay would have seen the Monsoon rains falling in late October. But the monsoon rains have begun even before the town fell.
In a bid perhaps to educate people of prevailing conditions the defence authorities released pictures of soldiers pushing vehicles bogged down on mud tracks. Since a picture is said to be worth a thousand words these demonstrated clearly the difficulties faced by soldiers in proceeding towards avowed destinations. In a sense, the bogged down vehicles were a metaphor for the war on Kilinochchi.
That the rains and weather conditions are dampening war efforts is crystal clear. This was why the armed forces wanted to take symbolic Kilinochchi by mid – October.
What went awry with these plans were two factors. One was the stiff resistance proffered by the LTTE. The other subsequent factor was India’s role.
When the armed forces began nearing Kilinochchi via Akkarayankulam and Old Murugandy – new Kokkavil, the tigers changed tactics. The women’s brigades and newly recruited/conscripted cadres were withdrawn from those frontlines.
Experienced cadres of Charles Anthony regiment under “ColAmithab were brought in. These cadres fought with dogged determination on multiple fronts in these crucial areas.
The armed forces with overwhelming superiority of numbers and military assets did manage to push through but the LTTE succeeded in holding them off for a long time thus delaying the military drive.
Even now the armed forces are close to the A – 9 at many places but are not attempting to occupy the road physically. On the other hand tiger resistance along the Pallavarayankattu – Jeyapuram – Vannerikulam, Akkarayankulam – Old Murugandy – new Kokkavil axis has been formidable.
Another development in the fighting was the use of the air force. At one stage Air Force planes and helicopters unleashed a barrage of bombs on Kilinochchi and outskirts. Several abandoned LTTE offices were hit.
Suddenly things changed. The LTTE began deploying its Radha anti aircraft unit in Kilinochchi and environs. When warehouses run by the TRO were being bombed the Radha unit allegedly engaged in anti aircraft fire.
Kanagasabapathy Harichandran alias Radha was at one time LTTE commander for Mannar and Jaffna. An alumni of Jaffna Hindu College, he was a bank employee in Colombo when July 1983 erupted. He joined the LTTE and rose up from the ranks.
Radha was killed in a bombing spree by the Air Force in 1987. The anti – aircraft unit (vimaana ethirpu ani) pioneered by Vaithilingam Sornalingam alias “ColShankar was developed further and re-named after Radha.
With Radha unit cadres converging in Kilinochchi the Air Force began targeting spots further north in Paranthan and also in areas like Viswamadhu and Puthukudiyiruppu.
It was at this juncture that India began intervening “diplomatically” on a humanitarian basis on behalf of beleaguered Tamil civilians. India did not demand that Colombo call off the war against LTTE but emphasised strongly that civilian safety and security have to be ensured.
This “benign” intervention coincided with a lull in aerial bombardment. It also brought about greater consideration for civilian plight. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was so “moved” by Indian entreaties that he announced publicly of slow progress by the armed forces due to concern showed for civilian safety.
Up to now, New Delhi has not demanded an end to war against the LTTE. No Congress dominated government can do so. What India wants is a change in the way the war is being fought ensuring civilian safety.
Since most civilians in Kilinochchi and to the South of Kilinochchi had fled the areas there is little chance of innocent non – combatants being victimised if hostilities spread towards Kilinochchi.
This provided a window of opportunity to the armed forces. If they could advance swiftly in a few days time towards Kilinochchi then the town could be taken before Tamil Nadu public opinion consolidated itself and erupted on a mass scale.
Given these imperatives there was a spurt of military activity. Some analysts described it as a “race for Kilinochchi”. If the armed forces could have taken Kilinochchi within a short time, then there was nothing anyone across the Palk straits could have done. Time was of the essence.
But the tigers fought back fiercely thus delaying and obstructing military plans. The past few days have seen enormous casualties on both sides. There are wild rumours about the figures. What is of importance here is the Defence Ministry decision not to reveal casualty figures on official websites.
The end result of all this is Kilinochchi’s fate turning dicey. It is one thing to have taken Kilinochchi quickly but a prolonged battle targeting the town is likely to have an impact in Tamil Nadu.
With a Tamil Nadu all – party resolution demanding that the Central government should take steps to end the war in Sri Lanka, it does not seem prudent for the armed forces to take symbolic Kilinochchi even if it was capable of doing so by overcoming LTTE resistance quickly.
The fall of Kilinochchi at this juncture could set off an emotional backlash in Tamil Nadu. New Delhi has been straining itself to contain Tamil Nadu passions but the capture of the “Tamil” capital Kilinochchi by “Sinhala” armed forces could trigger off much heat.
Even if the armed forces were to renew the drive towards Kilinochchi there is every chance that the LTTE would fight and resist. The tigers may even force some civilians to return to Kilinochchi.
If there were constraints on Colombo then use of Air power or artillery power would be severely curtailed. Without aerial bombardment and artillery shelling the armed forces would be at a disadvantage vis a vis the LTTE. In that event, the fight for symbolic Kilinochchi amidst adverse weather conditions would take a long, long time.
Thus a combination of four factors namely weather, tiger resistance, Indian concern and the Governments professed commitment for civilian safety has served to circumscribe Colombo’s intention of waging an all – out war to take Kilinochchi.
There was a moment when it could have done so. Colombo failed to seize the moment. That moment has now seemingly passed.
At the moment the long awaited mother of all battles for Kilinochchi taking place seems a remote possibility. Even the anticipated fall of Kilinochchi seems unlikely to occur.
But all is not lost for the Government as far as Kilinochchi is concerned. Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa made a revealing comment while briefing Editors at a meeting convened by President Rajapaksa.
The secretary compared military manoeuvres to the progress of water. Just as water moves rapidly at suitable levels to move forward the armed forces also do so, he said, according to media reports.
This in a nutshell has been the guiding military philosophy. The LTTE has been frequently outsmarted by the military strategy of circumventing tiger defences, going around and then encircling by coming up from behind.
From Vidathaltheevu to Pallavarayankattu this strategy has been the key to military success. The tigers are compelled to withdraw after being encircled to avoid being trapped.
It does appear that the armed forces could repeat the same strategy regarding Kilinochchi also. Instead of getting tied down to the Akkarayankulam – Old Murugandy – new Kokkavil front or walking into a politico – military minefield by attempting to take Kilinochchi town the armed forces can duplicate their previous strategy with appropriate innovation.
If the armed forces can take the Mannar – Pooneryn road and then the Pooneryn – Paranthan road they can reach Paranthan four miles to the north of Kilinochchi and nine miles to the south of Elephant pass. The forces could then gradually expand an arc of encirclement around Kilinochchi forcing the tigers to withdraw. But then this requires an extended time – frame that may not be feasible.
Before I conclude let me refer to the furore caused by Indian analyst. B. Raman when he compared the siege of Stalingrad to the siege of Kilinochchi. Some newspaper reports say that Gotabhaya Rajapakse has called for a comparative study of both sieges.
The siege of Stalingrad during Second World War was a historic event when the Soviet defenders and winter combined to defeat Hitler’s forces. Raman sees a parallel in Kilinochchi with monsoon rains replacing harsh Russian winter.
Interestingly the first to refer to Stalingrad was not Raman but former LTTE political commissar Yogi who is now in charge of LTTE military research unit. Yogi in an article written for LTTE journal “Eela Naatham” on July 21, compares Wanni resistance to Stalin Grad.
Then on August 15, there is a comparison with Stalin grad siege in another article written by Anbarasu. Incidently Anbarasu is the pseudonym of an Oxonian contemporary of Canadian Liberal MP Bob Rae. Anbarasu is now in the Wanni committed to the LTTE struggle.
Both Yogi and Anbarasu did not specifically refer to Kilinochchi as the equivalent of Stalingrad. The resistance on the lines of Stalingrad could be in other places east of the A – 9.
However a systematic study of the siege of Stalingrad and the besieging of Kilinochchi shows there is no parallel at all. There is only a superficial similiarity.
For one thing Mahinda Rajapaksa is not Adolph Hitler and Velupillai Prabhakaran is not Josef Stalin. More serious comparison reveals that trying to equate Stalingrad and Kilinochchi (though it may warm the cockles of LTTE hearts) is like comparing apples and oranges.
Comparing both on an equal basis and trying to draw a parallel between Stalingrad and Kilinochchi amounts to in logical terms as the fallacy of false analogy.
Will Kilinochchi be the Stalingrad of Eelam War 4?
by S. MakenthiranThe Tamil Tigers have two constraints – manpower and supplies. If they overcome these two constraints, the fate of the Sri Lankan army is sealed. Even if the Singhalese army reaches Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu, the Tamil Tigers can carry out guerilla attacks indefinitely. The ambushes at Thoppikal and Muhamalai are a warning of things to come.
At the beginning of this year 2008, I wrote an article “What the year 2008 holds for the people of Sri Lanka.” It is relevant now in mid year, to take stock of the present civil war situation. Singhalese chauvinists are raving over the ‘defeat’ of the Tamil Tigers, and the successful ‘liberation’ of the Eelam Tamils. The East has been subjugated by the Sri Lankan armed forces and a puppet administration established under Pillayan with a Singhalese governor wielding most of the powers. The Mannar district is claimed to have been ‘liberated’ and the Sri Lankan army is said to be within sight of Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu, the last Tamil Tiger strongholds.
In the ‘liberated’ East, the Tamil Tigers have carried out guerilla attacks culminating in the claymore mine attack on the army in Thoppikal [ Kudumbimalai], killing 24 soldiers and wounding five. This is denied by the Sri Lankan government. The return of Karuna to Sri Lanka from a UK jail can have unforeseen consequences for Pillayan’s provincial government in the long run. In the short run, Karuna is lying low out of necessity, but he is not going to forget Pillayan, his one-time second in command, for usurping his position. It is a revolt within a revolt. The Muslims and Hisbullah are also grinning and bearing the Pillayan administration. The Rajapkse government is spending large sums of money to keep the lid on the boiling East. We have to wait and see what will happen in the future in the East.
In the North, the Army was stuck at the Mannar border for many months. Suddenly, it has advanced within a few days deep into the Tamil Tiger homeland and occupied Iluppaikadavai and Vavunikulam, thereby bringing Mannar District under its control. The chauvinist Singhalese are jubilant and claim that Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu are within sight and Eelam War 4 is nearing completion.
Some of the reputed international media even claimed gullibly, that the Sri Lankan army had victoriously entered Kilinochchi, and that they were looking for Prabaharan who is hiding there. Such is blissful ignorance and the effect of Sri Lankan propaganda. President Rajapakse also thundered that he will force Prabaharan to kneel before him. Eelam Tamils know one thing with certainty. Prabaharan is not the type of man to surrender or be taken alive by the Sri Lankan army to enable this wishful thinking to materialise.
It is apparent that the Sri Lankan government is spending large sums of money to spread anti-LTTE and anti-Tamil propaganda among the international community, not without success. In the process, there are very few neutral powers left that can mediate a peaceful solution to the civil conflict. There are an army of journalists such as Mahindapala, Dayan Jayatileke, Dushy Ranatunga, Walter Jayawradena, Daya Gamage, etc. serving the cause of the Sri Lankan government to influence international opinion on the civil war.
In the propaganda war, there have been ridiculous reports by anti-Tamil media that Prabaharan is long dead, that his leg has been amputated in Kerala, that his daughter held her birthday party in the U.K., that he is planning to flee Eelam, and so on. According to figures published by the pro-government media and the Sri Lankan army commander Sarath Fonseka, they have killed more Tigers than the number of total LTTE fighters. These sources have lost all credibility. Rambukwela has outdone Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief.
Anti-LTTE media, including Asian Tribune and Tamil Week, who make it appear that they have inside information, have reported that the Sri Lankan army has brilliantly outmaneuvered the Tigers by infiltrating and penetrating their defences with pinzer movements and trapping them. They report that the Tigers are a spent force and are no match for the Sri Lankan army. Tamil Week went to the extent of expressing a strange opinion that the army is at an advantage in the jungle terrain. It is generally presumed that jungle terrain is more favourable for lightly armed guerilla fighters than for heavily armed conventional armies.
As guessed by me, the Sri Lankan army has chosen to advance through the A32 highway along the North West coast line. They did not advance along the A9 highway as was done in the disastrous Jayasikuru operation. The pro-Tamil media opine that Tamil Tigers have enticed the Singhalese army into the Tiger den to trap them and annihilate them. Though it is premature to come to conclusions, there are persistent reports in recent weeks, of successful counter-attacks, and ambushes by the Tamil Tigers, inflicting heavy casualties on the advancing Singhalese army. The Sri Lankan government has prevented journalists from reporting anything about these attacks.
There is no hope of a ceasefire or peace talks as President Rajapakse wants the LTTE to surrender arms, and accept a unitary form of government. Prime Minister Ratnasri Wickremanayake wants ‘terrorism’ eradicated before peace talks. None of these will happen. We are in for a long haul.
Bruce Fein, an American Lawyer is pursuing action to get Sarath Fonseka, the Sri Lankan army commander, Gothabaya Rajapakse and Basil Fonseka, who are President Rajapakse’s brothers, all of whom who are residents or citizens of the USA, to be prosecuted as war criminals.
Sri Lanka is financially bankrupt. Inflation is at a high of 28 %. War expenditure has escalated. Prices have rocketed. Tourism is down. The EU is threatening to stop the preferential treatment for the Sri Lankan garment industry. Tamils are displaced and suffering. The Singhalese common man is also suffering. About 18,000 men are reported to have deserted from the military.
Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse has declared publicly that the Sri Lankan army will capture Kilinochchi by the end of this year. The army commander Sarath Fonseka had also promised to win the war before he retires towards the end of this year. The lessons of the past and happenings in other parts of the world have not made the Singhalese leaders wiser. The debacles of Jayasikuru, Agni Kela and the two subsequent forays into Muhamalai have not allowed them to learn from the past. It is reported that a Tiger Deep Penetration Unit killed 21 soldiers at Muhamalai today.
Are the Sri Lankan forces advancing in Vanni, or are they getting bogged down in a fatal quagmire? I am skeptical about the sudden advance of the army after the occupation of Vidataltivu. Military analysts will ponder how it took about an year to advance from Mannar to Vidattaltivu, but only a few days to reach Iluppaikadavai and Vavunikulam. Are they reaching a point of no return ?
The Tamil Tigers have two constraints – manpower and supplies. If they overcome these two constraints, the fate of the Sri Lankan army is sealed. Even if the Singhalese army reaches Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu, the Tamil Tigers can carry out guerilla attacks indefinitely. The ambushes at Thoppikal and Muhamalai are a warning of things to come.
By the end of the year 2008, we will know whether the Eelam War 4 has been won by the Sri Lankan armed forces, enabling the Rajapakse government to dictate their terms to the Tamils or whether at Kilinochchi they will meet with the ‘Stalingrad’ of Eelam War 4. Readers will be aware how during World War 2, the mighty Nazi army crashed through Russia’s vast land and defences up to Stalingrad, Moscow and Leningrad till their massive surrender and their general, Von Paulas at Stalingrad, resulting in the routing of Hitler’s mighty military machine. The mighty Nazi army was at the suburbs of Moscow and Leningrad, but failed miserably to capture them. The mightiest army of the time was defeated due to the fact that they were spread throughout Europe and Russia and a severe winter arrived.
It is difficult to foresee the future of the civil war. The Sri Lankan government is running the risk of bankruptcy. They want to prosecute the war to the bitter end, even if it means the ruin of the Singhalese. Let us wait and see till the end of the current year the outcome of the undeclared Eelam War 4.
On the international front, Tamil Nadu is getting agitated over the killings of the Eelam Tamils, and the Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan army and navy. Action is being filed in the Indian Supreme Court to declare the cession of Kachativu by the Indian government to Sri Lanka as void. A change of government in India can result in India enforcing a Cyprus or Georgia type of situation. Any peace talks should involve the Tamils of Tamil Nadu as an interested party. Any solution to the Sri Lankan ethnic problem should satisfy the Eelam Tamils and Tamils of Tamil Nadu as much as the Singhalese. The Singhalese cannot decide the destiny of Eelam.