A Key Factor for the LTTE Counter Offensive

by Arush from Wales for Sri Lanka Guardian

(November 25, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Today the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict has reached a significant turning point, this is due to the biggest ever offensive operation launched by the Sri Lankan armed forces called as "Wanni Operation", this operation has not yet come to an end but dragging on for more than 21 months though it was planned for 9 - 12 months.

The biggest military operation

Before this millennium, the 18 months long “Jayasikuru" operation was the mother of all battles that flared up on eelam wars. Because Sri Lankan army (SLA) used nearly thirty thousand troops belonging to three full divisions (Div. 53, 55 and 56) with its Special Forces and commando units, supported in the rear by thousands of navy and police personnel. The armed forces used maximum fire power by utilising heavy artillery, T-55/54 tanks, Kfir and F-7 bombers and MI-24 assault helicopters.

For the current operation they used five full strength (56, 57, 58, 59 and 63) and two semi strength (61 and 62) divisions in the Wanni theatre with its three special forces and two commando units, supported in the rear by additional two divisions in the southwest and southeast (Div. 21- Mannar and 22-Manalaru). In the north two offensive divisions (Div. 53 and 55) are station in the 12 km long Killali – Mukamalai – Nagargovil axis. The new unit is Div.63, it is an infantry division which was raised with three brigades on last month.

The SLA full divisions that are deployed in the war zone have only about seven to nine thousand troops each and semi divisions are 3,500 – 5,000 troops each. In theory, around 60,000 – 65,000 troops are active in this operation with assistance of 15,000 troops in the rear side. The fire power is also triple time more than compared with “Jayasikuru”. They use heavy artillery, T-55/54 tanks, IFVs, 122mm MBRLs, Fighter jets (F-7, Kifir, Mig-27) and assault choppers (MI-24 and MI-35).

The Sri Lankan air force (SLAF) intensified their raids in Wanni, former foreign minister; Mangala Samaraweera revealed in parliament, that the government has unloaded 14.4 million kilogrammes of bombs in the Wanni. 14.4 million Kilogrammes of today's military grade explosive are equivalent to the explosive force of over 18 kilo tonnes of TNT. The nuclear weapon dropped by the United States on distant Hiroshima had an estimated yield of between 13 to 18 kilo tonnes of TNT.

In terms of defence expenses Sri Lankan government spent around Rs. 267.75 billion for the last 21 months (Rs 139.6 billion for 2007 and 166.4 billion for 2008), this is 300% higher that compared with Jayasikurui periods (Rs 46.6 billion for 1997 and 57.2 billion for 1998). In those days government spent Rs. 432 million per month, now they are spending Rs. 1275 million per month. The Leader of New Left Front, Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne, statement also further evidence for this expensive military operation, he said that the Colombo government spent 500 billions of national wealth to kill LTTE. Accordingly, for each LTTE killed, they have spent 50 millions.

This is the reason most of the analyst come to the conclusion that the current operation is a biggest, longest and expensive military operation in the history of Eelam war and the longest military operation in the global history of armed conflict.

Foreign military assistance

The Sri Lankan government implemented war plans charted by foreign military experts (Mostly form India and US military expert). They are helping to them not only far from battle field, but also active participants in the battle field. This was exposed by Tiger air force (TFA) raid on Vavunia military base on 9th of September 2008, where two Indian military experts were injured. It was suspected that they were coordinating the SLAF raids and trying to trace the LTTE fighter planes.

India has continuously intensified their training activities to the SLA, the latest event was, the 57-2 Brigade commander of Colonel Senerath Bandara, who is operating in the South West of Kilinochchi was visited India for a Senior Command course for a brief period after a task undertaken by him for the past one and half years. This is like an After Action Reviews (AAR), the US Army performs AARs after every field exercise, throughout assignments and in many other areas of activity and use the key points learned to improve future operations.

It is clear that the US, India and its allies help to stabilise the Sri Lankan state economically and strengthened the Sri Lankan arm forces, applying all possible pressure on the LTTE. Access to Central Asia's resources the US and its allies to be keenly interested in the affairs of the Sri Lankan state even at the cost of basic Tamil rights.

What is the current offensive line?

Task Force 1 (Div.58) is in Pooneryn now and trying to move to Paranthan junction. The 57 Division is trying to penetrate into the South of Kilinochchi and the aim is by passing the Kilinochchi town, to link up with the Div. 58. In the meantime, Task Force 2 (Div.62) and Task Force 3 (Div.63) will link up form killinochchi to Mankulam. At the same time the Div.59 is spreading itself towards the eastern sector of Mullaithivu. The SLA which claimed its Div.59 troops entered Kumizhamunai near Naayaa'ru lagoon south of A'lampil in Mullaiththeevu district on 17th of November. In the north two offensive divisions (Div. 53 and 55) are trying to move to southwards.

Once Pooneryn captured, SLA launched the three frontal operations in Mukamalai, Killinochchi and Mankulam on 15th of November, because they thought that the LTTE’s moral had gone to bottom. No matter how well a campaign is planned, no matter how finely equipped and trained and battle-hardened an army is for a campaign, the moral qualities of the troops remain of the highest importance. This is the decisive factor in the battle field.

But the three frontal (Mukamaalai, Killinochchi and Mankulam) attacks gave a higher causality figure after the stiff resistance by LTTE. It is believed that LTTE have heavily fortified this area, at the same time the LTTE is thwarting attempts by Div.59 from spreading itself towards the eastern sector of Mullaithivu. The Colombo based defence watch said that the SLA suffered unprecedented casualty rate in the three days (15-17) long battle with over 200 soldiers were killed and 350 injured. The casualty figures of the Pooneryn battle also high, the Colombo based reliable sources said that 8 officers and 48 soldiers killed and 311 have wounded in last days.

During these three days the army lost more than 256 soldiers killed and 661 injured, but the military has stopped releasing its own casualty figures in daily bulletins since last month saying it would hinder operations. However, according to the government statistics tabled in parliament show 1,269 troops were killed and more than 9,403 wounded in the first 10 months (until 31 of October) of this year. In this time, there were no reports of LTTE offensive operation on any front. Despite this, the number of casualties was spiked on the top.

What is the strategic objective behind the LTTE?

These events clearly shows that the moral qualities of the LTTE remain on the highest level and on the basis of previous experiences LTTE devised new offensive and defensive strategies and constructed impenetrable defence lines for some important FDLs such as Mukamalai and killinochchi. By such method they prepared to face the biggest ever offensive undertaken by the SLA.

The LTTE’s objective in doing this is to draw the army in large numbers into the western part of the Vanni jungles and then pin it down by preventing it from clinching its strategic goals-link up to Killinochchi through Elephant pass. They are preparing for a major battle. They re-organised and re-structured their military machine to engage in a conventional mode of offensive. Their newly formed divisions and heavy weapon units (artillery and mortar units, anti-tank and anti-aircraft units) are reserved.

They had a long experience about the offensive manoeuvres of the Sri Lankan forces from previous battles. On the basis of such experiences they preserved their military asserts for future offensive and defensive strategies.

Weak point of the SLA’s offensive tactics

The SLA trying to put multi front pressure to LTTE, but the other side they spread into a long territory. The Div. 58 and part of the 21 hold nearly 82 km long A-32 highway and the Div.63 and 62 are trying to advance a 50- 60 km long flank (Killinochchi to Mankulam) west of the A 9 road. The 57, 59 and part of 22 divisions hold 115 km FDLs from Kokkuthoduvai to Mannar and part of the Akkarayan to Killinochchi FDLs. In the north two offensive divisions (Div. 53 and 55) are holding 12 km long Killali – Mukamalai – Nagargovil axis. In the northern part of Vavunia, the 56 and 61 Divisions are holding another 20 – 25 km FDLs.

In theory, the SLA currently holding nearly 275 – 290 km FDLs, the geographical size of these areas in which these divisions are concentrated will be difficult to maintain for a long periods, the LTTE can easily break this FDLs at any point and catching the SLA in its own trap.

Further more, during this operation Sri Lankan army suffered unprecedented casualty rate, official figures show 1,269 troops were killed and more than 9,403 wounded in the first 10 months of this year. The total figure of the whole operation is much higher. According to the reliable sources, nearly 25,000 soldiers deserted their ranks during the current operations. By releasing figures minimising the casualties suffered by the military, without the 'Missing-In-Action' and 'Deserters' figures, the government has been able to hide the true fact of the war. This is another factor to threatening the government to keep the FDLs as long as possible.

The underlying political motives of this military campaign

The Government claims that this military operation is aimed to weakening the LTTE. But it is not the real objective. The Government has different motives, by capturing this vast areas, the Sri Lankan regime calculated that it could bifurcate the geographical unity of the Tamil homeland. Secondly, the Government was well aware that Wanni was an LTTE controlled area where the headquarters as well as the military and administrative structures of the movement operated. Therefore, the Government assumed that the LTTE would be compelled to confront the SLA if an all-out offensive was undertaken in the Wanni heartland.

Therefore they utilise maximum man power and fire power to destroy the military capability of the LTTE and to bring an end to the LTTE, thereby finding a permanent solution to the Tamil national question by military terms. Further more, from the war victories the Sri Lankan government is trying to stabilize their political grip in South. These are the hidden plans concealed in this military operation.

In terms of manpower, fire-power, resources and foreign military assistance, the Sri Lankan forces was strong and the balance of military power was in his favour. To overwhelm to this joint military motivation against the eelam struggle, the world Tamils must be united. This is the current boiling issue and now is gradually growing out side the battle field. The Tamilnadu issue is the most important, the courage and commitment of the Tamil people is most powerful tool in the Eelam struggle and also this is a key factor for the LTTE counter offensive.
- Sri Lanka Guardian