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The Stillborn LTTE Counter Attack

“If Elephant Pass is captured, the northern FDL will become much shorter and simpler! The curvy FDL extending over the lagoon will be a thing of the past.”

A response to "Plan for a quick election means Catch 22 situations in Battle field" (Read)

by Thomas Johnpulle

(November 19, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) There is little doubt the war in Sri Lanka has reached a decisive phase. Various theories exist as to what the outcome of this war would be. Variables can and will change and this would alter the outcome of the war. The war is more than a collection of battles. In addition to battles, the effect of each battle burdens both the winner and the loser. While the loser may lose morale, manpower, land, resources, roads, etc. the winner will also be burdened with the responsibility of manning what he won.

Apart from the troops fighting the war, people play a critical role in the war. Their willingness or otherwise to bear the brunt of the war underlies the ability to sustain the war. While this affects mostly Sri Lankan authorities, it can also affect the LTTE. Internally displaced people are living under trying conditions. They are forced by the LTTE to move along with it to the jungle. They are being continually displaced from place to place. So far the vast majority of them have struck with the LTTE and only a handful of them have defected to government controlled areas. However, it is a matter of time till they call it quits. Managing 300,000 disgruntled and infuriated people who have nothing to lose will be a massive challenge for the LTTE if it continues to lose landmass at this rate. Whether LTTE is able to control and contain such a massive number of angry people is yet to be seen. If violence is used against them, LTTE leaders would have cooked the goose. As the area shrinks gradually, LTTE leaders’ hiding places, whereabouts and travel details are observed by a larger number of people. If this knowledge goes to the enemy, top tigers will be in dire straits. Army’s deep space operators can easily extract this knowledge from an increasingly disgruntled crowd of people.

A numbers game

LTTE has lost its traditional recruitment grounds in the east. Today although a few tiger cadres can infiltrate into the eastern jungles, they cannot establish camps; they cannot recruit fighters either. This means all the new recruits must come from Vanni. The number of people fit for battle in Vanni is very limited and fast reducing. On the other hand security forces have enhanced their numerical advantage. While offensive divisions are at the front, semi-offensive and defensive divisions manage captured areas. Since the present phase of the war has very few or no civilians left in captured areas, it make it easier to administer; there is no threat of terrorist infiltration into these areas as a result. If tigers were to come to liberated areas, they have to penetrate a wide area under army’s offensive divisions. Unlike military operations in late 1990s, present day operations do not expose defensive formations to the enemy very much.

The war has come to a decisive stage pretty much without the offensive support of two premier divisions, namely 53 and 55. These divisions played a key role in capturing Jaffna and retaining it. Past two and a half years of war was fought without them! Once these two divisions reach the mainland, things will turn nasty for already besieged tigers. These two divisions can, within a matter of days, add more than half the present offensive troop numbers to the battlefield which is an earth shattering bonus for the 57 and 58 divisions. Essentially the battle for the north will be jacked-up by double strength. LTTE obviously knows this and that is why they are fighting tooth and nail to stop these two divisions from reaching Elephant Pass. However, with superior airpower and firepower, it is a matter of weeks until Elephant Pass falls.

The numbers game corresponds well with the much avowed wipe out strategy of the government as well.

More they advance, shorter the FDLs become!

A very strange phenomenon is at work in the present phase of the war. Forward defence lines mainly stretch from A9 to east in more or less straight lines. In the Jayasikuru operation, army positions were like isolated settlements exposing them to the full brunt of the LTTE. Now FDLs encircle LTTE held areas! This is a remarkable achievement. The frontal layer of the army facing the tigers was much longer a year and a half ago than today. This further releases offensive troops to carryout assaults on tiger positions while their behind is fully secured by defensive formations.

If Elephant Pass is captured, the northern FDL will become much shorter and simpler! The curvy FDL extending over the lagoon will be a thing of the past.

Once landed in Elephant Pass, the army artillery can target deep Vanni positions from three main directions. This will surely spell total disaster for the LTTE. Also, along the way a number of hospitals will fall in to the hands of the army mainly the Kilinochchi hospital. Already main roads leading to Kilinochchi from the north, west and the south have been cut-off. Losing these medical facilities is a major blow to the LTTE. Hitherto cadres who were injured but survived will end up dead. Coupled with major onslaughts on Vanni from more than 6 divisions and a possible navy onslaught from the east, LTTE casualties will be staggering.

Weapons disadvantage

It was reported that security forces are getting a shipload of weapons every two weeks. Roughly tigers would also need at least half of it regularly. However, with the liberation of the entire west coast, avenues of bringing weapons are at a grave risk. The east coast is heavily guarded by the navy making it impossible for tigers to land weapon consignments. Resourceful as ever, tigers planned for air delivery of weapons. Two runways each longer than a kilometre were constructed in a mighty haste but they were rendered unusable by the SLAF. Battles that lie ahead would require a very heavy load of weapons and tigers are not going to have it. This weakness is likely to be exploited thoroughly by security forces.

This is in stark contrast to what happened in 1999 when tigers managed to get down shiploads of weapons from a myriad of sources. Further, as the area of concentration reduces, SLAF and deep space operations will have a higher chance of targeting LTTE weapons warehouses and transport systems.

Mostly conventional warfare
May be the biggest mistake LTTE committed was getting entrapped into a conventional war knowing fully well that security forces are the masters of it. Today LTTE although has “tactically withdrawn” from most areas still fight for Elephant Pass, Paranthan, Kilinochchi and Mulaitivu. This is unseen in all other terrorist/insurgent/rebel wars. This gives security forces the ability to inflict heavy damages to the LTTE and break its morale. LTTE casualties in the Elephant Pass battle and the Kilinochchi battle may well run into a few thousands. As a higher number of civilian forces are inducted, casualty volumes will be much higher than now. Methods used by security forces especially the use of multi barrel rocket launchers do not make things easier for them.

Generally rebels fight over a large extent of area. This way they can escape enemy attacks, minimise casualties and have multiple opportunities to counter attack. LTTE has dug its own grave by getting trapped into an area where there is no way out. 1987 manoeuvres like escaping to India when attacked, is not going to work this time. Tigers have met their match.

Jungle warfare

It is a fact that IPKF couldn’t hold on to jungle areas. However, IPKF was not allowed to function in the full width and breadth of the battle zone. They noticed that tigers would leave the jungle area when attacked but would soon return. This time there is nowhere tigers can run and hide. Relocating from one part of the jungle to another is not going to help in the long run as troops will eventually get there. IPKF never used what the LTTE terms as ‘scorch earth’ warfare and had only one Mi-24 gunship dedicated at their disposal. If guerrilla warfare is helicopter warfare, IPKF’s fate is not that difficult to apprehend.

Things have changed and security forces have shown remarkable capabilities in jungle warfare. The ability to use heavy fire support which is not possible in town areas also favours the army. Large extents of land clearing seen in recent battle zones hint at what awaits Mulaitivu.

LTTE has only a few choices. It should consider surrendering to government forces before it is too late. There is no point in sacrificing the lives of tens of thousands for a war that tigers will surely lose. There is nowhere fighters and civilian militias can run and hide from the advancing army; India will not come to the rescue either; Pirapaharan must surrender and agree to a political solution. A political solution at this stage will be more beneficial for Tamils than what comes at the end of total annihilation of all forms of resistance. The advent of the LTTE to the political mainstream will complete the puzzle.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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