Archive for March, 2008

India said Wednesday that it wanted Sri Lanka to treat Tamils with dignity and also voiced concern that Colombo’s arms purchases may upset New Delhi’s “pre-eminent position” in South Asia. “We are facing a situation where the ceasefire (in Sri Lanka) could collapse. This could lead to a flashpoint,” National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan said while delivering the 25th Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal memorial lecture here.

“We want the Sri Lankan government to treat its large Tamil minority with dignity,” he said.

“(But) the (Sri Lankan) government would seem to have the single objective of a military victory (against the Tamil Tigers) without any devolution of power.”

Narayanan also added: “We have to ensure that India’s pre-eminent position in the region is not compromised by Sri Lanka seeking arms from elsewhere.

“We need a national consensus on how much (military) assistance we should provide and how much pressure we should put on the (Sri Lankan) government.”

Thousands of people have died in Sri Lanka in the past two years in escalating fighting between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

India opposes any military solution of the ethnic conflict and wants Colombo to devolve autonomy to the minorities.

And while India continues to train Sri Lankan military personnel, it has refused to provide what it dubs are offensive military hardware.


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Tamil nationalist leader Pazha Nedumaran and at least 164 members of his outfit were held here Saturday for staging a demonstration in support of the Tamil Tigers and against the Sri Lankan and Indian governments.

They were released at night. Nedumaran and members of his Tamil Desiya Iyakkam (Tamil nationalist movement) including a dozen women, had raised slogans in favour of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and for a “Tamil eelam” (Tamil nation).

Police said several “pro-Lankan Tamil groups”, including Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK-Dalit Panther) supporters, tried to stage a demonstration at the Memorial Hall near the railway station without permission.

The groups were also protesting the “sale of arms by India to Sri Lanka”. They also condemned firing by Sri Lanka’s navy on fishermen from Tamil Nadu.

Visiting Sri Lankan Minister for Highways Jayaraj Fernando, meanwhile, maintained that the frequent attacks on Indian fishermen were carried out by the LTTE and not by the Sri Lankan navy.

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Ten Navy personnel were reported missing yesterday morning after one of the Navy’s Fast Attack Craft (FAC) was caught in what is believed to be an LTTE sea mine explosion off Nayaru, Mullaitivu, a Navy spokesman said. He said six sailors were rescued and a search operation was going on for the missing sailors.

The spokesman said this was the first time a navy craft was hit by such a sea mine explosion though such undersea mines had been detected earlier off Mullaitivu. However the LTTE claimed that it had mounted a suicide attack on the Navy’s Dvora killing 14 sailors and losing three Black Sea Tigers in the attack. But, the Navy disputed the LTTE version. (See Situation Report by Iqbal Athas on Page 5 for more details.)

Meanwhile heavy clashes erupted between the Army and the LTTE in Pirmanalankulam in the Mannar district. The military said they killed 15 LTTE cadres and lost two soldiers while capturing one square kilometre in the area. At least 11 soldiers were also injured. Meanwhile heavy clashes erupted between the Army and the LTTE in areas southeast of Adampan, Mannar.

A military spokesman said last night 22 LTTE cadres and four soldiers were killed in the clashes. At least 26 LTTE cadres and 16 soldiers were also injured in the clahses, he said. He said the troops overran eight LTTE bunker defences in the area.

A multi-pronged assault on LTTE territory was launched at 4.45 a.m. yesterday morning with the advancing troops directing heavy artillery and mortar fire at LTTE positions, the military spokesman said. He said LTTE cadres had run back to their defence lines in the Wanni. Reports from the Nagarkovil area last night said heavy fighting was taking place in the area with both sides firing heavy artillery.

Earlier in the day, the Defence Ministry said seven LTTE cadres were killed in clashes with the troops in the Muhamalai and Nagarkoivl areas. The security forces suffered no casualties, the ministry said.

FAC under sea mine attack

A locally built Fast Attack Craft (FAC) of the Navy came under a sea mine attack off Kokilai in the North-Eastern waters around 2.25 a.m. yesterday, Navy spokesperson Commander D. K. P. Dassanayake said.

Commander Dassanayake told the Sunday Observer that the Fast Attack Craft was caught in a LTTE sea mine while it was engaged in a routine sea patrol along with another FAC off Kokilai in the North-Eastern waters around 2.25 a.m. yesterday.

“The second FAC which was in the vicinity rushed to the scene and rescued six sailors including the skipper of the vessel when the explosion occurred. Sixteen sailors were on board at the time the FAC came under attack.

A search for the other ten sailors is being carried out by Navy vessels,” Commander Dassanayake said.

Locally built fast Attack Craft caught in an explosion

One locally built fast Attack craft out the two on routine patrol off Nayaru caught in an explosion in the wee hours today early morning around 2.00am, Sri Lanka Navy sources said.

According to the Navy, “the boat being caught in the explosion started to take in water making it difficult for the crew to manoeuvre it to safe area. The impending consequence was unavoidable peril leaving the crew with no alternative other than abandoning the craft. Then they got onto life rafts and started drifting. Six members of the crew have thereafter been rescued by other boats. A search operation is still underway.”

It is suspected that LTTE had unscrupulously laid sea mines in a bid of avenge due repeated losses in the recent past.

Meanwhile, fleeing from un-liberated area in Vedithalthievu, a family of five members consisting of 35 years old father, 32 years old mother, 12 years old eldest son, 05 year old son and the 01 year old youngest son sought refuge of the Navy by arriving at the Fishing Marshalling point at Pallimunai in Mannar, around 7.00 AM today (22Mrach), according to Navy sources.

The family, in desperate hopes of living condition in the un-cleared areas due to atrocities perpetrated by LTTE cadres and forced conscription, arrived on locally made boat known as Wallam fitted with 9.9 horse power outboard motor, even risking their lives.


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Last week Sayant Khongton locked up his small grocery store for the last time. An unknown man on a motorcycle gunned down Khongton, who was also a local police officer, as he walked out the front door of his shop in the southern Thai town of Yala. He became the latest victim in a shadowy six-week campaign of murderous attacks against soldiers, police officers and other symbols of authority in Thailand’s underdeveloped, Muslim-dominated south. No one seems to know who’s behind it. “Take your pick,” says one police intelligence official. “Disgruntled Muslims, separatists, foreign Islamic terrorists–you could make a case against any of them.”

Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s uber-confident prime minister, took office three years ago promising to resolve decades of anger and perceived injustice among the south’s 1.8 million Muslims within his first three months in office. But since the violence erupted on Jan. 4, when dozens of gunmen simultaneously attacked a military camp and torched three police posts and 17 local schools in Narathiwat province, it’s clear the situation in the south has gone from bad to worse. Not only have the attacks on police and military units continued, but there now appear to be retribution killings of Muslims as well. And Thaksin’s heavy-handed pursuit of the perpetrators has many southerners feeling like targets.

Within hours of the Jan. 4 attacks, parts of Narathiwat and the majority-Muslim provinces of Yala and Pattani were under martial law. Thousands of Army soldiers and special forces have poured into the region. Authorities have arrested Muslim clerics on suspicion of murder, while soldiers have raided Islamic schools looking for weapons and suspects.

Thai intelligence sources say that a separatist group–or groups–numbering no more than a few hundred people is probably responsible for the death and destruction, which has claimed at least 15 lives. Clearly the Muslim community could be a vital ally in Bangkok’s hunt for the militants. But so far all Thaksin’s dragnet seems to be doing is alienating them. “Could going into [Islamic] schools with [trained] dogs, not taking off your shoes and arresting teachers be counterproductive?” one Western diplomat asks rhetorically. “Yes.”

It’s no surprise that Thailand’s southern Muslims view the government’s troops with some resentment. The Muslim community believes that it has been neglected for decades by a succession of Thai governments, which at most have taken a half-hearted interest in the southern provinces’ economic development. The monthly household income in Narathiwat is half the national average and infant mortality rates in the three southern provinces are as much as 40 percent higher than the rest of the country’s. “Without real human-resource development, these people will not have real opportunities,” says Surin Pitsuwan, a former foreign minister and prominent Muslim figure. “They have to feel they belong.”

If anything, the military’s brute force may be fueling sympathy for the militants. Instead of denouncing the attacks on soldiers, Muslim leaders are decrying Bangkok’s jackboot tactics. They also claim that the Thai government bears responsibility for the spate of retribution murders and kidnappings of Muslims–crimes that authorities allegedly aren’t pursuing with equal vigor. “The local people are living in fear,” says Nimur Makache, deputy head of the Islamic Yala Council. Their anger runs so deep that last week the Yala council, as well as its sister Islamic committees in Pattani and Narathiwat, temporarily broke off communication with the central government. “[The government] needs to be very careful,” warns Pitsuwan.

But Thaksin, who took direct control over the southern operations from his deputy last week, must also move quickly. Thai intelligence sources say that both homegrown and foreign terrorist groups have seriously stepped up their recruitment of young Thais. Their pitch: it’s far more honorable to work toward the creation of a Muslim state than to be loyal to a government that never cared for you in the first place. In response, the Thai Army is considering running a mandatory “patriotic youth” program for young Muslim men to promote nationalism. “We respect Islam,” says Lt. Gen. Jhumpol Munmhy, director of the National Intelligence Agency, “but we must say to them that… you can’t think about separatism.” It won’t matter what the message is, though, if the audience doesn’t trust the messenger.


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Pooneryn defence complex until November 1993 overlooked the Jaffna/Kilaly lagoon and proved to be the nemesis for Tamil Tigers’ free movement/logistics activities. It also proved to be a hindrance for Tamil Tiger radio traffic between Wanni mainland and the Jaffna peninsula which, barring the PALAY/KKS HSZ, was under complete control of the Tamil Tigers. This was the primary reason for Operation Thavalai (frog) to take place to overwhelm this isolated defence complex. The secondary reason was to use the same T-59I 130mm howitzers the SLA used to shell the Tamil Tiger dominated Jaffna peninsula, for their own targets, i.e PALALY/KKS HSZ and any other target that falls within in its range spectrum.

Since the fall of the base the Tamil Tigers have put this sector to good use. The POONERYN sector has been used as a crucial launching pad for its sea tigers during its many assaults on Jaffna islets and during its failed Jaffna offensive of 2006. It is also being used as pointed out above to disrupt air traffic of PALAY base and for possible decapitation strikes against SLA top brass.

Out of these, intermittent shelling disrupting the vital air bridge and possible decapitation strikes against military top rungs are the main concerns springing from this sector for the SLA. There is much debate over over how to neutralise the howitzers in this sector especially among the lay public.

The first option is to use air recon and vector in the Kfir/MIG27 for air interdiction. During the Tamil Tigers’ failed 2006 Jaffna offensive, heavy 130mm barrages were directed at the PALAY and KKS bases to cut off the air and naval bridge linking the Jaffna peninsula to the Southern mainland. During this period an AN32B transporter was used as bait to lure the Tamil Tigers to fire the two 130mm howitzers positioned at K-point while Beech B200T SIGINT was on a recon mission loitering above. Soon as the firing began the Beech picked up the heat signature through its FLIR sensors. Two Kfirs were scrambled on the 19th of August 2006 and successfully destroyed the two howitzers. Since this strike the Tamil Tigers have used their remaining howitzers sparingly and intermittently using a network of underground bunkers/tunnels to avoid detection. This is quite a similar tactic employed by Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s Japanese during its siege of Iwo Jima during WWII. It was Iwo Jima that Japanese heavy artillery were concealed in massive chambers reinforced by steel doors built inside Mount Suribachi, to keep off projectiles from American bombardment.

The second option is to occupy the land and push back/capture the howitzers putting PALAY /KKS beyond its 27Km range. With troops currently operating in and around the Mannar rice bowl 54Kms South, the sole option for occupying the land is to insert troops in via the sea or air. With the POONERYN sector’s geography being a mirror of the MUHAMALE/NAGARKOVIL/PALLAI sector the same reasons I explained earlier on should SLA make a move on EPS applies here.

The land again is open and barren with little or no cover for any troops that would have landed in attempting to secure the beach head. The open stretch of land further necessitates the need for the armoured cavalry, which again needs to be brought in from mechanized landers. For it to be successful at least 100 such units are necessary and the deployment has to be in real quick time (Bear in mind that landing crafts of SLN can achieve only a max of 20 knots) to drive home the element of surprise and to ensure the beach head remains out of Tamil Tiger mortar range. Also worth to note is that the Tamil Tigers had positioned cadres loyal to its former political head specifically to defend this sector. Which means one should expect significant amount of defence along this coast making the need for armour ever more important since it involves breaking a fortified line.

However, what can be done is to reduce the defence in depth the Tamil Tigers possess in this sector. A small example:

The independent brigade led by late Brigadier (then Colonel) Percy Fernando landing at the Eastern coast of Jaffna to capture the jetty during Riviresa II. This landing took place while 532 brigade was moving from the ground towards Jaffna East and Air Mobile brigade had landed to secure the Jaffna fort. In this instance the Tamil Tigers were deprived the defence in depth for the simple fact that their defences was thinned out and just weren’t able to muster any anti-amphibious defences.

It is very easy to fall into the trap when planning an assault from sea. It is not just a case of getting troops to a coastal belt but also getting the troops to cross the shoreline and enter the hinterland. It is no good performing an assault via sea merely based on maritime supremacy. You need to break out and achieve the overall objective that led to the assault in the first place.

The battle planners must be 100% certain why the landing is being undertaken and what the immediate aims are. They must know what troops will face, not just enemy’s strengths and possible reinforcements, but also the terrain of the target area and local factors such as tides, beach conditions and mud flats which might impact on the landings. The importance of such intelligence was magnified during the successful landing of Incheon during the Korean war when “Trudy Jackson” led by Eugene Clark relayed detailed intelligence on enemy defences, sea tide ranges, whether the beach could hold assault vehicles back to General Macarthur. On the other end stands the battle of Dieppe where the lack of intelligence led to the allied armour being stuck on the soft pebbled beach.

After having sufficient intelligence the landing takes place followed by the lodgement phase to secure the beach head for swift reinforcements and supplies.

Once the intelligence is in place they must consider the approach to the target beach head. The sea crossing could be just a few miles from surrounding islets or all the way from KKS with full naval supremacy in place. Prior to the landing the enemy defence must be softened up and breached. Troops must have the right equipment to proceed from sea to land while under fire. Subsequent to the landing lodgement phase begins to secure the beach head against counter attack and to ensure vital reinforcements and supplies start flowing swiftly and smoothly. Finally the troops must break out from the beach head and begin the next stage of the overall battleplan. It is critical to remember that assault from sea is rarely a battleplan just in itself. It is intended to be part of a larger military campaign.

Soon after lodgement troops need to break out to move to the next stage of the battleplan to avoid being pinned down.

To conclude, the failed operation Thrivida Pahara to relieve a besieged MULATIVU base in July 1996 can be brought up to show the importance of achieving the aforementioned objectives during a coastal assault battleplan. A coastal assault was the only way to reinforce the besieged base since it lies in close proximity to the shoreline. Special forces were airlifted from Trincomalee under the leadership of Lt. Col Fazly Laphir to secure a suitable beach head for troops that were just dispatched from KKS. These troops were also carrying vital supplies and were 20 miles away from the target shoreline. Due to heavy guerilla resistance the Special forces team were forced to make a landing 5Km South of MULATIVU at ALAMPIL. From there the team had to track North amidst heavy resistance. The all important naval supremacy for the reinforcing troops failed to exist due to Tamil Tiger sea wing and its homicide wing. One of the homicide boats managed to ram itself against the Shanghai class FGB SLNS Ranaviru killing 36 sailors on board. Due to heavy resistance the naval task force managed their landing only 3 days later and reached the base 7 days later since the raid, which by then the time frame to achieve the overall objective – relieving the siege on MULATIVU with vital supplies – had long gone.

Like General Macarthur General Holland Smith, and Lt. Gen Kobbekaduwa (Operation Balavegaya), get the tricky coastal assault right and you secure a stepping stone to ultimate victory. Get it wrong and you achieve massive loss of life, political and military disaster.

This is by no means to say the Pooneryn sector is not earmarked. The A32 is a very good prospect and is ideal as a MSR from ILLUPAIKADUWAI, POONERYN to Jaffna across the Sangupiddy ferry till the A9 is liberated from OMANTHAI to MUHAMALE. Unlike the A9 the A32 route needs to be defended from only one flank (East), which is a major advantage.

Only time will tell…


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“Under water defence systems obviously is another nomenclature for mines of different description. During the height of cold war the underwater defence systems also included deep-sea moored sensors that could track submarines and other movements to be relayed to the receiving stations. Some of them were equipped to even release a homing torpedoes on the ICBM armed nuclear submarines that were proceeding to patrol stations.”

The news paper reports on 23rd January 2008 about the installation of the “Underwater defence systems” in Sri Lankan waters is indeed an interesting phase in the fight against the Sea tigers soon after the abrogation of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA). As reported in the press, Sri Lankan authorities/Navy have informed their counterparts about the measures to safeguard their interests as well as to prevent large-scale movement of the Sea tigers who are starved of essentials. The Naval Officer in Charge (NOIC) of Tamil Nadu has apparently informed the Chief Secretary of the State that it would indeed be now even more dangerous for our fishermen who routinely cross over to the Sri Lankan waters for fishing around Kachativu Island. This paper aims to examine some of the related issues in the background of sensitivity that is associated with fishing and security in these troubled waters.

Fishing Issues. Most of the issues related to fishing and security have been covered in my previous papers. However with out having to refer to those papers suffice to say that this has been the most contentious issue between the fishermen of Tamil Nadu and their Sri Lankan counter parts both civilian and military. It has been over three decades since the demarcation of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IBML). The maritime agreement of 1974 gave away the Kachativu and the rich fishing grounds around it to Sri Lanka. While New Delhi went to the extent of saying that Kachativu is just a barren Island, the Government in Tamil Nadu did not make much noise as borne out by facts/records.

With the dwindling of fishing stocks on our side of the IMBL and the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka that was equally intense on the sea front, the Tamil Nadu fishermen capitalised on the fishing ban that was imposed by the SL Navy during the intense phase of the struggle. On lifting of the ban on fishing the fishing communities of the two countries came in to conflict. The fishermen from Tamil Nadu who were sympathetic to the cause of Eelam and those who wanted to make a quick buck were also involved in illegal transportation of goods for sustaining the war effort of LTTE. The liberal subsidies by the Government for fishermen for Diesel encouraged some of the fishermen to trade in diesel and other essentials.

The transgression of the IMBL by our fishermen was also used to their advantage by the LTTE. When convenient, the LTTE chose to fire on our innocent fishermen and made out that it was the act of the Sri Lankan Navy. This invariably caused a furore in Tamil Nadu with political parties immediately getting in to the act at most times even with out any verification. The involvement of LTTE in the shooting and killing of our fishermen was conclusively proved in the case of the missing boat Krishna from Tamil Nadu, which was hijacked. This boat was subsequently sunk in Maldivian waters. Any arrest made by the SL Navy of our fishermen immediately compelled the State Government to request the Centre for intervention for the release of fishermen. Sri Lanka has been more than tolerant of this nuisance that has been going on for decades though legally Sri Lanka has every right to apprehend the erring fishermen and prosecute them under the law of the land.

Legality of the installation of underwater defence systems. Various provisions of the relevant laws on mining at sea during conflict as recognised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are appended at the end of the article. After the successes of the Sri Lankan armed forces on both land and on water particularly since the assumption of office by Mahinda Rajapakha, The Sri Lankan leadership was encouraged to pursue the military option to weaken the LTTE fully. The abrogation of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) therefore is a turning point from a military and strategic point of view. There are divided opinions about the wisdom of abrogating the CFA. With or with out the CFA the war was never suspended and both the parties continued to violate the CFA at will to try and score military success in the chosen theatre. However with out the abrogation of the CFA Sri Lanka would not have been justified in laying sea mines in its own areas of operation. (Note that the land mines were laid even when the CFA was in force) The Sri Lankan military scored notable successes in all the medium of land, air and water thus weakening the LTTE. The successful targeting of LTTE leadership that resulted in the death of Mr Tamilchelvam and many other leaders has dealt a severe blow to both the capabilities and the intentions of the LTTE. However the abrogation of the CFA, which was signed in 2002, has paved the way for going all out in the maritime arena the control of which is so crucial for the LTTE. Mine warfare has been acknowledged in the annals of naval history as one of the most important methods of sea denial. Whether it is offensive or defensive or even psychological, it has the ability to achieve the objective due to the nature of devastating threat posed by mines. Even if the mines were not physically deployed, the notification or promulgation that mines have been laid would be enough to keep the areas clear of unwanted vessels. Such a ploy is always a considered option by naval commanders.

Underwater Defence Systems/Mining. Under water defence systems obviously is another nomenclature for mines of different description. During the height of cold war the underwater defence systems also included deep-sea moored sensors that could track submarines and other movements to be relayed to the receiving stations. Some of them were equipped to even release a homing torpedoes on the ICBM armed nuclear submarines that were proceeding to patrol stations. While the clay more mines over land has made it difficult for both the SL Forces and the LTTE over the land the use of sea mines now makes it very difficult for vessels to use areas which have been identified for sea denial and thus mined.

The modern mines come with many sensors that can trigger the explosive device onboard. It could be a contact mine which detonates on contact, or an acoustic mine that could be set to detonate on picking up of propeller or hull noise above or below a set threshold value. It could also be a pressure sensor that could sense the pressure of the water column over it as the target passes over it thus triggering the detonator and the consequent explosion. Even from the world war times, the ship count mechanism (SCM) has been effectively used to choose the target in a formation depending on its location and its likely sequence of passing over the minefield. At sea Mines are most devastating in terms of damage caused even to large ships.

LTTE Response. It would be interesting to see how the LTTE responds to the mining threat. With its suicide squads (black tigers) in place, even at the risk of losing some of its cadres, it may venture out to see what kind of vessels could be used in the areas with out activating the mines. With the shallow depths in the areas however, it would be difficult to find a vessel that can navigate in these waters safely. The LTTE has no mine clearance vessels as of now. The LTTE however would like to find some novel methods to clear the mines in areas that are crucial for landing of military stores.

The attempts by the LTTE to illegally cross over to Tamil Nadu for various illegal activities would also become that more difficult due to the mines in the waters through which the infiltrators are required to transit. The intense patrolling along the coastline by both the Navy and the Coast Guard has already rendered the task of illegal entry in the Tamil Nadu difficult.

Indian Response. Having been officially informed about the use of underwater defence systems, India is obliged to ensure the safety of its fishermen by not allowing them to cross the IMBL. Sri Lanka has every right to protect its waters and deny the illegitimate use of the seas by the LTTE. The LTTE has failed time and again in landing its war like material on shores controlled by it. The sinking of over a dozen Flags of Convenience ships owned by the LTTE by the Sri Lankan Navy at thousands of kilometres from its shore has dealt a severe blow to the capability in all the three medium. The squeeze applied by the International community has not helped the LTTE either.

There are no doubts that some of the political parties and sympathisers of the LTTE in India would protest the mining of the Sri Lankan waters. The Tamil Nadu fishermen and their lobby would likewise make a lot of noise on being denied the unlawful fishing in some one else’s waters. The only correct option for India is to ensure that mechanisms are put in place to prevent tragedies at sea due to exercising of obstinate intentions by our fishing community. The Navy, the Coast Guard and the Police have a tough task on hand to ensure that the situation does not go out of hand both on land and at sea. Measures required for weaning away our fishermen by providing alternate means of livelihood have been made in earlier quoted my earlier papers and thus are not being repeated.

According to some police sources it appeared that they were happy with the mining, as it would minimise the incursions by the LTTE cadres to TN through the sea routes.

The hawks on the Indian side would say that the abrogation of the CFA is being used by the Island nation to settle scores with the erring Indian fishermen who habitually cross over to the Sri Lankan waters using the excuse of preventing the LTTE from using the seas for clandestine activities. The fact of the matter is that Sri Lanka is entitled to exercise all its options including mining as allowed by the international conventions even if it is killing two birds with the same stone.

(Commodore R.S. Vasan IN Retd has a distinguished military service of over 34 years .His shore assignments include command of two naval air stations, maritime air squadron, Air Crew Examiner, member of the faculty at the College of Naval warfare and Chief Staff Officer of the Southern Naval Command at Kochin, India.)

* Appendix

* Excerpts Prepared by International Lawyers and Naval Experts convened by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law. Adopted in June 1994 taken from San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. Only relevant sections 80 to 92 are quoted below .It may be noted that not all the provisions may be applicable in this case.

80. Mines may only be used for legitimate military purposes including the denial of sea areas to the enemy.

81. Without prejudice to the rules set out in paragraph 82, the parties to the conflict shall not lay mines unless effective neutralization occurs when they have become detached or control over them is otherwise lost.

82. It is forbidden to use free-floating mines unless:

(a) they are directed against a military objective; and

(b) they become harmless within an hour after loss of control over them.

83. The laying of armed mines or the arming of pre-laid mines must be notified unless the mines can only detonate against vessels, which are military objectives.

84. Belligerents shall record the locations where they have laid mines.

85. Mining operations in the internal waters, territorial sea or archipelagic waters of a belligerent State should provide, when the mining is first executed, for free exit of shipping of neutral States.

86. Mining of neutral waters by a belligerent is prohibited.

87. Mining shall not have the practical effect of preventing passage between neutral waters and international waters.

88. The mine laying States shall pay due regard to the legitimate uses of the high seas by, inter alia, providing safe alternative routes for shipping of neutral States.

89. Transit passage through international straits and passage through waters subject to the right of archipelagic sea-lanes passage shall not be impeded unless safe and convenient alternative routes are provided.

90. After the cessation of active hostilities, parties to the conflict shall do their utmost to remove or render harmless the mines they have laid, each party removing its own mines. With regard to mines laid in the territorial seas of the enemy, each party shall notify their position and shall proceed with the least possible delay to remove the mines in its territorial sea or otherwise render the territorial sea safe for navigation.

91. In addition to their obligations under paragraph 90, parties to the conflict shall endeavour to reach agreement, both among themselves and, where appropriate, with other States and with international organizations, on the provision of information and technical and material assistance, including in appropriate circumstances joint operations, necessary to remove minefields or otherwise render them harmless.

92. Neutral States do not commit an act inconsistent with the laws of neutrality by clearing mines laid in violation of international law.

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The war between the Government of Sri Lanka armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres has been conventional as well as unconventional.

A significant feature of the unconventional war fought by the government is the deployment of deep penetration assassination squads, known as Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP).

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian Kittinan Sivanesan (51) was killed in a claymore mine explosion last week in the Kanagrayankulam region of the northern mainland, known as the Wanni. The area was under the control of the LTTE.

The LTTE accused the Army’s Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) of being responsible. This was promptly denied. Interestingly, the LTTE refers to the LRRP squads as DPU for some reason.

Instrument of war
The assassination of Sivanesan has once again focused the spotlight on the LRRP/DPU phenomenon that is becoming a crucial factor in the current war.

The LRRP became an instrument of war of the armed forces since the turn of this century. Basic modus operandi of the LRRP is for small groups to clandestinely infiltrate territory controlled by the LTTE and target senior Tiger leaders and key operatives. This is done in two ways.

One is to infiltrate Tiger territory through jungle routes, conduct an operation and return. Sometimes the operatives stay in safe houses within LTTE-controlled areas for days to do this. On other occasions they camp in the jungles and lie in wait for several hours to take on their target.

The usual method is to explode claymore mines with remote devices. In some instances timers have been used. Pressure mines too have been used on a few occasions. It is presumed that these attacks are planned and executed on the strength of precise intelligence.

The other method has been to co-opt civilians living in the Wanni to ‘plant’ mines and target Tiger leaders. This is done through bribery and coercion. In some cases, some LTTE oppressed civilians nursing a grudge against the Tigers have become willing tools.

The usage of hit squads to assassinate the enemy has been practised by different states and different armies in different situations. Despite the ‘heroic glamour’ surrounding these teams, they are, in essence, glorified assassination squads.

‘Legitimately’ sanctioned ‘illegitimate’ operatives.
Therefore, legitimate states and governments do not like to claim credit for these operations. Those involved in such operations are ‘legitimately’ sanctioned ‘illegitimate’ operatives.

Since they are usually controlled by Intelligence officials, these operatives are like spies in enemy territory. If successful they are rewarded ‘quietly’ within the organisational structure. If they fail or are caught in the act, they are disowned. They are ‘heroes’ who cannot be honoured publicly.

Propagandists may try and project these operations as romantic adventures but by their intrinsic nature, they fall under the ‘covert warfare’ category. So officially these acts are not publicised and are usually unacknowledged or denied.

There are other reasons too for keeping these operations and particulars of those involved under wraps. Those engaged in such operations do not want to publicise it because of concern that they or their loved ones may be victimised if identities are exposed.

The other is that those residents in enemy territory who were collaborating with the hit squads may be rendered vulnerable if more details were publicised. In addition, there is the danger of the enemy gaining insight into the methods used if too much publicity is given.

All these reasons necessitate an environment of secrecy around such clandestine operations. Globally, this is the usual practice.

This was how Sri Lanka too conducted these operations in the beginning, during the Chandrika Kumaratunga regime. When Tiger leaders were being targeted and the LTTE began accusing state backed DPUs, the government officially denied responsibility. Instead, state propaganda blamed internal squabbles within the LTTE.

It was the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 2002 which first ‘admitted’ officially to the existence of the LRRP by stating in the CFA that all such activity would cease.

Then came the bizarre drama where a so-called ‘safe house” of the LRRP was raided in Millennium City, Athurugiriya, and five occupants were arrested. After protracted wrangling, they were released.

Balagalle’s brainchild
It is said that the LRRP was a brainchild of former Army Commander Lionel Balagalle, who had conceived the project earlier as the Head of Military Intelligence. The green light was given during Kumaratunga’s second presidential term.

When the LRRP teams came into existence, three different agencies were involved in setting them up and running them.

Fundamentally, the LRRP teams were a combination of disgruntled ex-Tigers, members of anti-Tiger Tamil groups, Muslim militants and carefully selected Sinhala personnel. They were given highly specialised ‘Commando’ type training here and abroad.

The first phase of LRRP operations commenced in 2001 in both the northern and eastern Tiger-controlled regions.

Among those killed in the east were Batticaloa District Intelligence Head Lt. Col Nizam LTTE, LTTE Batticaloa-Ampara Communications Chief Major Mano and artillery specialists Major Sathiyaseelan and Capt. Thevathasan. Among those killed in the north were LTTE Air Wing Head Col. Shankar and Sea Tiger Commander Lt. Col Kangai Amaran.

Of those who narrowly escaped death at the hands of the LRRP in the north then were former Political Commissar Brig. Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan (twice), his Deputy Major S. Thangan, Vavuniya Special Commander Col. Jeyam and Deputy Military Chief Col. Balraj.

Of those who escaped death in the east were former Regional Chief Col. Karuna, Eastern Political Commissar Karikalan, Jeyanthan Regiment Chief Jim Kelly Thatha and Regional Intelligence Chief Lt. Col. Ramaan.

LTTE out for blood
LRRP activity was shelved after the ceasefire. Most of the Tamil LRRP operatives had been absorbed into Army ranks. The LTTE was out for their blood. Some of these men were allegedly betrayed to the LTTE by influential persons for large amounts of money.

On January 16, 2002, V. Vidyarathan, alias ‘Mike,’ head of the Paramilitary Intelligence Unit of the Army’s LRRP was seized by the LTTE and executed four days later . On February 10, 2002, Lance Corporal “Clarry” was abducted and killed by the Tigers.

On July 3, 2002, Lance Corporal Saundrarajan was captured by the LTTE and later killed. On December 11, 2002, Corporal Ganeshamoorthi, alias Thilakaraj, was killed. Lance Corporal Pulendrarasa was killed on January 3, 2003. Corporal Kadirgamathamby Ragupathi, alias Ragu, was shot dead in Colombo on March 18, 2003.

On April 26, 2003, Lance Corporal Kalirasa Devarasa was killed by the LTTE in Dehiwala, just 45 minutes after leaving the Army Transition Camp at Kohuwala. Lance Corporal Paramanathan Ravindrakumar was shot on July 15, 2003 but survived the attack.

Apart from these Tamil LRRP operatives, the Tigers also targeted important members of the Tamil armed groups collaborating with the Army and described by the LTTE as paramilitaries.

Sinnathambi Ranjan alias Varadan who led a breakaway TELO group working with the Army was shot dead at Aaraiyampathy.

More importantly PLOTE Mohan, who led the PLOTE faction, working with the security forces, was shot dead in Colombo.

Razeek, the chief of the EPRLF faction, working with the Army, was killed by the LTTE during the war itself when a suicide bomber targeted him in Batticaloa town.

LRRP renaissance
It appeared that the LRRP was now toothless as the key Tamil operatives who knew Tiger terrain and acted as guides, pathfinders, safe house providers and information gatherers were either eliminated or had fled abroad. But the LRRP concept experienced a renaissance when the ceasefire unravelled.

The election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as President and the appointment of Sarath Fonseka as Army Chief and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as Defence Secretary brought about a qualitative change in the security situation. With the LTTE playing into Colombo’s hands, a determined no-holds-barred war effort was underway.

The revival of the LRRP was a key element in this new war strategy. Some of the hibernating old timers were recalled. Fresh input was gained through the induction of the LTTE breakaway faction headed by Karuna. Some other northern LTTE deserters were also inducted.

The PLOTE, possessing some clout in Vavuniya, also contributed some input. Above all, there were now several highly trained ‘Sinhala’ operatives with knowledge and experience of the jungle terrain.

The usage of LRRP squads became a powerful weapon in the security force arsenal. Recent events indicate that these squads have developed into killing machines of devastating efficiency.

These ‘new’ LRRP teams have been in operation for quite some time now. There have been successes and failures and also ‘un-claimable successes.’

Tit for tat
Chief among the claimed successes was the killing of LTTE Military Intelligence Head Shanmuganathan Ravichandran alias Col. Arulvendhan, a.k.a. Charles, who was killed in Mannar District on January 5, this year.
Apart from this, the LRRP has targeted several other LTTE leaders too. One of those targeted and injured was Lt. Col. Kumaran, who was manning defences in the Manal Aaru/Weli Oya region.

There have been also incidents where civilians have been victimised through LRRP activity.

In most cases these were ‘accidents,’ though there are a few deliberate acts perpetrated as tit for tat. Meeting terror by terror is part of this government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

For instance, a school bus carrying schoolgirls was targeted in Mannar as revenge for the LTTE attacking a bus with schoolchildren in Moneragala.

Likewise, the killing of the TNA’s Sivanesan on the way to Mallavi can be construed as quid pro quo for D.M. Dassanayake’s killing on the way to Kotte.
But these acts, though ‘successful,’ will always be ‘un-claimable’ and denied due to politically negative consequences.

There have also been instances where ambulance vehicles were targeted by LRRP groups. Apparently, there was method in this madness, as the LTTE was using ambulances to transport key leaders.

There was also the incident where a vehicle carrying women and children was land-mined near Silavathurai in Mannar when a military operation was in progress. This vehicle too belonged to a Tiger leader but tragically, many of his relatives were using it to flee the area.

LTTE under strain
The LTTE is under severe strain due to LRRP activity. One reason for LRRP successes is growing resentment within Wanni residents against the LTTE. Some are clandestinely helping the LRRP. The LTTE Intelligence Division is trying hard to check this and hundreds of Tamils were detained and interrogated.

In one case an entire family was executed on charges of accommodating LRRP members at their house. In another instance the father of a ‘Maaveerar’ (great hero) LTTE martyr was punished for allegedly being in possession of explosive devices.

The LRRP attacks, along with the precise aerial bombardment of high profile LTTE targets, have caused a sea of change in the LTTE way of life in the Wanni. Routes are changed frequently and no longer do important leaders travel in convoys. Clearing of routes is also done as much as possible.

The ‘Ellai Padai’ (border force) civilian militia, along with women’s brigades and Leopard Commando Units, are used to guard the borders. The extent of the area and jungle terrain makes these borders porous.

LTTE media organs used to mock leaders in Colombo for their elaborate security precautions and projected an image that they were living in fear. With the situation being reversed, many LTTE leaders are now resorting to drastic security measures and precautions for reasons of personal safety.

In a bid to stave off charges of LRRP complicity in the killing of Sivanesan, some defenders of the state have argued that it happened 22 miles to the north of Army control lines and was therefore impossible. These defenders, in their zeal to deny state responsibility, are actually underestimating LRRP capabilities.

In recent times there have been many LRRP operations deep in the interior of LTTE territory. This was the case when the LRRP was in its initial phase of 2001 too.

It must be remembered that the successful attack on Col. Shankar happened in Tiger heartland along the Oddusuddan-Puthukudiyiruppu Road in Mullaitivu District.

Lt. Col Kangai Amaran was killed in Aanaivilunthaan in Mannar District near Akkarayankulam in the Kilinochchi District.

The unsuccessful attack on S.P. Thamilselvan happened in Kokkavil in Kilinochchi District.

Compared to those, the Sivanesan incident occurred comparatively ‘closer’ in the Vavuniya District.

The current reality is that LRRP squads can proceed deep into Tiger territory from either the Mannar mainland jungles or the Manal Aaru /Weli Oya region jungles. They can also proceed parallel to the A9 highway on either side via jungle routes.

Those familiar with Wanni areas say that there are several footpaths and elephant trails crisscrossing the jungles that can be used, so LRRP teams going in deep is not impossible.

Demolishing the myth
What is happening now is that the invincibility myth surrounding the Tigers is being eroded. Also, the LRRP successes are demolishing the myth about LTTE terrain being impregnable.

But the man who made a mockery of Tiger territory impregnability was none other than former Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte.

His helicopter crash-landed inside Tiger terrain more than a decade ago. Ratwatte, with his walking stick, and his service chiefs, walked eight miles to Army Forward Defence Lines (FDLs) safely.

It was then that the image of Tiger terrain impregnability was shattered first. Now, with successful LRRP operations, myth demolition continues.

(The bottom line)

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I know what you must be thinking.  Maybe this article is going to be about police officers. Or fishermen. Toddy tappers, perhaps.  Soldiers would be the most obvious candidates for the award, of course.  Well, you’re wrong. According to a Sri Lankan NGO, research shows that one of the deadliest jobs in Sri Lanka is actually working for an NGO.

Law and Society Trust makes this surprising claim in a report called ‘Under Fire: Persons in Humanitarian Service’.  I went along for a briefing at their office in Colombo 7 on Friday.

Ruki Fernando opened proceedings with a bit of what he called background information.  The conflict, he said, has escalated.  In December 2005, Joseph Pararajasingham was shot dead in Batticaloa Cathedral, and then five students were killed on the beach at Trincomalee in January 2006.  Since then, he went on, things have gotten progressively worse.  Killings are now commonplace and displacement has also become a major issue.  The Government has deliberately created much of this misery, and official bodies are completely incapable of doing anything about it.  People, he finished up, have been left depending both for the basic necessities of life and for protection from harm on NGOs.

I summarise, of course.  But readers will get the picture.  The biased picture, that is, for it is hardly a reasonable explanation of either the current situation or how we got here.  But it is not the main point and we need not go into it now.

Dilshan Muhajarine then presented the main findings of the research.  NGO workers, he said, are under fire.  War is being waged against them as well as taking place between the belligerents.  Since 2006, he insisted, it has been open season on NGOs.

By 2007, 67 NGO workers had been killed in 37 incidents.  Of those, 93% were male, 78% were between 21 and 40 years old, and 85% were Tamil.  If you fall into those three categories, Dilshan said, you are an obvious target. Victims were involved in many different types of work, from administration to masonry.  The only common feature, he went on, is that they were all employed by NGOs.  In addition, 31% of the attacks happened in Jaffna, 30% in Trincomalee, and 25% in Batticaloa.  All of the victims, he underlined, were working in the North and East.  Action Contre la Faim saw 17 workers assassinated in the worst incident of the period studied, but perhaps more notable were the 11 separate attacks on the Danish Demining Group and the Halo Trust in which 12 employees died.  The Government has largely ignored these incidents, Dilshan concluded, and it appears that nobody has been convicted or even prosecuted for any of these crimes against NGOs.

I hope it didn’t take him long to come up with that.  Probably he has spent most of the last few months working on the beautiful tables, graphs and pie charts that accompanied this supposed information in an attempt to make it look scientific.  But it is nonsense.

Law and Society Trust doesn’t have any evidence that these crimes were linked with the work in which the victims were involved.  It hasn’t even looked into the question.  But NGO workers have private lives too.  If such a person is murdered by the husband of a woman with whom he is having an affair, should this be counted as an attack on an NGO worker?  It is laughable.  Or if he is killed because he is an informant for the LTTE? Again, this is clearly wrong.  Motive is vital, and avoiding it implies a desire to simply inflate the numbers to make the situation look as bad as possible, or to actually create a problem out of nothingness.

Ruki Fernando admitted when questioned on this issue that some of the NGOs involved had also expressed doubts about there being any connection between the killings and their NGO.  But he disagreed.  The Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, he added, was not particularly helpful either and

hardly provided them with any information.  It is the biggest network of NGOs in Sri Lanka.  But Ruki was not dissuaded.  Opinions of people who might be expected to know better and who would obviously be concerned to do something about it were simply dismissed.  It is simply not research.

Meanwhile, University Teachers for Human Rights has looked into many of these crimes and what it has to say about them doesn’t fit with the theory about NGO workers.  Colombo 7 is a long way from the troubles in the North and East, it seems.

Law and Society Trust wasn’t concerned about who committed these crimes either.  It didn’t even think that this was relevant.  The Karuna Group has apparently had a hand in them, as have members of the Security Forces and the LTTE.  The Government has undoubtedly also covered up where it should have exposed, but it isn’t all powerful.  If the LTTE bombs a civilian bus in Colombo, is it reasonable to condemn the Government?  I don’t think so. If the Karuna Group kills one of its rivals in the East, should the Government be held responsible?  It’s debatable.  Culprits are important if the objective is to bring them to book and put in place measures to prevent such things happening again, rather than just to score points against the Government.

Somebody asked about the Vanni.  NGOs operate under far more restrictive conditions up there and they have reportedly even been keeping their staff hidden away inside compounds for fear of their being forcibly recruited by the LTTE.  Yet Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu did not figure.  Dilshan Muhajarine helpfully explained that they hadn’t included crimes where even the basic information on the victim and what happened to them wasn’t available, and that deftly ruled out all work on the Vanni.

Ruki Fernando brushed off these rather fundamental problems with a few sweeping statements about what he described as the urgency of the situation. We can’t wait for hard facts, he said, we have to take action now.  Hard facts, of course, are what we might have expected from the research. Instead, we were offered only rhetoric.  And taking action would seem to require know what exactly the problem is and who is behind it.  Urgency is not what the research shows anyway, because the number of attacks actually dropped by 44% between 2006 and 2007.

I imagine that the research was irrelevant. Law and Society Trust probably decided to push the idea that NGO workers are under attack because it feels besieged, not by any physical force but by the criticism that is now sticking like mud to NGOs.

Sri Lankans have long realised that there is nothing special about NGO workers.  They are, on the whole, just doing a job like anybody else. Some are more diligent than others.  Useful and useless work is done in varying quantities.  And it usually pays well.  A few people make real sacrifices for others, just as some people do in government service and in so many private sector jobs, and they all deserve to be honoured for their efforts. But these are individuals.  NGO workers are obviously not all like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa.

NGOs are also increasingly being accused of supporting the LTTE.  And frankly, after a couple of hours in Colombo 7, I can understand why somebody might say that of Law and Society Trust.  The LTTE would surely be happy about its latest effort at attacking the Government.  Law and Society Trust hasn’t drawn the slightest attention to LTTE complicity in crimes against NGO workers, and it has completely ignored the LTTE’s role in prolonging and then escalating the conflict in Sri Lanka.  The Government is its only target.  Law and Society Trust deserves this criticism, and nobody should mistake it for a threat to the safety of NGO workers.

Here’s a final thought: Sri Lanka is in the middle of a conflict, so the fact that people are being killed is not news in itself, and it wouldn’t be difficult to find rather more than 67 housewives who were done to death between 2006 and 2007.  But if an association of housewives had gotten their hands on a bundle of foreign funds, would they have decided to do a study on the number of their comrades killed in the troubles here, so that we would now be hearing that housewives were doing one of the deadliest jobs in Sri Lanka?  Or wouldn’t they have been so selfish?

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The Sri Lankan Civil War has been raging for decades with tens of thousands of people killed on each side. Ethnic Tamil separatists have been fighting for a racially exclusive country in the North and East of the island. Developments since 2004 have seen the Liberation Ligers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE lose almost all of their territory in the East of the island, while minor losses have been suffered on the Western coast as well. Splits within the rebel organization and a modernized Sri Lankan military has pushed the LTTE to the brink of destruction and what could be the final stage of the war is on the horizon. The remaining LTTE forces have been surrounded in the Northern part of Sri Lanka, called the Wanni. This region includes the rebellion’s capital city of Kilinochchi and is defended on several fronts by long lines of trenches, bunkers, and minefields. Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, Lt. General Sarath Fonseka, has sworn to take control of the Wanni by the end of 2008, and fierce trench warfare has resulted in tremendous losses on both sides.

The total collapse of most of the LTTE controlled territory in the past few years has allowed Sri Lanka the opportunity to end this long war once and for all.

However, Sri Lankan Military advances have stalled on all fronts in the Wanni. While minor advances continue on the Mannar, Weli Oya, Vavuniya, and Jaffna fronts, these advances are measured in yards. Initially, general Fonseka did not want to capture territory. His objective was to kill as many LTTE fighters as possible to degrade their military force ahead of a major offensive in the months between rainy seasons. With over a month of good weather already lost since the Northern Offensive began, there has been a disappointing lack of progress into LTTE territory. This can be attributed to four key factors:

  • The No-man’s Land between Sri Lankan and LTTE trenches have been heavily mined, as have areas within LTTE defenses.
  • Public Opinion holds back a major offensive because many people fear the heavier upfront casualties that such an offensive would entail.
  • General Fonseka is acting too conservatively for various military reasons.
  • Economic considerations limit Sri Lanka’s capacity to wage war.

In this first of another two part series, the question of clearing the minefields that are largely responsible for the stalled Sri Lankan advance will be addressed

The large number of anti-personnel mines and a fewer number of anti-tank mines are a serious threat that impedes Sri Lankan advances. Several solutions exist to combat the minefields, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Defining and implementing a strategy to break through these minefields and any future minefields with relative speed and effectiveness should be one of the highest priorities of the military, if not the highest. Four main possible solutions, each with with unique benefits and drawbacks, will be discussed here.

The Sri Lankan military has used  low-tech methods for eliminating mines for decades.

The first option is the oldest solution to land mines in existence. Often referred to as the “Poke and Pray” method, this is the simple act of having an individual walk into an area thought to be mined and start poking the ground with a knife or stick. When they hit something metallic or hollow, they carefully dig it up and dispose of it, all the while praying that the mine doesn’t explode in their face. This method is very slow and would take too long to be a viable option for clearing a path into the Wanni. The use of hand held metal detectors is a derivative of this method.

A flail system was the first effective method of quickly clearing a safe path through a minefield.

A second option is to used a modified bulldozer equipped with swinging chain flails in place of the standard blade to “rake” the minefield. This method is much faster than the previous solution and workers are protected from the dangers of anti-personnel mines. It does suffer from two big setbacks though.

Terrain can greatly limit where a bulldozer can go. The thick jungles of the Wanni and any rocky terrain can limit the bulldozer’s effectiveness and even prevent access all together. This allows the LTTE to know well in advance where this system can punch a hole for a military advance, and they have had a long time to prepare strong defenses in these bottlenecks. An ideal solution would allow the military to break through the minefield at a greater number of locations, preventing the LTTE from catching soldiers in a vulnerable bottleneck. The whole of the Jaffna Front is testament to this problem.

The other issue is the bulldozer’s vulnerability to enemy fire. These slow lumbering targets are easy to hit with RPGs, mortars, rockets, and even artillery. While escorts can and must be assigned to each bulldozer, by the nature of their task, they must be exposed to enemy fire more than any other unit. This gives bulldozer units a high casualty probability and these prospects make this an undesirable solution, though they will probably be used anyway, where possible, due to necessity.

A third option that has been considered in the past but has proven to not be very reliable is the bombardment solution. The general idea is to saturate a minefield with artillery, mortar, rocket, and even cluster bomb air strikes to blast a hole through the mines. Despite it being the safest, since no one has to actually enter the minefield or brave hostile fire, four issues make this solution a dead end.

First, the imperfect nature of carpet bombing means that there is no way to be sure that a path is clear. Next, unexploded munitions add risk to soldiers on the march, replacing many of the mines that would have been destroyed. The last purely military problem is that the hours or days of bombardment would be a pretty obvious giveaway that the SLA plans to move through this particular chunk of real estate. This gives the LTTE plenty of time to prepare for Sri Lankan advances. On an economic note, the price for the munitions needed for such an attempt would be beyond Sri Lanka’s economic capacity, assuming they plan to fight the rest of the war after breaking through. Given that their ability to pay for the Northern offensive is already in doubt, this kind of spending is a get out of jail free card for the Tigers.

Using a chain of explosives to clear a path through a minefield has proven to be very effective in recent conflicts, including the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Another solution that has possibly the greatest potential for success is the use of explosive chains fired into a minefield to blast a hole path for soldiers to exploit. This method is used by most well to do military organizations, such as the Chinese and the NATO states. Gaps varying in size from enough for a single file line of infantry to wide gaps for tank columns can be made depending on the power of the explosives and can clear a path hundreds of yards long. These explosives use shock waves to detonate the mines as if they had been stepped on, and as a result of using shock waves that pass through the air and ground, the trees and stones that might limit a bulldozer are no longer sufficient protection for the mines. By firing a chain of explosives from a certain distance, the mine clearing units are more protected from enemy fire than a bulldozer would be, while the unit is never at risk from the mines they are seeking to clear. The effectiveness and superior safety of this design make this the preferable solution on a purely military level. The only serious drawback is the cost, not only in building the contraptions but in munitions that bulldozers don’t spend. Looking at cost in this way, though, is not the right way to go about assessing value. These costs must be compared, not just to the cost of modifying a bulldozer, but also to the price of replacing destroyed bulldozers and the cost in lives that more dangerous methods entail, as well as the cost in tactical military capabilities, since a bulldozer is limited in where it can advance, giving the LTTE clear indications of SLA routes of advance.

The basic conclusion is that bulldozers should be used in cleared areas where mines remain, and in areas where explosive chain units are not available, but that these explosive chains should be used as extensively as possible on the front lines.

Now an odd reaction seen from many Sri Lankans when it comes to military hardware is “who can we buy these from” and this is another example of this. It then opens up the debate on how Sri Lanka can afford to buy such units and this has become the killing stroke for many ideas for military reforms. This is a bizarre reaction. This is a dangerous mindset that should be discouraged. The LTTE are masters of innovation and the Sri Lankan military should seek to emulate them in this regard. Explosive chains are just packages of explosive material, chained together, thus the name. The rest of this engineering marvel is building an industrial grade blowgun with “bomb on a rope” tied to the end. If the blowgun method proves to be too problematic, the SLA could always just remove the warhead from a mid-range rocket from one of the MBRLs and use it. They might even use the MBRL itself and not even have to build a separate unit for mine clearing. Regardless, this is not science only attainable by world superpowers.

This is just one example of Sri Lanka’s bad habit of seeking to buy what they can make, but that’s a story for another time.

(History and War)

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