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Archive for July 12th, 2008

About 30 per cent of people conscripted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the current phase of the Sri Lankan war, have died, says a respected Tamil human rights watchdog. Most of them are boys and girls under 17.

The University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna (UTHR-J) in its latest report, quotes a person from a village in South Wanni to say that the 200 families there have lost 25 conscripts in the recent round of hostilities.

Since mid-2006, the LTTE has totally lost 5,000 cadres in the battles in Wanni, and these have mostly been conscripts, the report says.

“LTTE press gangs frequently invade homes before dawn, carrying details about the residents, looking for those who have come of conscription age. A boy or a girl reaching the age of 17 and failing to report to the LTTE, could expect the gangs to turn up within two or three days. Others seen to be suitable are caught on the roads,” says the report.

In one case, a village headman, Pasupathy, was asked for his daughters. He negotiated with the LTTE to take him and spare his two girls. But six months later, the LTTE barged in to his house and took one of the girls.

The new conscripts, who hope against hope that they can escape, are put through brainwashing. But given the “political reality of a detested government,” (thanks to the daily aerial bombings and artillery shelling), most conscripts are turned around, the rights group notes.

The LTTE knows that the new conscripts are the most likely to escape. And so, they are told: “You are here to die for the nation. If you don’t die today, you may die tomorrow. So why not die now?”

“They are encouraged to volunteer for risky operations — many of those dying on the front lines are the new conscripts. Those who join voluntarily are now exceptional,” the report asserts.

In return for the sacrifice of children, and for putting up with the daily aerial bombardment, the LTTE gives the people of Wanni nothing.

It provides no services, only extorts, UTHR says. Every business has been taken over by the Tigers, and even petty commercial transactions are taxed meticulously. House owners, whose abodes had been taken away, are charged for “fictitious improvements”.

The LTTE’s diktats are administered by the haughty Poruppaalar (person in-charge) who lives in a luxurious house. According to UTHR-J, the people “curse” the “plundering” Poruppaalars, but strangely, they don’t blame the Supremo, Prabhakaran.

“The typical remark is: If only the leader knows what the others do in his name, he will not permit it.”

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By Patali Champika Ranawaka,

Minister of Environment and Natural Resources

Sri Lankan Armed Forces have launched a multi prong military operation in Vanni. Few months ago some military analysts expressed the view at media briefings that although Sri Lankan forces had engaged in a prolonged battle with the LTTE in Madu area, for a period over 8 months, they will not be able to advance any further due to fierce resistance from LTTE. Thereafter, these military gurus posed the question as to whether it could be possible for the forces to sustain the offensive against the LTTE.

In the meantime, LTTE reiterated that the present offensive against them to recapture Vanni will suffer a similar fate experienced during the Jayasikuru operation, “unceasing waves” in 1997. Our military leaders explaining their current war strategy to the media said that as in 1997 Jayasikuru operation, their exercise was not necessarily to go for terrains, but to inflict maximum number of deaths and damage to the enemy. However, some media reports have tried to show the world that our military was involved in a statistical war – game, instead of trying to defeat the LTTE decisively.

However, during the last few weeks it showed the world that Sri Lankan forces slowly but surely are recapturing strategic areas of Vanni. Almost all the populated areas of the Mannar district from Silavathura to Periyamadhu are being liberated. Strategic areas from Nadunkanni to Alampeal in Mulathive district are also being liberated. Predicted “unceasing Waves” of LTTE, to counter the offensive of the army have not yet surfaced. Instead of “unceasing waves”, agitation against human right- s violation, strikes against rising cost of living, acts of sabotage on economic and political fronts, image tarnishing, isolation tactics in international forum, are being surfaced.  Tamil separatist racists are now forced to accept the reality that they have already lost their conventional war capacity and therefore they need foreign intervention.

Similar “Hit and Bleed” war strategy was adopted in Vanni region. This time our forces ignored the A – 09 route where LTTE was waiting for us, and instead they have chosen Jungle routes to meet heavily fortified bunker lines and small camps of the enemy. Continuous sweating, bleeding and overall suffering caused LTTE to retreat. Now the entire Vanni region is encircled, penetrated and LTTE base camps and two major base complexes, Mallavi and Mulaithivu are under siege. Under these circumstances we should remember that operation Jayasikuru (1997 – 99) which aimed to capture the A – 9 road using conventional war strategy had been a disaster. Not only did we lose 12,000 valuable young lives and our base complexes at strategic fronts like Mulaitivu, Kilinochchi and Elephant – pass, but also it clearly demoralized the whole nation while boosting the conventional fighting capacity and morale of the LTTE terrorists.

What went wrong with the predictions of the so-called military analysts and gurus to the effect that LTTE could not be defeated and this war is un-winnable?

One reason is that almost all the so-called military analysts based their theory on the belief that LTTE was a result of a Tamil oppression and due to Prabhakaran’s superior war strategies, tactics, mobility and fluidity, LTTE could not be defeated, But in actual fact Sri Lankan Tamils were not subjected to any national operation. They were given privileged status by Dutch and British colonists and Tamil elite wanted to maintain the status quo even after independence in 1948. LTTE military machine was not organically evolved through the Tamil society. Instead it had been created to wage a proxy war (1983-90) against Sri Lanka’s foreign policy viz a viz India and later supported by a few western nations with vested interest. Therefore, deconstructing the artificially inflated military capability of the LTTE by way of determined and cohesive military campaign is always a possibility.

Second reason is that these military gurus naturally tend to underestimate the capacity, fluidity and determination of the Sri Lankan armed forces. In 1987-89 during JVP’s insurrection period same predictions like unwinnable war, no military solution  were being put forward. After realizing the non effectiveness of military operation against JVP – DJV combine, the then military leaders changed the strategy. They used same tactics (hit and run) to tackle the JVP. Entire JVP military strategy was “mirrored” upon them. Finally they (JVP) suffered, bled, betrayed and vanquished.

Ability to change in “war” is very important. History of war revealed that those who possess more fluidity more mobility, more adaptability would always get the upper hand and superiority. It is a known fact that Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was the greatest war strategist of modernization era. However, during early times, most of the European modern sophisticated generals of Austria, England, Italy and Russia believed that Napoleon was rash and aggressive and if he ever faced modern sophisticated army like partisans he could be easily defeated. While Prussians were waiting for a conventional battle Napoleon used unconventional strategies and tactics to defeat the application of timeless principles of Frederick the Great’s oblique order of battle. Few centuries old German feudal pre modern war principles were crumbled. If we analyze the war heroes from Dutugemunu, Vijayabahu to Vimaladarmasuriya, their success had been on their ability to change, and not allowing static lines of defence. They made everything fluid and mobile against the mighty invaders to protect our country. It should also be noted that great war heroes like Alexander (Great – Greece) Chandra Guptha – India, Gengis Khan – Mongolia, Negven Giap of Vietnam, always changed the existing principles and changed the cause of history. So, while LTTE has been preparing for a conventional battle, our forces waged unconventional war, making everything fluid and mobile. Roles have been changed and LTTE is being effectively mirrored.

Third reason is that our forces are now motivated and have a cause. Without having any cause, no Army could wage a war effectively. With a national cause to protect the motherland and beloved Nation, morale of our forces is being greatly enhanced and they are encouraged to think less about themselves and more about the nation. Great war hero of modern Italy Garibaldi once said that one soldier with the sense of a cause is worth more than ten paid soldiers without any motivation or group feeling. Our soldiers clearly showed the world that LTTE’s so-called cynide determination could be simply deflated and they too could be surrendered. The important thing is that our soldiers showed to the world that LTTE is not a monolithic organization. They could be disoriented, disarranged, divided and destroyed. And the so-called Vanni iron curtain could be infiltrated and almost all the top leaders could be targeted. For the first time in the LTTE’s history their top leaders are haunted by death psychosis.

Fourth reason is the leadership. Once upon a time some of our commanders proudly claimed that they did not fire a single bullet in the battle front. Now from the top to the bottom they are battle hardened in body and mind. Their motto is not “go ahead” (Pallayalla) but came on (varella)

However, we should remember one thing. Although our forces clearly demonstrated that they could militarily defeat the LTTE, it has not yet been fully achieved. Major battles of Vanni are yet to come. So we should focus on the following:

  • Prevent International military or political intervention

    All the issues regarding Human Rights violations, press freedom and various other democratic changes are to attract international intervention to stop the war against terrorism. Although the battle against LTTE is an unconventional one, it is the duty of the government to protect democratic norms of the non violent political opposition. The most important thing is to bypass the Indian Loksabha election which could be used as a political tool by the LTTE cohorts in Tamil Nadu. It should also be noted that some foreign countries employed EHMS (Economic hitmen) and ‘Jackals’ to manipulate total instability in Sri Lanka.

  • Protect political stabilityInternational and Palace conspiracies, strikes, political agitations aimed to destabilize the government at this critical juncture should be exposed and defeated. Without strong political stability no battle could be won.
  • Mobilize civil societyThe fallback strategies of the LTTE may be aimed at spreading their cadres all over the island and to kill civilians and political figures as many as possible. Now they are engaged in a process of prolonged guerilla warfare with the positioning of their cadres as small sleeping cells. So, constant mobilization process among civilians must be continued.
  • Sustain economic prosperityWith the deepening food and oil crises, sustenance of the economic growth needed cohesive and patriotic management of our economy. Government spending on mega projects should be prioritized and debt repayment should be rescheduled, Sustainable energy policy should be adopted. Government too should illustrate to the poor public who are economically suffering their willingness to sacrifice.
  • Do not divide the nationAt this critical juncture, no political solution aiming to devolve more powers to Federal or other means should be allowed. Process should be demilitarization, democratization and development. Before prescribing any political solution, demilitarization process should be completed. We should not forget that Chandrika Bandaranaike’s Federal package divided the nation and seriously hampered the battle against terrorism (1995-2000). This mistake should not be repeated and unity of the Nation and the support of the national movement is the key to victory.

(Daily Mirror)

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HOW IT ALL BEGAN:

Friday 7th of January 1966. The 1st Battalion of the 28th Infantry, itself part of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Inf Div – “The Big Red One”- was engaged in operation “Crimp”. The first search and destroy sweep into the VC held area’s Northwest of Saigon. Operation “Crimp” was intended to be a massive strike against the VC in South Vietnam; in and around the Ho Bo woods just west of the Iron triangle.

Even as the men from the 1st Batt 28th Inf touched down on LZ (landing zone) “Jack” they could see their comrades in the 1st Batt 16th Inf were already in trouble and engaging the enemy in small fire fights. The men quickly de-assed their helicopters and moved into the nearby tree line hoping to find, engage, and destroy the VC that had been harassing the soldiers of the 16th Inf.

Just inside the tree line at the edge of a rubber plantation, the men of the 28th discovered a large trench – but no enemy. Where had they gone? How could the VC who had been firing at the men of the 16th Inf just disappear apparently into thin air? As the Batt moved forward it began to find large caches of rice, and enough food to feed a Regiment. As the operation continued, over the next couple of days foxholes, trenches, and caves were discovered. Still no enemy were being engaged in running fire fights, or surrendering, and all the time US casualties were mounting through sustained enemy sniper fire.

By the 10th of January the 28th had reached the banks of the Saigon river. So far during the 3 days of the operation only a couple of brief glimpses of the enemy had been seen. Late in the afternoon of the 10th word came through via the radio that elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Aussies to the north had made contact with the VC and – found tunnels.

The next day the 11th of January the 28th began to retrace it’s foot steps. It had finally dawned on the Battalion Commander LTC Robert Haldane what had happened – they had literally walked right over the VC! Searches were begun for the tunnel entrances but nothing much was discovered. By now hot and tired, and waiting for further instructions some of the GIs began to sit down for a quick rest.

Sergeant Stewart Green did the same, but only momentarily, as he suddenly leap to his feet cursing that something had bitten him on the ass. Thinking he’d been stung by a scorpion, or worse, bitten by a snake, Green searched through the layer of dead leaves that covered the area looking for the creature that bitten him. Only to discover it was a nail sticking up from the ground. Upon further careful inspection it was discovered that the nail was part of a small wooden trap door – Haldane’s men had found their first tunnel!

THE TUNNEL SYSTEM:

The Communist guerrillas were avid tunnel builders. Faced with enemies who employed mobile forces and aircraft, they had gone underground for safety during the war against the French. By the time that U.S. combat units arrived in South Vietnam in 1965, large areas, notably to the north of Saigon, were riddled with hundreds of miles of underground passages leading to dormitories, hospitals, schools, and supply dumps. Entrances were carefully concealed, sometimes below the water level of a river or stream, and passages were boobytrapped or sealed off with hidden trapdoors to avoid penetration. Life inside the tunnels was never pleasant–the air was constantly stale, food rotted quickly in the humid atmosphere, and disease was rife–but they made excellent guerrilla hideouts and centers for revolutionary work.

Originally the tunnels were started during the war against the French, but which were rapidly expanded upon when the American’s arrived. They were constructed by volunteer village labourers using simple hoe’s and baskets. The Laterite clay in which the tunnels were dug has a dull reddish appearance and dries rock hard during the dry season. During the wet season it is very soft and much easier to work. Because of the very nature of the Laterite clay’s ability to dry rock hard it made a very good (if a somewhat difficult substance to work) soil in which to carve out a tunnel.

The passages themselves were not cut in dead straight lines, rather they were made with corners that had between a 60 – degree and a 120 – degree angle to them. In other words the corners were constructed with no less than a 60 – degree angle and no more than a 120 – degree angle. This made shooting in a straight line impossible, and helped to deflect explosive blasts from grenades that might be thrown down.

The tunnel systems (where the water table permitted) had several levels, each level was separated by a watertight trap door which would seal the rest of the system against gas, flooding, etc. The trap doors themselves were virtually undetectable and could fool a person into believing that the tunnel finished in a dead end, when in reality it led into a huge system of other passages. These passages would in turn lead to underground ammo dumps, kitchens, air raid shelters, hospitals, store rooms, workshops, latrines, and even theatres for the performances of political plays.

All the tunnel systems had smaller thin (drain pipe sized) ventilation shafts leading from the surface down to the 1st level. These vents were constructed with an oblique angle so as to prevent the monsoon rains flooding the system. Vents were placed so as to face east and the light of a new day, whilst others were placed toward the wind so as to provide a constant cooling draught. Despite these efforts the tunnels were still hot, dark, and claustrophobic, even at the best of times.

The VC also dragged the bodies of their dead comrades underground in order to inter them in temporary graves when it became impossible to bury them above ground due to the presence of American/Australian troops. Once they had been dragged underground they were buried in the foetus position in the tunnel walls and covered with a thin layer of clay.

A SPECIAL BREED OF MAN:

U.S. forces were not aware of the tunnels at first. Indeed, when elements of the 25th Infantry Division arrived at Cu Chi in 1966, they constructed a base on top of one of the more elaborate complexes. However, it did not take long to discover the tunnels. At first, the response was to fill them with CS gas to flush the VC out, then to blow them up. But the intelligence value of materials inside the complexes soon persuaded U.S. commanders to send soldiers into them to recover bodies or documents and take on the VC face to face. These soldiers known as “tunnel rats,” needed a special kind of courage to enter a dark, narrow, foul-smelling and claustrophobic passage, not knowing where the enemy was or what he would do, was something only a few men could even contemplate.

Originally called “Tunnel Runners” by the 25th Inf Div, and “Ferrets” by the Australian Army, the term “Tunnel Rat” soon became their official accepted name. The US Army soon realized that trying to destroy the tunnels was a short-sighted policy that wasn’t going to work. Moreover this was also a loss as the underground networks could yield vital intelligence on the VC in the form of plans and documents.

A chemical officer of the 1st Inf Div, Capt Herbert Thornton a Southerner, was charged with setting up the first tunnel team.

The kind of man that Thornton sought for his tunnel team had to be a special breed. He had to have an even temperament, an inquisitive mind, a lot of common sense (in order to know what to touch and what not to), and to be exceptionally brave.

All of Thornton’s men were volunteers, most (not all) were small men of slight build who could squeeze through the tight trap doors and crawl along the narrow passages with relative ease.

* No dead tunnel rats were left in a tunnel, dead or wounded they were all dragged out with commo wire, ropes, or by a comrade using a fireman’s crawl.

It was a very stressful, nerve racking job, pushing the rat’s mental state to its limits. Crawling through narrow, pitch black tunnels, sometimes for hours looking for a heavily armed enemy who would if he got the drop on you not hesitate to kill you. Occasionally under the strain a mans nerves would break and he’d be dragged from the tunnel screaming and crying. Once this happened he would never be allowed down a tunnel again.

If going down into a tunnel posed a threat, then coming up again could be just as dangerous. Upon emerging from a tunnel a rat would often whistle “Dixie” just to let the troops on the surface know he was on their side. A little guy stripped to the waist and covered in dirt could easily be mistaken (particularly if he was oriental looking) for a VC and shot by his own side.

TRAPS AND CREEPY CRAWLIES:

Going down into a tunnel system was a very risky business fraught with danger. Usually armed only with a pistol or a knife and a flashlight. The tunnel rat would descend into a pitch black, claustrophobic, dank hell, to play a deadly game of hide and seek with the enemy. Carefully probing the floor, sides and roofs of the tunnels became second nature to the tunnel rat as he gently inched and probed his way along. Feeling for wires or tree roots that didn’t quite feel right, knowing that anyone of them could detonate a booby trap and blow him to smithereens.

Tunnel entrances were sometimes mined or covered by concealed firing positions. On other occasions an entrance would drop into a punji stake pit which would be covered by two rifle men, one either side. Another way in which the unsuspecting tunnel rat could meet his death was by garrotting him or cutting his throat as he came up through a connecting trapdoor. Besides the booby traps the tunnels also held other nasty surprises. Living along side the VC was a whole plethora of animals which had also made their homes in the dark confines of the tunnels. Bats (the cave dwelling nectar eating bat and the black bearded tomb bat) would use the tunnels as a roosting ground during the daylight hours.

A tunnel rat crawling through a tight tunnel would wake them from their rest causing them to fly right at him, getting tangled in his hair and running and crawling all over him. Snakes were also encountered underground. Two of the most deadly being the bamboo viper and the Krait. Sometimes the VC would deliberately tether a snake in a tunnel to use it as a sort of natural booby trap.

Scorpions were also used as booby traps, the VC would take boxes of them into the tunnels. The box would be rigged with a trip wire, the tunnel rat tripped the wire and the scorpions would fall on him stinging him in the process. Being stripped to the waist and slowly crawling along on their stomachs also exposed the rats to bites from fire ants that inhabited the underground labyrinths. Other nasties to be encountered in the tunnels were real rats, and spiders like the Giant Crab Spider. Sometimes whole chambers were crawling with a thick black mass of tiny spiders the size of a thumb nail, giving the illusion that the walls were moving!

TOOLS OF THEIR TRADE:

It was soon discovered early on that to fight in the tunnels the tunnel rat had to do away with most of the infantry mans basic load. In fact the total lack of equipment carried by a rat was a distinct advantage, which greatly increased his chances of survival. The basic tools of the tunnel rat were the knife, the pistol, and a flashlight.

TOOLS OF THEIR TRADE:

It was soon discovered early on that to fight in the tunnels the tunnel rat had to do away with most of the infantry mans basic load. In fact the total lack of equipment carried by a rat was a distinct advantage, which greatly increased his chances of survival. The basic tools of the tunnel rat were the knife, the pistol, and a flashlight.

The pistols that were carried by the tunnel rats were varied, the .38 Smith and Wesson was a favourite. Other tunnel rats procured their own personal firearms to suit their own needs. One of these was Master Sgt Flo Rivera who acquired and used a 9mm German Luger. The one weapon everyone agreed about was the Colt .45. It was too big, with a silencer it was to cumbersome and when it was fired underground without a silencer its bark was deafening. Making it impossible to hear the enemy.

One of the tunnel rats golden rules was you never fired more than 3 shots underground without reloading, as the VC would know you were out of ammo.

The flashlight was the standard Army issue type and every rat carried one. These were carried in a way so as not to make themselves a nicely illuminated target. If the bulb in the flashlight went it had to be changed. This was practiced so it could be done in pitch darkness by touch alone, and done quickly, lying prone, squatting, or kneeling down.

Bunker Bomb.

These were made from an ammo can which had a hole drilled in one end. A phosphorus grenade was then taken and unscrewed, the main body of the grenade was placed inside the can. The grenade lever is straightened and fuse is then passed through the drilled hole and screwed back onto the body. Finally the can is filled with napalm or thickened fuel.

With their patch with it’s nonsense Latin motto “Non gratum anus rodentum – Not worth a rats ass” the tunnel rats were among the bravest in Vietnam, doing a job that not many others could, or would care to do.

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