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Archive for August 16th, 2008

Latest UAV footage suggests that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are expanding their smaller runway in Puthukuduirippu, Mullaithivu. The exact reason for this is still unknown but the situation is being closely monitored as per MI warnings.

Intelligence reports from the Wanni indicate that as much as thousand more new tiger recruits are being given combat training in hidden jungle bases in Vishwamadu. LTTE has increased it’s forcible conscriptions as SLA troops inch closer to their major strongholds in Kilinochchi and Mullaithiv. Current position of one of the brigades of the army’s 58 division is now just 14km north east of Kilinochchi town and 18km south of LTTE stronghold of Pooneryn.

Meanwhile SLA’s 57 division is continuing their march towards Tunukkai. Small squads from the army’s special forces regiment are also active in this area. Forces are facing heavy resistance as the tiger try hard to save both Tunukkai and Mallavi from falling to the SLA. These areas are heavily mined and booby trapped hence the operations are continuing at a somewhat slower pace.

In other news defence.lk has posted video footage of a rescue mission conducted by the SLAF. The video shows a gunship and a transport helicopter with reinforcements rescue a group of Special Forces soldiers who were on a LRS mission deep inside LTTE held territory in Kilinochchi district. 2 SF members were lost and one of the bodies was captured (and later retrieved via ICRC) by the LTTE. The rest of the group who valiantly held off the tigers until help arrived, were saved in the daring rescue mission.

(Defence Net)

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All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. – Sun Tzu (544—496 BC), Chinese military strategist and author of The Art of War

At an unlikely hour between 23:00 and 03:00 in the coming days the LTTE launches a massive counterattack on six fronts thereby taking the rapidly advancing Sri Lankan forces by surprise. The Tigers crash six bomb-laden aircrafts onto the troops and several other suicide planes into high-level military and political targets in Colombo and its suburbs. Large bombers continue the assault.

A first wave of over 2,000 Black Tigers dressed in Army uniforms, blast their way through the troops and destroys tanks and other heavy equipment. They sabotage all communication links and then a second wave continues the surprise attack. This well coordinated counterattack results in the death of over 4,000 soldiers and serious casualties. Crude yet highly lethal chemical and biological weapons are also unleashed during this massacre which benefits from the prevailing weather conditions.

Tiger sleepers in all parts of the country launch suicide attacks killing and wounding hundreds of civilians and damaging critical infrastructure thereby bringing the war to the whole island as never before. Sri Lanka comes to a standstill.

This massive death toll, the resulting international pressure and arm twisting painfully reminds the President that there is no military solution and that the Tigers are still very much a force to be reckoned with. Dissenting voices in the south demoralize the troops and forces the government to halt operations and return to peace negotiations. The status quo continues and Sri Lanka is forever cursed with terrorism and it is once more a no win situation.

The above is one of many exaggerated worst case scenarios military planners may be considering especially since past experience demonstrates that the LTTE is much more creative in launching attacks and counterattacks. Many experts believe that the Tigers have staged a tactical retreat and are patiently waiting for the Sri Lankan forces to fall into its trap. According to a Tamil proverb “The tiger crouches only to pounce”. In dealing with the Tigers, think the unthinkable and always expect the unexpected.

LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran who is an internationally wanted fugitive and a master of deception and disguise may be currently pouring over similar or more devastating plans in his well fortified underground city which is connected by tens of kilometres of tunnels to escape routes. It is possible that as depicted in the 1967 James Bond movie `You Only Live Twice` the villain’s headquarters is hidden in a hollow volcano in an island? Is it in someplace where we are not searching? Is it is such an obvious place that we cannot see it?

The LTTE which was chased out of Jaffna in 1995, had thirteen years to re-establish itself in its current headquarters in Kilinochchi and this may not be so easily overrun. Will LTTE fighter’s surface from tunnels from behind the Sri Lankan Army? Prabakaran is well aware that in conflict, straightforward actions generally lead to engagement while surprising actions generally lead to victory. Beware of the wounded Tiger. In this final existential battle beware of 15,000 wounded Tiger cubs.

A recent BBC analysis states that “However, despite recent losses the Tamil Tigers still hold considerable fighting ability to launch surprise counter attacks. Contrary to some military claims, their core fighting formations are said to be still intact and they can easily adapt themselves to protracted guerrilla warfare”.

More that one and a half years after the first deadly demonstration by the Air Tigers (Vaan Puligal) and five attacks later including the very damaging one on the Airbase in Anuradhapura using Czech-built Zlin Z143’s, the Sri Lanka authorities have neither been able to successfully engage nor locate and destroy the LTTE’s air capability and therefore finds itself at a distinct disadvantage. Unless the Vaan Puligal is neutralized very soon the advancing ground troops will be as grave risk. Only if this objective is achieved will the LTTE return to the ranks of a “normal” terrorist group.

Regrettably there is no discussion in the Sri Lankan media nor statements by political and military leaders about the Air Tigers and once again while we are blissfully oblivious it may strike again and this time with unprecedented ferocity. The LTTE has not lost its ability to mystify, mislead, and surprise its adversaries, on the contrary it may have do just this to boost its morale and delay further advances by the forces into its bastion.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has stated that the forces are engaged in “humanitarian operations” to free the Tamils from the clutches of the Tigers who control and area of about 5,000 square kilometres. In order to do so they will need the support and good will of the war affected people. In order to obtain this the forces and the government administrators at every level will have to win their hearts and minds.

How can this objective be achieved? According to a soon to be published U.S. counterinsurgency manual “…The principles of counterinsurgency are diverse, but they could be summed up as methods of warfare used to draw a civilian population’s political and personal allegiance away from a guerrilla force. A counterinsurgent force seeks to coordinate military and civilian methods to offer both material and ideological incentives to a population so it will support a government and reject that government’s enemies…”.

This will be an uphill battle given the more that two decade old experience of the local Tamil population with the forces. How well equipped are the forces to communicate with the Tamil civilians caught up in the crossfire? Are they being persuaded that this is a war for peace and without the severe weakening or elimination of the LTTE there can be no peace? Are they confident that once the LTTE is gone their grievances will be addressed, their rights and property, and livelihoods rebuilt?

Are the Tamils of the North convinced that the newly liberated East is on the path to democracy and prosperity, with dignity and human rights respected? Are incentives being given to LTTE cadres to surrender? If Prabakaran is captured alive will he be tried in Sri Lanka or extradited to India where he may be freed after a few years to wage war on Sri Lanka once again? Will he live to fight another day and what about his notorious son, Charles Anthony? Will he continue the carnage?

While there is no victory for Prabhakaran unless he becomes the undisputed sovereign of the state of Eelam and this is no longer a realistic objective, however, since terrorism is also about perceived reality, he may wish to pull off one final surprising and shocking attack. At this late stage of his life and career he would be concerned about his legacy and of how to leave a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of the Tamils and all others concerned.

If the above mentioned Tiger counterattack were to play out will the military and political leadership take responsibility as this would be a stark failure of their imagination. Since we have to always expect the unexpected from the Tigers, are steps being taken to prevent if not mitigate such a catastrophe?

Reports emanating from Colombo-based international news agencies include a paragraph of this nature: “Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and underreport their own. Independent verification of the fighting is not possible because journalists are barred from the war zone”.

As the noted linguist, philosopher and political activist Professor Noam Chomsky famously said prior to the first Gulf War in 1991“In a democratic society, the theory is that if the political leadership is committed to war, they present reasons. The role of the media at that point is to present the relevant background, …and to offer a forum of debate. That never happened. 99.9% of the discussion excluded the option of a peaceful settlement”.

We owe it to our valiant soldiers-the selfless sons of Mother Lanka, their families as well as the past and present victims of LTTE terrorism, that all has been done to avert the above-mentioned disaster as this writer worries that since the government has taken total control of the news flow from the battlefront and muzzled and intimidated the press, the main casualty has been the truth. The government has created expectations of a swift and clean victory in the hearts and minds of the war weary public. Are we sleepwalking into a nightmare?

The government has be very cautious and pay heed to the stark warning by international terrorism expert Professor Paul Wilkinson who reminded the world in the early 1990s that “Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you”. May a dignified peace dawn on Sri Lanka shortly.

(Asian Tribune)

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The Sri Lanka Navy has constructed a memorial for the Indian Peace Keeping Force personnel who were killed during operations in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 90. The memorial in Colombo is on the Jana Kala Kendraya premises near the parliament complex.
Many expected Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to open the memorial when he visited Colombo during the SAARC summit two weeks ago. However, the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry claimed the unveiling of the war memorial was not in the Indian’s Prime Minister’s schedule.

In all 1225 Indian soldiers lost their lives in IPKF operations. And no memorial exists for them even in India. Here is Sri Lankan Navy saying ‘thank you to them.’ According to the Sunday Times, Colombo, the Indian High Commission spokesman Dinker Astana declined to comment on the matter. This makes me have second thoughts on why the opening ceremony was not scheduled during the visit. Was the Indian Prime Minister’s Colombo schedule so heavy that he could not spare a little time to open the memorial? Or was it to pander to coalition politicians of Tamil Nadu politicians who made no secret of their sympathies for the LTTE even when their own army was fighting in Sri Lanka? Will somebody who cares about the dead soldiers bother to answer?

(Hariharan’s Intelligence blog)

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The Union’s Anaconda Plan would be executed far differently than its designer, General Winfield Scott, had planned. However, the strategy did ultimately choke the life out of the South by denying her the supplies needed to wage war.

Constricting and cutting the enemy’s supply lines has been a fundamental of military strategy throughout history. A siege or blockade can break what would otherwise be an unshakable armed force or defended location. The effectiveness of a siege or blockade depends on the level of commitment by the aggressor to such a strategy. The more resources and manpower are committed to a strategy of constriction, the more isolated a target becomes, allowing an army to capture prizes that would have been impossible to take by more direct means, often at a fraction of the cost.

Siege and blockade strategies are critically important in the Sri Lankan Civil War. The most important battles of the war have been won or lost by the ability of one side to cut off the other’s supply lines. The blockade of enemy waters is especially critical in this conflict because Sri Lanka is an island. The LTTE was able to capture the previously unbreakable Elephant Pass Base by amphibiously landing troops North of Elephant Pass, cutting the citadel off from the city of Jaffna. The crushing Sri Lankan defeat at Mullativu can also be at least partially attributed to the LTTE’s ability to cut off Sri Lankan garrison troops and a rescue task force by land and by sea.

By contrast, the LTTE was able to withdrawal in good order after the 1995 capture of Jaffna, despite the fact that the Sri Lankan Army had, at one point before the operation, virtually surrounded the peninsula. The LTTE’s ability to punch a hole in the ring of Sri Lankan positions surrounding Jaffna at the Battle of Pooneryn two years eariler and the inability of the Sri Lankan Navy to create an area of naval supremacy around Jaffna prevented this major LTTE defeat from becoming a route.

In the present Wanni Offensive, the Sri Lankan Army has used the threat of siege as a means of forcing the LTTE to abandon fortified positions and even entire towns. Adampan and the famous Madhu church are textbook worthy examples of this painfully slow, but difficult to counter, tactical deployment. With the LTTE slowly but surely running out of territory to retreat to, this tactic and the outcome it creates is likely to change in the coming months.

More important than tactical sieges is the overall strategic siege of the Wanni. In this island conflict the ability of the Sri Lankan military to establish and maintain a strategic blockade will ensure the destruction of the LTTE as a conventional fighting force. Creating an effective blockade of LTTE territory has eluded Sri Lanka for most of the war, but in the last two years the military has matured their efforts to trap and isolate the LTTE. Since 2006, a strategy has been developed to form Sri Lanka’s version of the famous Anaconda Plan. This plan uses three forms of blockade to slowly constrict the LTTE and has already had a strategic impact. From munitions rationing, to a general unwillingness to launch a counter offensive, a reduced flow of supplies into the Wanni has visibly changed the way the LTTE goes to war.

The three methods being used to blockade the Wanni are fairly simple in concept and most people could easily recognize a good example of each method if they saw one. The first is the use of commerce raiders. The German U-boats in the world wars and the Confederate raiders during the American Civil War are probably the most successful examples of this strategy. Despite its uncomplicated nature, few nations can actually execute a commerce raiding campaign because of the need for a “blue water navy.” These operations generally occur far from any coastline and Sri Lanka’s ability to not only try their hand at commerce raiding, but also succeed in totally destroying the LTTE’s long range blockade running fleet has surprised and impressed the whole world. It should be noted though that commerce-raiding campaigns almost never win wars. They hurt the enemy, force them to change their own shipping strategies, and certainly put a great deal of pressure on the defensive party, but to win a war, shipping must be totally denied, not just harassed. After all, the two examples above were used by nations that lost the wars they fought.

This map made in October of 2007 shows how far the Sri Lankan Navy had to sail from the island to intercept the LTTE blockade-runners.

The second method of blockade is the traditional coastal blockade where a fleet patrols an enemy’s coastline to intercept shipping as it nears its destination or as it first departs for a mission abroad. The Sri Lankan Navy has had to make these “brown water navy” operations a priority now that the LTTE has lost its entire fleet of larger, long-range blockade-runners. Gunboat patrols have occasionally intercepted LTTE supply ships, but the Sri Lankan navy suffers, not only from traditional problems associated with a coastal blockade, but also with challenges unique to the Sri Lankan conflict.

It is impossible to guard all avenues of approach to the Wanni all the time and so it is no surprise that small LTTE supply ships succeed in making the trip from Tamil Nadu to the Wanni fairly often. What further limits the Sri Lankan Navy’s ability to cut the LTTE’s supply lines is the large fishing fleets that work in the blockade zone. These large fleets are impossible to police and the LTTE uses these fleets to cover their blockade running activities. Unfortunately, without inflicting great hardship on the civilians in LTTE territory and probably violating the sovereignty of India, there is no way of fixing this problem by sea power alone.

This brings us to the final and most effective means of blockading a hostile region: the use of ground forces to occupy coastal territory. Be it by capturing ports or simply threatening them with capture, the presence of an opposing army can stifle shipping in a region better than any other means. Sri Lanka’s liberation of almost the entire East coast of the island in 2006 is the largest act of coastal denial of the war and without a doubt it has constricted LTTE resupply efforts. However, this area is more geographically isolated than the Wanni so the prime LTTE shipping routes and destinations remained in rebel hands. In just the past month though, the Sri Lankan Army has gone from a crawling advance in the island’s interior, to a decisive advance along the coast of the Mannar District.

Mannar Map

In 17 days, the 58th Division, supported by Commando teams, captured 22 kilometers of coastal territory, crossed three medium sized rivers, and captured over half a dozen coastal towns, some of which were key rebel military bases. From the capture of Vidattaltivu near the mouth of the Nay River on July 16th, the 58th has advanced North a distance that would have taken many months at the rate of advance the Mannar Front has previously been accustomed to. The Parangi and Pali Rivers have both been crossed and their mouths secured, while Komputukki, Iluppaikkaddavai, Mundampiddi, and finally Vellankulam and the nearby harbor village of Thekampuddi were captured in just two and a half weeks. The 58th is continuing its Northward advance to this day, but their progress has again slowed, making Vellankulam the end point for this phase of the campaign. The next phase has already taken the town of Mulankavil and is targeting the major LTTE naval base at Nachchikuda, with an ultimate goal of capturing Pooneryn.

This is exactly the kind of decisive coastal advance that has been advocated in previous posts on this site. In addition to other supplies and pieces of equipment, this drive has cost the LTTE dozens of ships. Some were captured and others were destroyed as they fled. Now not only are there fewer entry points for supplies from abroad, but there are fewer rebel warships to support resupply operations.

The LTTE had three options that have been mentioned multiple times before, when this kind of push was nothing more than a concept. They could stand and fight a losing battle, retreat only to counterattack and suffer a rain of fire from MBRLs, or they could cut their losses and abandon a strategically vital region. They have done the last and are now attempting more delaying tactics along what remains of their Western coastline.

Despite their refusal to put up a major fight for this important area, this advance is a strategic victory that deserves greater recognition than the defeat of the LTTE counterattack at Tunukkai, by far. It is unfortunate that public attention has been more focused on what was little more than a skirmish. Constricting the LTTE’s ability to resupply their forces and cutting the Vellankulam-Mallavi road that served to transport those supplies from the coast to Kilinochchi District has long-term implications for the Wanni Campaign. The LTTE will recover from the loss of a hundred fighters without too much trouble since it is a force with thousands of troops and tens of thousands of potential soldiers in the population it controls. They will not recover nearly so easily from the loss of strategic harbors and supply roads. The entire LTTE will feel these losses, especially since the Wanni has almost no weapons production capacity, where only a single unit would feel the loss of a soldier, and this hurt will last and intensify for as long as Sri Lankan soldiers occupy these towns.

(History and War)

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