Anuruddha will remain as Deputy Defence Minister15th October 2000
Plus| Business| Sports|
Sports Plus| Mirror Magazine
the crack of dawn on polls day, artillery rained in the Jaffna town and
Many fell near the Jaffna Kachcheri and Hindu College. One fell near the ICRC office and others near the Security Forces Headquarters in Jaffna.
The LTTE appeared to take a break from their latest offensive, "Operation Oyatha Alaikal 4," launched on September 26. The artillery barrage that continued for several hours was a different kind of operation, one to disrupt the elections. Troops held to their positions and the polls did take place.
With that exception, there was relative calm in the battlefields of the north. If the security forces conducted four different operations beginning a day ahead of Nomination Day (September 4), they had all come to a close days ahead of the Parliamentary general elections. The operations in question were two phases of "Operation Rivikirana" and two phases of "Operation Kiniheera", all of which led to re-capture of some 22 square kilometres of territory that fell into LTTE hands in April, this year.
As reported in these columns last week, LTTE's "Operation Oyatha Alaikal 4" (Ceaseless Waves) forced troops to fall back some two and half kilometres to the rear from their main defences at the main entrance to the Jaffna peninsula. This was the defence line from Kilali on the west through Eluthumaduval and Nagar Kovil on the east, a distance of over 12 kilometres. That led to the loss of over 30 square kilometres of territory.
If one is to talk of territorial gains and losses, the security forces regained 22 square kilometres and lost 30 square kilometres. In other words there was a territorial loss of eight square kilometres at the end of the four operations. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. For the security forces, the first operation in the New Millennium, "Operation Rivikirana," led to over 250 soldiers being killed and more than a 1,000 wounded. For the LTTE, a massive attack at Nagar Kovil on the eve of the polls turned out to be a disaster. Army officials claimed they killed over 150 guerrillas. The figure could not be independently verified since media visits to battle areas are banned except on conducted tours. Other sources in Colombo, however, said at least 80 Tiger cadres were killed in the attack.
With the polls now over, that remains the scenario in the northern battlefront. Needless to say the security forces, now more equipped with modern equipment, will continue their thrust to oust Tiger guerrillas from both the Jaffna peninsula and Elephant Pass. The fact that it remains their priority is no secret. For the LTTE, the weeks ahead are equally important. Five weeks from now, their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, is due to make his annual birthday "policy statement."
In his "policy statement" last year, Prabhakaran accused President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's rule as a "worst form of tyranny" ever suffered by the Tamils. Within four weeks of making these remarks, one of his suicide cadres made an attempt on the life of President Kumaratunga, when she was winding up the People's Alliance election rally at the Colombo Town Hall grounds on December 20, last year. She escaped miraculously but lost her sight in one eye.
Days ahead of the Parliamentary general elections, President Kumaratunga, vowed that the LTTE would be militarily weakened. She ruled out categorically any talks and said the ongoing military campaign would continue. Needless to say that continues to make both President Kumaratunga and her Government leaders high profile targets for the LTTE. Besides this, it is only logical that the LTTE plans to escalate their own campaign against the security forces and targets outside the troubled north and east would be high on their agenda. The acceleration of this process in view of the upcoming "Martyr's Week" is a strong possibility.
If the polls week saw security forces top brass taking a breather from focusing on offensive operations, they were yet pre-occupied. With some of the sectors of the City being handled by each arm of the security forces, they were on the ready to move in their men to supplement Police strength for security, before and after the polls. For the first time, the Army posted senior officials to be present at the IGP's Command Room at the high security Police Communications Centre at Mirihana.
This centre is the hub of all Police radio communications. Reports of violent incidents reached the appropriate authorities through this network. The task of the Army men was to convey to their higher command news of the incidents and whether there was a need to move Army units to support the Police. With the polls over, they are now heaving a sigh of relief that there were no major incidents that required Army involvement.
Both during and after the polls, a focal point of attention for those in the defence establishment, was the billion dollar question – Who will become Deputy Minister of Defence ? The attention shifted from the present incumbent, Anuruddha Ratwatte, for a number of reasons. Minister Ratwatte came under criticism from his own colleague and General Secretary of the People's Alliance, D.M. Jayaratne, for reportedly resorting to measures that would not ensure a free and fair poll in the Kandy district. President Kumaratunga, who acted on a complaint from Mr. Jayaratne and also another from SLMC's Rauf Hakeem, posted Special Task Force and Police IOT (infantry trained platoons) to Kandy.
Complaints persisted on polls day prompting President Kumaratunga to declare publicly that "incidents of illegal activity have been minimised" by her action. She said "I have personally made contact with the PA candidates and organisers in the Kandy district and requested them not to engage in any illegal activity in connection with the elections, and they have given me such an assurance." Pointing out that the Commissioner of Elections had called for reports with regard to certain irregularities in polling stations in the Kandy district, she assured support to him in whatever action he takes with regard to these reports.
Even after the polls, Mr. Hakeem publicly insisted that action be taken against those responsible for the irregularities – a veiled charge against Minister Ratwatte. If pressure began to mount with these demands being made repeatedly publicly, Minister Ratwatte's son Lohan's alleged involvement in an incident in the Kandy town was to exacerbate pressures to move him out. Lohan is said to have been in a mob which fired thunder flashes and later allegedly stormed the office of DIG (Central Range), Sirisena Herath.
When the mob posed a threat, Mr. Herath is learnt to have telephoned the Police Emergency in Colombo and informed them of the threat to his life. He wanted the matter to be brought to the attention of the Acting Inspector General of Police, T. Anandarajah, immediately.
Mr. Anandarajah had promptly sent out orders asking reinforcements from police stations outside Kandy to move to the DIG's office. Armed police personnel arrived at the scene but the mob had dispersed by then.
President Kumaratunga directed the DIG (CID), Punya de Silva, to conduct an inquiry. Detectives arrested six persons. Lohan Ratwatte surrendered to the detectives through his lawyers. They were all interrogated by the CID at their headquarters in Colombo and later produced before the Kandy Magistrate, Leon Seneviratne and remanded till October 27.
According to highly placed Government sources, there was no intention on the part of President Kumaratunga to replace Minister Ratwatte from being the Deputy Minister of Defence. Some of the issues raised by Mr. Hakeem have been resolved after a one on one with Minister Ratwatte.
Soon after the swearing in of Ministers, scheduled for an auspicious hour today, Minister Ratwatte is to be sworn in as Deputy Minister of Defence along with other Deputies thereafter. This move, which is an expression of renewed confidence in Minister Ratwatte, will see him play an enhanced role in the running of the military machine against Tiger guerrillas. He had originally done so until the conduct of the now infamous "Operation Jaya Sikurui" (Victory Assured) which ended up as the worst disaster in the 17 year long separatist war. This saw President Kumaratunga taking on an increasing role including the personal supervision of the conduct of the war.
Now that on the political front the "war" has concluded, and war it was at the hustings, focus must now be given to governance. And amongst the many national issues that have to be addressed by the new Government is defence policy. This includes the formulation of military strategies to successfully conduct the ongoing war within the framework of political policies to defuse, if not solve the vexed ethnic issue, a commitment that successive Governments have been unable to achieve militarily for 18 years.
The quest for peace through negotiation by the previous Government floundered within six months of initiation to be replaced with a "War for Peace" policy conducted with ever escalating defence expenditure.
In spite of large re-inforcements of men and material, the performance by the military in the overall assessment was near disastrous. At the end of the tenure of the PA Government in September, 2000, the military, after the Elephant Pass debacle, were pushed to positions in the very north of the Peninsula, almost to the gates of Jaffna.
Though many pronouncements were made on election platforms that the military would re-occupy Elephant Pass before elections, it was not to be. These predictions being nothing more than election rhetoric. On the contrary, the military made little headway to regain their lost positions in the Peninsula. Neither were the LTTE able to make any further gains. Both sides are now locked in positional confrontation.
Much of the criticism for the poor showing by the military was that operations were conducted to meet political exigencies rather being undertaken after any strategic military planning. In hindsight there is much to be said for the claim by the military that political considerations over-rode military judgment in "Operation Jaya Sikurui," and the series of operations in the Wanni. Be that as it may, for such a situation to have prevailed also is an indictment on the military leadership for submitting to such circumstances. This reflects that good military-political interaction so essential at the apex of defence policy planning was lacking or at least was less than desired. Little wonder that military performance on the field was at most times ineffective if not on occasions catastrophic.
At the election just concluded, the declared position of the People's Alliance was that the war must be fought to a finish, in other words a military solution was the end to the conflict. This is in total contrast to the PA position in 1994 and is indicative of a no nonsense approach to the conflict.
A politically positive defence policy to the conflict will enable the military to formulate a comprehensive military strategy that will be operationally cohesive and viable with resources and logistics planning. Vacillating policies and unco-ordinated planning have to a large extent hampered the effective conduct of operations in the past.
Defence planning must necessarily take a total approach. The past decade saw the UNP Government focus on securing the Eastern Province, which it did successfully only to be given a lesser priority by the succeeding PA Government, which prior-itised the Northern theatre of Jaffna and the Wanni. This highlights the lack of a national approach to the issue, a situation detrimental to national interests.
Similarly, lacking dynamism is a viable policy to counter the multi-faceted international activities of the LTTE. These range from arms smuggling, financial support, and a myriad of other activities directly in support and inter-locked with the ongoing conflict. In the absence of a viable and cohesive total approach by the Government to the conflict in all its perspectives, the LTTE has successfully developed a web of inter-related organisations which support its political objectives of Eelam.
A fresh approach to the conflict, both politically and militarily, based on a critical analysis of past performance is essential if a successful strategy is to be evolved. Military failures on the field have too often been the result of ad hoc planning, both politically and militarily, and suspect command and control structures.
The lack of a total approach to the conflict by the Government has enabled the LTTE to wrest and maintain initiatives internationally which sustain their operational capabilities with financial, material and logistics resources. To overcome these should receive priority attention by the new Government.
A sound military strategy can only evolve from a clearly defined political defence policy. The capture and control of ground by itself, in the context of this conflict, is only of positional value and political one-upmanship unless it is related to measures designed at pacification that can contribute towards a political solution to the problem. Contradictory as it may seem, to evolve such a harmonised military-political strategy is the task at hand if this war is to be fought successfully.
Another key area that requires re-consideration is the ongoing media censorship. What is required more is a closer interaction between the military and the media, a situation which has hardly existed during the 18 year long separatist war. Instead, the media has been perceived to be a second enemy and are denied access to the operational areas.
As the separatist war is expected to take a more intense phase, these are factors that require priority. To ignore them would be to further exacerbate an already complicated situation.
Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to