The Military Column

25th February 1996

Revenge after the fall of Jaffna : unnatural justice

By Our Military Analyst

The LTTE will continue to take political, economic and military targets in Colombo in the next few months. There is no reason why Colombo will not cease to be a priority target. In the eyes of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his rank and file, the government has deprived them of their most important base - Jaffna - the heartland of the Tamils.

Revenge is a wild form of justice. Loss of Jaffna not only put an end to the myth of the invincible LTTE but also exposed the inability of the LTTE to provide protection to the Jaffna Tamils who had supported them more than any other regional group of Tamils. The loss of Jaffna deprived the LTTE of an infrastructure they had built so painstakenly over half a decade. It also led to the demoralization of the rank and file and weakened the Tamil public-LTTE link.

Prabhakaran's determination to assassinate President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, the main forces behind the military drive to take Jaffna, would have increased several folds. For having earned the wrath of Prabhakaran, President Kumaratunga and Minister Ratwatte has only one option if they are to survive. That is to eliminate the opponent before he eliminates you.

Until Jaffna fell, the initiative in battle lay with the Sri Lankan military. Before the Jaffna operation, the initiative lay with the LTTE. That is the reason Sri Lankan military reacted to the pro- active steps of the LTTE. In the counter-revolutionary warfare doctrine, government troops could always and only gain an upperhand by being pro-active and not re-active. The LTTE-Sri Lankan military experience over the years amply demonstrates this. After Jaffna fell, a shadow of complacency fell on the Sri Lankan forces. The drive of the Sri Lankan forces to move south into Kilinochchi, the back up administrative base of the LTTE and Mullaitivu, the LTTE jungle bases ceased. The LTTE's strategy in the aftermath of the fall of Jaffna must be understood in the historical, political and military contexts.

Historically, the LTTE enjoyed tremendous power in Jaffna and before the eyes of the Tamil public they demonstrated their capability as masters and not as victims of change. The Jaffna man, who is basically a home-based man, is unhappy that the LTTE has uprooted him from his home. Politically, the LTTE will survive only if the Tamil public continues to support the LTTE. No public will support a movement that is on the decline. The LTTE has to justify its existence. Militarily, LTTE does not want to strike Jaffna because their network in the peninsula is disrupted and is being developed. A premature strike will disrupt the intelligence and operational foundation that is being laid. By striking in the East, the impact would be minimal. Striking border villages will once again confirm the weakness of the LTTE in the aftermath of the fall of Jaffna.

At a different level, the LTTE capability and capacity for conventional and semi-conventional warfare has declined. The battle in Jaffna proved that a guerrilla force is no match for a conventional force on conventional terrain. Therefore the LTTE needed a soft target, a target which can be taken without expending much resources but will make a massive impact. At least the Central Bank bomb and the bowser bomb must be understood in that context. In the coming months the LTTE behaviour must be understood within this framework. There can be exceptions because organisations and individuals often committed to violence do not think logically or rationally. However, this operational trend will be dominant and visible until the security forces enter the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.

Resorting to terrorism - killing unarmed persons - is a past time of the Sri Lankan Tamil militants and both the security forces of India and Sri Lanka. What can be done to prevent the LTTE from taking soft targets? There are five short term and two long term solutions. The short term solutions are: First, the security must be strengthened restricting the access of material from Jaffna. Security can be strengthened not only in Vavuniya and Colombo but on the way. The access from Batticaloa, Mannar, Trincomalee too should be monitored. Second, the public must be constantly reminded, they may be exploited by the insurgents knowingly or unknowingly. This can be done by a massive public understanding campaign. Further, individually, they can be held responsible for allowing an unknown vehicle to park in their compound. Third, security systems and procedures must change. It is known that the LTTE has the ability to conduct deep penetration and long range reconnaissance operations. Therefore, in reality no target is safe. The only method to checkmate such action is to continuously change the patterns and processes of security and never to routinize or standardize security. Fourth, intensify security in Colombo and in greater Colombo by searching areas where potential LTTE operatives will take refuge. This will mean regular cordon off and search operations and sudden checkpoints. Five, to conduct raids into Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu and disrupt the LTTE from the luxury of having to plan and conduct operations in distant theatres. If the LTTE is continuously kept on the run, the LTTE will have a difficulty of organizing the supplies and training the cadres for such a mission.

The long term solutions are to examine the root causes of insurgency and remedy them and simultaneously to develop sound national security systems. It is well-known that the Tamil demand for a separate state came from the failure of successive Sinhala dominated governments to recognize the rights of the minorities. To date, the government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga has not done anything substantial to remedy this. It has developed a series of proposals that are being debated. It is high time that the President pressurized the government towards the implementation of this package. A military campaign without a political initiative will not produce the desired results because the battle in the north and to a lesser extent in the east is for the Tamils to live in peace. Essentially, it must be a battle also for the hearts and the minds of the Tamils.

In terms of developing a sound national security system, the government must plan to develop a data base of all citizens of Sri Lanka. The data base should be linked to the departments of immigration and emigration, the security services, registrar of motor vehicles, department of health, department of education, registrar of births and deaths, etc. The information contained should have levels of access so that the privacy of the individual will not be violated but at the same time ensure security for all. The information identifying the person's place of origin, background and affiliations will help to place in context any suspect.

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