Hardly two weeks after assuming office, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Rohan Daluwatte's first overseas trip was to neighbouring India.
The visit did raise some eyebrows in Colombo's diplomatic circuit. Why such a hurried trip whilst an important military offensive was under way in the north? But the speculation soon receded.
Lt. Gen. Daluwatte is a staunch devotee of Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He flew to the Indian saint's ashram in Puttapathi in the southern state of Karnataka to pay homage and thanks giving. That was not just for him alone. The other happy occasion was the graduation of his only son, Radesh, in a university in the United States.
The proud father wanted to be there to grace the occasion but Government leaders felt his presence in Colombo was extremely necessary. So Ms. Jayanthi Daluwatte, flew to the USA to personally witness her son notching up his educational career with a degree.
Lt. Gen. Daluwatte flew in to Colombo on Tuesday night for a few hours sleep disturbed by intermittent telephone calls. There was some concern in defence circles that the LTTE was planning to take on targets either in the Manner or Mulaitivu districts. At dawn Wednesday he was off to the northern military complex in Palaly.
Within hours of his arrival there, battle tanks were rolling out from Thondamannar and Kodikamam to encompass Vadamaratchi, the remaining sector of the Jaffna peninsula to be brought under security forces control - "Operation Riviresa Three" had began.
Hardly 36 hours after the launch of "Operation Riviresa Three", troops were dominating most of the Vadamaratchi sector.
The execution of "Operation Riviresa Three" was brief but brisk. There were marked contrasts to operation One and Two of Riviresa. In the first one that led to the capture of the Valikamam sector, security forces ended up with more territory and less civilians. In the second operation to re-capture Thenmaratchi, the security forces recovered territory with a seething mass of humanity chocking the roads to flee in different directions. A sizable number were those wanting to return to their original homesteads in Valikamam.
But Vadamaratchi bore a different tale. Residents in this sector remained in their homes and business was as usual when the security forces moved in. There was little or no resistance. The only exception was the occasional sniper fire from small groups of Tiger guerrillas who were withdrawing. They came from a long distance away and a stray shot hit a soldier, the only casualty in the re-capture of Vadamaratchi.
Senior officials of the security establishment could not believe that the Army's thrust into Vadamaratchi was going to be a story book affair. The area encompassed Valvettiturai, the birth place of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Moreover, Vadamaratchi was the home of Sea Tigers, the naval arm of the LTTE, which became a subject of serious concern to the security establishment in the past many months.
Intelligence reports in the military had spoken of the likelihood of the troops meeting stiff resistance in their move towards Vadamaratchi. There were suggestions that the LTTE would resist to the end moves to re-capture some designated areas. So much so, meticulous planning went into the formulation and execution of "Operation Riviresa Three".
Sri Lanka Air Force MI 24 helicopter gunships and the Israeli-built supersonic Kfir bombers not only took on LTTE targets in the Vadamaratchi sector but also a number of others in the Wanni.
The Sri Lankan security forces have now established control in the entire peninsula of Jaffna. "Operation Riviresa Three" was the advance into the Vadamaratchi landmass which is the north east flank of the peninsula stretching from Thenmaratchi in the north through the populated urban suburb of Point Pedro along the sandy wasteland of Manalkadu and Thalayady upto Vettilaikerny and the Elephant Pass Lagoon. Troops were in the process of completing the encirclement.
The Vadamaratchi landmass is about one third of the size of the Jaffna peninsula. The rapidity of establishing control in this sector within a matter of 36 hours as compared to the time taken in Operation Riviresa one and two clearly indicates that the LTTE has offered no resistance during this phase. More of this later.
All credit is due to the security forces for the success of the operations to re-occupy the Jaffna peninsula. The success of the campaign has to be assessed from factors beyond the confines of military tactics and operations.
What is significant is that the military success was achieved with minimum collateral damage, particularly in the operations for the re-capture of Thenmaratchi and Vadamaratchi. In the re-capture of Valikakam, however, booby-trapped buildings and LTTE resistance led too considerable damage.
The total news blackout due to the ongoing censorship and the ban on media visits to the operational theatre, one is unable to give a first-hand assessment of the extent of damage to civilian life and habitation. But from all reports, not just from the rhetoric by the Government, the security forces certainly appear to have exercised a great deal of restraint in the execution of the operational plan. To restrain military action in war is extremely difficult and the security forces have to be complemented for this achievement.
The limited collateral damage was no doubt also the result of the lack of resistance by the LTTE. This does not, however, diminish the credit due to the security forces.
In exercising restraint the security forces have given the lead to the hearts and minds exercise in the pacification operation that has to follow the military initiatives.
It is now up to the government to intensify that exercise through its rehabilitation and reconstruction agencies. Here in lies the key to gaining the confidence of the population which could eventually force the tide against Prabhakaran and the LTTE.
As said before, it is too close to the event to forecast how the political tide is going to dwell in the peninsula. Here again the ban on media visits to the north, which as the government confirms is now liberated from the LTTE, has prevented neutral reportage that would be a valuable input to information sources of the government.
The value of correct information cannot be over-emphasized for the government to quantitatively analyze and direct the rehabilitation programme, lip service for personal gain and 'Yes sir' bureaucracy is a constant danger to the re-establishment of democratic systems through the rehabilitation phase.
From the early stages of Operation Riviresa One, it was predicted in these columns that the LTTE will not resist the security forces with any degree of strength. It was pointed out that the LTTE will conserve its resources, sacrifice space to consolidate in the Wanni.
The military plans of the LTTE are not discernible. To a layman the guess is that the LTTE would resort to terrorist guerrilla activity in combination with political/diplomatic measures. To execute such a strategy, the LTTE has also to balance terrorist type violence verses aggression which they could claim as justifiable.
The carnage of the Central Bank bomb did not provide the international image of the LTTE, rather it horrified the countries which had some sympathy to the Tamil cause, particularly those that have opened their doors to refugees. In these circumstances, it can be expected that whilst the LTTE would like to continue operations against the security forces in full measure, any violence beyond that level would be controlled not to alienate their overseas sympathy.
International opinion is critically important to the LTTE. During "Operation Riviresa" phases there was a flurry of activity by some western democracies to sponsor third party mediation in the Tamil ethnic conflict.
All these countries have earlier had and even now have a high tolerance policy towards LTTE activity and Tamils in refuge in their countries.
The timing of this activity is more than a co-incidence. An intelligent guess would be that there is some LTTE or Eelam lobby activists behind the overtures made by these countries.
The aim is obvious. Though third party mediation establish a de facto territorial division and at the same time to obtain relief from military pressure by the government, which if possible, confining the security forces in their camps if not at least in limited areas of control.
The display of sobriety by the LTEE is in line with its track record over the past 17 years when confronted with military pressure.
Another matter which the defence authorities in Colombo are trying to ascertain are reports of LTTE attempts to bring in a shipment of sophisticated weapons surreptitiously through the north or eastern seas. According to intelligence reports, this shipment is said to have been lying in an Asian country a few weeks ago.
This, however, could not be confirmed. In order to restore political sanity into the Jaffna peninsula, and in future to any other areas which will be re-captured by the government, it is essential that the political leadership is established and governed by those non-militant Tamil political parties.
In this context the political aim should be to foster a programme of national unity whilst maintaining the diversity of national minorities to administrative and political concessions.
To do so, the image of national unity is an important facet. It is unfortunate that in this context that the non-militant Tamil political parties, though they may be sectarian, unfortunately carry the name of Tamil Eelam.
Hence to establish any political sanity at the grassroots is essential. There should also prevail balance and rationale at the leadership level whether it be sectarian parties or mainstream political parties which cut across the fissiparous trend of Sri Lanka.Go to the Defence Column