The reverberations of LTTE's "Operation Do or Die", the counter attack on Vavuniya's Thandikulam - Nochchimodai defences, continue to echo in the defence establishment. Just two days after the devastating attack, Deputy Defence Minister, General Anuruddha Ratwatte flew to the scene of the incident accompanied by Commanders of the three services and the Inspector General of Police.
He later chaired a top level conference at the Eight Brigade Headquarters in Vavuniya, now a veritable defence complex with several military establishments setting up their tactical headquarters there.
They include the Tac Headquarters of the 55 Division, Artillery Brigade and the Armour Brigade, all of which came under attack last week.Besides the service chiefs and the IGP, senior military officials involved in "Operation Jaya Sikurui" (Victory Assured) were on hand.
General Ratwatte, among other matters, wanted to ascertain how the counter attack could have been carried out. At least two high ranking officials explained that there were no intelligence warnings of any sort.
The conference ended with General Ratwatte emphasising the need to strengthen the defences which were breached. Even as he spoke, measures were being enforced.
Over ten platoons of Police Special Task Force (STF) commandos, who were assigned to Vavuniya before the counter attack, were among those detailed to strengthen defences.
Claims that there were no intelligence warnings did not end at that. The allegations angered the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI).
A senior Intelligence Officer told Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan De S. Daluwatte, a different story. He insisted that his directorate had in fact issued a warning of an impending counter attack.
According to the Intelligence Officer, one of his senior men in Vavuniya had produced before a senior military official an LTTE suspect now in custody. The suspect, now nursing wounds sustained reportedly during a confrontation, had spoken of LTTE plans to counter attack. He had originally been arrested by the Police and handed over to the DMI for further interrogation.
He is said to have been in possession of a 4 feet X 4 feet map of Thandikulam-Nochchimodai defences and had claimed an attack would be carried out within 48 hours.
The Intelligence Officer had alleged that one evening his representative in Vavuniya produced the suspect before the senior official who is involved in the conduct of "Operation Jaya Sikurui".
Thereafter, at the request of the official, he (the representative) had taken the suspect the next morning too for a meeting.
However, this official had reportedly remarked that any attempts at infiltration would be thwarted and had not taken the warning too seriously.
The Intelligence Officer had charged that the same official was one of those who had complained there were no intelligence warnings at all. Whether there were warnings (including those from the intelligence community) or not, the counter attack did occur. It cost the lives of over 200 soldiers, injured over 500 and caused a loss of over Rs 200 million in military hardware.
All these questions now in hindsight, whether timely intelligence was received or not, contradicts the statements made by Deputy Defence Minister, General Anuruddha Ratwatte.
He declared last week "our troops expected this attack and that is how they were able to repulse it and force them to beat a hasty retreat. This is the usual LTTE tactic. We are prepared. Even our tail is more powerful than their joint forces." Perhaps whatever be the speculation on the intelligence issue, General Ratwatte's assertions were with the knowledge of guerrilla tactics and strategy.
It is a well known tenet enunciated by exponents of irregular warfare from Sun Tzu (2500 years ago) to Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevara to Von Giap that the enemy should be attacked at the weakest point using deception.
In the confusion that now prevails amidst denials and assertions, it is well worth remembering the words of Sun Tzu:
"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. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him.
"If he is superior in strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.
Attack him when he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations before hand.
Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and a few calculations to defeat; how much more no calculation at all ! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose."
Quite clearly, the incident temporarily stalled the advance of "Operation Jaya Sikurui", at least for the past 12 days. The Overall Operations Commander (OOC), Major General Asoka Jayawardena, who is keen to resume the operation early had been busy mustering resources and ensuring that troops consolidate their defensive positions.
With the task almost over, the operation is expected to resume anytime now.
"Operation Jaya Sikurui" which began on May 13 is 40 days old today. Its declared objective is to establish a land link between Vavuniya and Kilinochchi, a distance of 65 kilometres.
That would in effect link the Jaffna peninsula to the rest of mainland Sri Lanka.
To achieve this, the 55 Division led by Brigadier Shantha Kottegoda, advanced along the A 9, the main Vavuniya - Kilinochchi highway. They are said to have proceeded nearly 14 kilometres from Vavuniya and were positioned near Puliyankulam. That is nearly a quarter of the highway and surroundings the troops plan to re-capture.
The 53 Division led by Brigadier Vasantha Perera who had earlier reached Nedunkerny advanced on a wider flank between Periyamadu and Kurichchadikulam before the counter attack. They were nearly three kilometres from Puliyankulam.
As reported in these columns earlier, the LTTE had decided to throw everything at its disposal to counter the "Jaya Sikurui" advance - a phenomenon which many senior military officials did not appreciate. They believed the LTTE is more likely to offer resistance to the extent required, to inflict injury, damage and then withdraw with its cadres intact.
Apart from the unexpected level of resistance, the unique nature of the ongoing operation has had its resultant delays. Advancing troops have been tasked to re-capture areas and hand them over to pre-assigned groups of Police, Army, Navy, Air Force and continue their advance.
Military officials say delays in such groups taking over sectors or consolidating defences have contributed to a slowing down of the advance.
The defence establishment has become increasingly convinced that the LTTE is throwing all resources at its disposal to halt or delay the advance of troops in "Operation Jaya Sikurui".
This prompted them to adopt a series of new measures. At a top level conference at the Ministry of Defence early this week, intelligence reports of attempts to strike targets outside the north and east, particularly in the City and suburbs, were discussed. The move stemmed from intelligence claims (disputed by some sections) that the LTTE leadership wanted to ignore civilian considerations in executing this task.
In view of the Poson weekend, security authorities discreetly stepped up security without publicity thus preventing any panic or triggering off public fears.
Special Police parties were detailed in the City and suburbs to make house to house visits to verify the Householders lists containing the names of Tamil domestic aides or residents.
Needless to say that a measure prompted by serious security concerns was not the best public relations exercise for a Police Department, now dogged by an escalating crime wave countrywide and deteriorating discipline among the rank and file.
Some Policemen assigned to the task were either inadequately briefed or took the law into their own hands. Householders entertaining Tamil visitors (whose names were not in the list registered with the Police) were warned to inform the Police Station whenever they had Tamil visitors.
Ironically, to them, every Tamil visitor was a terrorist suspect.
Why talk of hearts and minds exercises (and even a devolution package) to win over the Tamil community when some in the Government's own law enforcement agency are being paid to undo all that ? Police with the assistance of the security forces also checked on the addresses of service personnel in their respective divisions.
These and other related measures were intended to thwart reported attempts by Tiger cadres to move around in the City in uniforms worn by services personnel, according to a high ranking Police official. As reported in these columns in the past weeks, the LTTE has stepped up its activity in the east, particularly in the Trincomalee district.
If it brought down power pylons and damaged a telephone exchange (including the tower) last week, on Tuesday a group of Tiger guerrillas ambushed a route clearing patrol at Pulmoddai, along the Kebettigollawa
Road at the 13th Mile Post. Of the 30 soldiers assigned to the task, 23 were killed and seven were feared missing. They returned later.
It was only on April 27, this year, that 22 soldiers also on a route clearing patrol on the same road (near 10th Mile Post) were killed and four more were wounded when they were ambushed by Tiger guerrillas.
Last Thursday, a similar incident was averted on the Allai - Kantalai road at the nick of time by an alert soldier who walked ahead of an advancing column. Twenty soldiers were clearing a road between the villages of Manirasakulam and Soorangal, south west of Trincomalee.
The soldier spotted a man atop a tree observing their advance. He opened fire. Within seconds the man detonated a string of claymore mines placed along the road ahead of the route clearing patrol. A supporting guerrilla group that had taken cover opened fire wounding the soldier.
The man atop the tree made good his escape.
Early this week, Sea Tiger cadres rounded up a group of local fishermen off Foul Point and seized their outboard motors. Some boats were also seized together with their OBMs.
Military officials said the fishermen had been operating in an unauthorised area. Ten fishermen (five Sinhalese, three Muslims and two Tamils) have been detained by the LTTE in Ilakanthai, south of Trincomalee. There has also been a large movement of LTTE cadres from the Wanni to the east both via land and sea.
On Thursday two members of an LTTE pistol gang who wore students' uniform shot dead Bhaskaran whom they allege is an informant to the security forces.
Police shot dead one of the assailants and captured the other alive. They recovered an automatic pistol in their possession. In the neighbouring district of Batticaloa too, security officials say, the LTTE has stepped up activity.
It was only last Sunday Tiger guerrillas ambushed a group of STF commandos at Tampitiya in the Batticaloa district. Fourteen commandos were killed in the incident.
Whilst strengthening the security apparatus in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts with the resources available, the Government is determined to ensure the objectives of "Operation Jaya Sikurui" is achieved.
However, the time frame will be longer than earlier expected, according to senior military officials. The Ministry of Defence is focusing its fullest attention towards this by mustering land, sea and air resources.
On the subject of air resources, the losses of the Sri Lanka Air Force caused by reasons other than enemy action continue. A Siai Warrior (SF 260 W) trainer aircraft became its 21st loss since Eelam War Three broke out. Pilot Instructor Flt. Lieut. C.C. Ratnapala was killed when the two seater aircraft crashed into a paddy field in Talawa. Trainee Pilot Wella Hewage, who suffered a spine injury is now at the National Hospital.
The SLAF authorities have placed an armed guard for him and debarred him from speaking about the incident to outsiders.
The Sri Lanka Air Force has appointed a three member Court of Inquiry to probe the latest incident. It is headed by Group Captain Loksana Salgado, Commander of the SLAF Base in Katunayake. The other members are Squadron Leader Amal Wickremasinghe and Squadron Leader Sunil Karunaratne.
Judging from the happenings this week, it would appear that "Operation Jaya Sikurui", though not in disorganisation as a result of the counter attack, certainly appears to be at least in a state of confusion. It would appear that the security forces were lulled into complacency by unopposed successes of their conventional war machine during operations Riviresa, Sath Jaya, Edibala and until last week Jaya Sikurui.
This is an unusual response from professionals who should know better the strategy of guerrilla warfare and the cunning commitment of LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
As the code name "Do or Die" for his counter offensive illustrates, Prabhakaran has no option but to struggle to the last to delay or thwart the offensive.
Considering all this, a counter attack by Prabhakaran should have been not only expected but that it did not come earlier should have been a matter of surprise rather than to be contended with superiority of conventional strength. Perhaps LTTE's "Operation Do or Die" has opened the eyes of the idealists and the euphoric, both in the military and political establishment, to never under estimate the enemy. Prabhakaran has been an unpredictable enemy militarily and politically an enigma. This probably as much a cause for his success as much as it is to the hostilities he has attracted.
"Operation Do or Die" can be expected to be only the beginning of his resistance. Another counter offensive in Vavuniya itself cannot be ruled out. He is also likely to exercise maximum options from direct confrontation to terrorism to prevent himself from being militarily out-manoeuvred and politically marginalised. In the weeks ahead, this will be the challenge for the security forces.
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