The Situation Report
3rd May 1998
Stock taking and stalemate in battle
By Iqbal Athas
It seemed a week of stock taking for those on both sides of the battle lines in the Wanni last week.
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Commander-in-Chief was away in Geneva on a short official visit. Hence she was unable to preside over the National Security Council meeting last Tuesday.
General Anuruddha Ratwatte who was acting Minister of Defence flew with the service commanders and Police top brass for a top level conference at the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH) in Vavuniya last Tuesday.
As expected, among other matters, the ongoing "Operation Jaya Sikurui" (or Victory Assured) , now nearing one year, figured in the discussions. That included the latest abortive attempt to re- capture Mankulam. On April 20, troops broke out of their defences south west of Olumadu and advanced nearly two kilometres.
The same evening they were forced to return to their original positions after heavy LTTE mortar bombardment left 39 killed, 296 wounded and two missing in action. (Situation Report - April 26)
It has now become increasingly clear for the defence establishment that the remaining part of "Operation Jaya Sikurui" should be accomplished without incurring heavy casualties and under a carefully planned out exercise.
Hence, the coming weeks will see attention being focused on reaching Mankulam.
"We will have to thereafter concentrate on the remaining part of the operation. That is after taking into consideration the many logistical requirements including manpower," one high ranking defence source said.
As reported in these columns last week, the Army is to launch a national level recruitment drive. The details of how this should be carried out are now being worked out.
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte is expected to give a media briefing on this matter tomorrow. He is also expected to seize the opportunity to give them a briefing on the current state of the war.
I understand that the national level drive for recruitment to the Army will be carried out with the help of Grama Seva Niladharis countrywide. They will be called upon to identify groups.
Thereafter officers from the Army's recruiting centre will visit the areas to provide them a presentation.
I also understand that the new recruitment drive is aimed at raising a strength of 15,000. One of the main areas the Army will concentrate on are schools. With the help of the Grama Seva Niladharis, schools in several districts are to be identified. Army officials will make special audio video/ presentations at these schools in a bid to persuade them to join the Army once they leave school.
The recruitment campaign, now being worked out, incorporates some innovative features that were used in recruitment drives in other countries.
Plans to recruit 15,000, military officials believe, would make good the shortfall created by desertions. At present, the number of deserters has been placed at over 19,000. On an average, Military Police are rounding up ten deserters per day.
Those arrested are being put through the usual disciplinary procedures. But an interesting feature in the recent weeks has been the willingness of those who are punished to get back to battle areas.
The recruitment drive is to be carried out on a priority basis with the help of the national media. Even if the security forces re-capture Mankulam in the next few weeks or more, it seems unlikely that the remaining part of the operation would be carried out until the new recruitment drive is concluded and the necessary troops trained. This, however, will not mean a halt to "Operation Jaya Sikurui."
Senior military officials say the interim period will be utilised for a planned programme to strengthen defences of the areas already captured.
The idea is not only to prevent any possible LTTE counter attacks but also to restore further normalcy by constructing roads, opening Police Stations and government offices. But how effectively this could be carried out remains to be seen.
In the backdrop of the forthcoming rapid recruitment drive, Army Headquarters is also likely to effect some top level changes, measures necessitated by promotions and retirements at the senior level.
As exclusively reported in The Sunday Times last week, four senior Brigadiers, (all of them officiating as General Officers Commanding have been promoted as Majors General).
They are Maj. Gen. Nihal Jayakody, Maj. Gen. Anton Wijendra, Maj. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda, Maj. Gen. Chula Seneviratne and Maj.Gen. Sarath Fonseka.
These promotions have seen the omission of Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe, official Military Spokesman and Director, Media at the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence. Brigadier Munasinghe is a senior officer who comes next to Maj.Gen. Jayakody and Maj.Gen. Wijendra.
Army Headquarters says that promotions to the five senior Brigadiers to the rank of Majors General had been made on the basis that they were officiating GOCs in operational areas. The office of official Military Spokesman, they point out, does not come within the scope of such appointments.
But Brigadier Munasinghe himself was officiating as General Officer Commanding the eastern sector (Batticaloa) until he was moved as official Military Spokesman on orders of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
Now Army Headquarters has sought clarification from the Ministry of Defence about the official position, whether he could continue as official Military Spokesman or should move to an operational area before he receives his promotion.
In the event of Brigadier Munasinghe being moved to an operational area (and promoted Major General), Deputy Defence Minister, Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte, has favoured the appointment of Brigadier Sunil Tennekoon, currently Director, Military Intelligence as the new official Military Spokesman and Director Media. In such an event, Brigadier Kapila Hendavithana is expected to be the new Director, Military Intelligence (DMI).
It was only late last month that Brigadier Tennekoon, who has served as DMI for over two years, returned to Colombo after an extensive training stint on intelligence at the United States Army's Pacific Command in Hawaii.
More vacancies in the ranks of Brigadiers are expected to arise next month when four officers reach the statutory maximum in that rank by next month. They are Brigadiers K. Attanayake, K.A.M.G. Kularatne, Lucky Kulatunga and T.M.G. Ariyaratne.
Their terms are due to end on June 1 and all have made appeals for extension of their terms. At least one of them has asked for a merit promotion that will ensure his continuity of service.
On the other hand, intelligence sources say, LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, has also been focusing on how to thwart "Operation Jaya Sikurui." A meeting he held with his cadres, reportedly two weeks ago, had been video taped and screened to selected groups in the Batticaloa district.
Intelligence sources described the speech he made to the cadres as a "major propaganda drive" for recruitment. Pointing out that the Sri Lanka Government was not going to grant anything to the Tamils, Prabhakaran had contended that they (the LTTE) should fight to the bitter end. He has also made reference to what he called "large scale arrests" of Tamils and the treatment being meted out to them in security forces controlled areas.
An assessment of the military situation does give the impression that in the northern front operations have come to a stalemate. And, that in the other operational areas, judging from the incidents reported, the security forces merely occupied in a holding operation in expectation that the main thrust on A9 , "Operation Jaya Sikurui", would bring about the karmic panacea to solve the problems besetting the "war for peace" strategy.
In other words the military strategy appears to be stymied by the very plan itself which relies entirely on its own success to such an extent that the very magnitude of that single commitment restricts the application of other strategic options. It is a fundamental military, if not a common sense axiom, that one should keep open maximum options.
Contrary to retaining a multiple choice option, it would seem that the Government has laid all its plans on "Operation Jaya Sikurui" to bring about a security environment on which to politicise its devolution proposals and cash in on any peace dividend.
This is where the rub seems to be , in the difference between military and political agenda. "Operation Jaya Sikurui", now approaching a full year of operations reflects the paradoxical issues between the military aims and political exigencies.
The brash political targets set and the public promises of victory, all defaulted unashamedly, stand in damning contrast to military realities, body counts and casualties. A situation which question not only the wisdom of political management of "Operation Jaya Sikurui" but also the judiciousness of the military approach to its conduct.
This logically brings to question whether the military campaign was undertaken after calculating all pros and cons or whether priority was given to fulfil a political agenda. Considering that the operation has now gone on for a full year come May 13, and that only about half the planned operation has been completed, and, that too, with an unprecedented high rate of human and equipment casualties, the moot question is as to who should be held accountable. What certainly appears to have been an under estimation of the ground situation in evaluating our capabilities, resources and strengths vis-a-vis that of the LTTE.
It is no secret that the manpower resources are inadequate to maintain both operational pressure on the LTTE and at the same time to consolidate security in the re-captured territory.
Deserters notwithstanding, that the manpower factor was not fully realised at the onset of the operation manifests a planning flaw.
To recruit now to fill shortfall of cadre itself poses the question whether the new recruits could be trained and be ready for operations in a short period of time, bearing in mind that the north east monsoon will set in six months, in October-November. If not, by default will the operation drag on for another year ?
It is also no secret that one of the major causes of attrition on the advance of "Operation Jaya Sikurui" was as a result of intense mortar fire. It is now confirmed beyond doubt that the LTTE has seized the load of 32,400 mortars ordered by the Sri Lanka Army from Zimbabwe.
Surprisingly counter measures against enemy mortar and artillery appear to have been inadequate or ineffective, a situation which some military sources say, should have been overcome by the superior equipment available to the security forces.
Issues relating to the procurement of mortar and artillery direction finding equipment came under question some years back. This vitally important aspect was resolved with the import of highly sophisticated equipment from a leading country. Yet, the problem seems to have not been effectively resolved.
This column has regularly focused on questions of shortcomings and corruption regarding the procurement of military hardware. It has stressed on the need for a regulated, single and inter services equipment policy. Had proper planning procedures been in place, here again, the problem would not have arisen.
In spite of many gains by the Government in the past two and half years, notably the re-capture of the Jaffna peninsula, that the war has ground itself to a stalemated campaign of attrition is not a favourable situation.
Focusing on a single strategic course leaves the security forces with little reserves to engage in aggressive operations in other areas. Thus, by default the LTTE are conferred comparitive freedom to maintain pressures on the Government by a wide range of small scale tactical operations.
The attrition of one years campaigning has taken its own toll on "Operation Jaya Sikurui." In the circumstances, the LTTE has a much needed respite to consolidate. That is something the Government cannot allow.
Only relentless pressure can wear down the LTTE politically and militarily.
To do so, the Government must have a broad based range of options. In the context the old adage can bear repetition. That is, that if the Government is not winning they are losing, whereas the "guerrilla" if he is not losing is in fact winning.
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