Financial Times

New war strategies succeeded against LTTE


Unconventional war strategies, a complete restructuring of the Army and major changes in military tactics lead to the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. Chief of Defence Staff and former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka described the Army’s push to confront and attack the enemy in their strongholds such as Mannar and the jungles of Mullaitivu. The Army’s changing battlefield formations, command systems and weapons also left the LTTE totally unprepared.

Speaking last Friday at the Post Graduate Institute of Management Alumni’s (PIMA) annual ‘Counter Point’ seminar for 2009 in his first public appearance after the end of the war, keynote speaker General Fonseka said the Army began fighting like guerillas while the terrorists reacted like a conventional army with conventional weapons. The Army’s strategy this time was to go for the kill instead of holding onto the land. “The terrorists were put off balance,” he said.

General Fonseka also described the harsh battle conditions the Army was faced with, fighting 24 hours a day in bad weather, sometimes submerged up to their necks in water, at times forced to carry Army casualties as far as eight kilometers. General Fonseka credited others (services) as having contributed to the victory but said the Army definitely bore the brunt on the frontlines.

He described the last two years and 10 months of battle as the Eelam War Phase IV in which 5,000 soldiers were killed and another 27,000 were injured. After General Fonseka took over as Army Commander, the Army was getting 3,000 recruits a month compared to 3,000 recruits per year before taking over. The number of recruits has increased to 5,000 per month after the end of the war.

Following a four year ceasefire, General Fonseka said the Army was disorganized and not properly trained. After indications that the ceasefire would fail, battle preparations began prior to the start of Eelam War Phase IV where General Fonseka said he appointed commanders of his choice based on merit, not superiority. Good people were put into the ‘mainstream’ while others were put into the ‘common stream.’
On Prabhakaran’s death
General Sarath Fonseka said LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed on the morning of May 19, 2009, dismissing all other rumours of him having been captured earlier and brought to Colombo. General Fonseka said Prabhakaran and a group of 100 LTTE adres were cornered in a one square kilometer area. On the evening of May 18, the Army had killed around 70 of the cadres. On the morning of the 19th, the Army had fired at the rest of the cadres with tanks and machine guns and had subsequently found the body of Prabhakaran in a mangrove.
General Fonseka said one of the LTTE’s strategic failures was that they did not want to lose even an inch of land. He also said the LTTE expected some world power like the UK or the US to intervene.

The Army’s weak intelligence unit was restructured after removing senior intelligence offices and appointing people from the infantry divisions. He said the intelligence unit performed well by giving targets to the Air Force and Navy.

He also said he eliminated waste through constant monitoring and even sat on the tender board to ensure corruption was eliminated, even though it was not a part of his job. “I gave priority to ensure there was no wastage.” He added that the Army budget had never been so big in the past as government vehicles, shiploads of ammunition and rockets were purchased.

Under his leadership, the Army and in particular the infantry divisions, changed their battlefield formations, command systems and use of weapons. In the two years and 10 months of fighting, General Fonseka said the Army continually engaged the LTTE and never gave them any respite.

General Fonseka said he had direct command over the forces, going down to the grassroots level.

All formations and even the front line divisions were under his command, usually not part of an Army commander’s job. He said he went to Vavuniya every week to draw up plans and give orders to battalion commanders. He even removed some divisional and battalion commanders from duty during the course of the war. Around 2,500 soldiers were imprisoned due to desertion and around 15,000 were arrested and court marshaled. General Fonseka said soldiers were deserting due to the increasing number of casualties in 2008.

Operations were tough and demanding and grew more difficult towards the latter stages of the conflict.

General Fonseka said counter attacks from the terrorists would push the Army back as much as four to five kilometers. He had to provide moral support to the troops, shift troops around and provide additional manpower and firepower. General Fonseka said he himself was under a lot of pressure to push through and finish the war.

General Fonseka said additional troops are needed after the war to hold the captured area which is 10 times larger than what the Army was holding prior to the end of the war.

He explained that Jaffna was captured in 1996 with 15,000 troops but 35,000 were needed to hold it. “Even a few terrorists make you vulnerable,” he said. Around 200 terrorists have been arrested from the IDP camps in the last month.

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