Situation Report

24th March 1996

Hardly three weeks away

By Iqbal Athas

The Jaffna peninsula appears to have become the focal point of attention both for the LTTE and the security forces in the last few weeks.

The Tigers, apparently expecting a major security forces drive, have mounted a series of measures in the peninsula. Civilians are being ordered to vacate both the Vadamaratchchi and Thenmaratchchi sectors.

Although they have been asked to come down to Kilinochchi, the response has not been like the civilian exodus from Valikamam just before the launch of "Operation Riviresa." Yet, the LTTE has succeeded in evicting a large number of civilians living in important streets in Vadamratchchi and Thenmaratchchi.

Some of those displaced, fearing to travel to the Wanni crossing the hazardous Kilali lagoon, have settled themselves within visible distance from the forward defence localities of the security forces in Valikamam.

The streets vacated by the civilians are being mined. LTTE cadres from the Batticaloa district and the Wanni have been inducted to the north. They have been moved into areas declared out of bounds to the public.

In Vadamratchchi, boats belonging to the fishermen in the area are being commandeered and taken to Sea Tiger boat landing points. There have also been reports of bulldozers being used to demolish empty houses and build trenches.

In Colombo, security forces to brass were also focusing attention on Jaffna, more particularly on Vadamaratchchi and the Thenmaratchchi sectors. Overall Operations Commander, Major General Rohan Daluwatte, chaired a top level conference at the Army Headquarters on Friday to examine the latest security situation and counter measures necessary.

Yesterday, General Daluwatte accompanied by high ranking Army officials made a presentation to the Minister of State for Defence, General Anuruddha Ratwatte. Also on hand was Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Gerry de Silva.

Whilst the security establishment focussed on extending the security forces control into new areas, the Valikmam sector, which was re-captured after the 42 day long "Operation Riviresa", has also come under increased LTTE activity.

Tiger cadres with crew cut hair and wearing uniforms resembling the security forces have been spotted within the secured Valikamam sector. Groups of Tiger guerillas are also known to have visited the homes of some civilians and photographed them. It was part of a Tiger campaign to declare civilians within Valikamam as "traitors". Several civilians have told Army authorities in Palaly that they have been threatened with death if they provided information about Tiger movements in Valikamam.

But the seriousness of the infiltration factor was underscored by the incident on March 18 at Mallakam, a town which came within Valikamam area and under the control of the security forces.

A group of newly recruited soldiers, assigned to the Third Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment (deployed in the north) for training, were travelling in a tractor when an improvised explosive device exploded killing 18 and wounding 22. Some of the wounded were in a serious condition having lost a leg or both.

These troops were among the 13,500 recruited in the wake of the euphoria generated after the execution of "Operation Riviresa". In the later months, the figure has come down prompting the Army to revive its recruitment drive once more. The new recruits were assigned to various battalions for training in the field.

Considering the fact that all troops were carried in one tractor indicates that this is a non operational move. Firstly the prudence of sending recruits to the front for training is questionable.

This is not the first time that recruits so deployed have come under attack with fatal results. In 1993, when the LTTE launched "Operation Thavalai (Frog)" against the Pooneryn defence complex, more than 200 recruits deployed in this defended area were also killed during the action.

It was then questioned as to the wisdom of deploying recruits in operations against guerillas which demand a high degree of training and military skill.

Certainly recruits have to be inducted into operational area but experienced military officials say this must be done on the completion of advanced recruit training where in they are pitted into operational duties in a mix with trained cadres. To do otherwise is to expose recruits unnecessarily to fatal situations.

The other aspect from the Mallakam incident is also significant. From the history of attacks on the Army in Valikamam in the post "Operation Riviresa" stage, it is quite apparent that LTTE cadres have some freedom of movement within security forces controlled areas either diffused with the stay behind population or else infiltrating into the Army sector.

This highlights the point that in guerrilla warfare there are no fixed frontiers and that it is to the guerrilla's advantage to permit the Government forces to occupy larger and larger areas of real estate which would not only stretch their resources to the maximum but also stultify further operations by tying down resources to control more territory.

The strategy of the occupation of Valikamam is not being questioned but in the wake of the lull in aggressive operational activity after "Operation Riviresa", it is prudent to ask whether we have not tied our resources to control the Valikamam area without any population. That is with the exception of the stay behind displaced persons numbering around 2,000 in refugee camps and some 96 families.

The question that arises is whether the strategy of "Operation Riviresa" has paid dividends in a continuing strategic plan towards overpowering the LTTE.

The LTTE has been an organisation which is continuously working out politico - military strategies, regularly updating them to keep abreast of the fluidity of the overall military /political/international situation.

Whilst they are building up a new command/control/administrative infrastructure in the Wanni, they are alive to their vulnerability in the Vadamaratchchi/Thenmaratchchi sector.

It is their thinking that the Government would logically extend the Valikamam operation to steamroll into these two eastern divisions of the peninsula.

Like in "Operation Riviresa," the LTTE, is bound to offer token resistance preventing the Army to stretch their resources further because they venture into the strategic offensive to infiltrate and destroy the security forces in the pensinula and restrict free movement on land. This will also compel them into depending on sea and air mobility.

Thus, the LTTE hopes, will give them the advantage of striking at targets not only of human value but also of expensive equipment and trained personnel. This will force the Government into more and more expenditure in an over spiralling budget to maintain the war.

High on the LTTE agenda are their plans to control the population. Like in the Valikamam experience ,the LTTE has now given notice to the public to vacate Vadamaratchchi/Thenmarathchi and move into the jungle safety of the vast land area of the Wanni.

In doing this, the LTTE are no doubt mindful that in the event an enormous influx of displaced persons into the Wanni will attract an enormous amount of international sympathy. In doing so, they also hope not only to get the spin off value of restoring some of their image, but more so, of attracting larger flow of funds to the LTTE cause whether it be refugee support or for diversions to arms procurements.

It would appear that the LTTE is throwing a challenge to the Government that it could control territory and tie their resources to do so but that they (the LTTE) would retain control of the population.

This raises the fundamental question of the nature of politically motivated militancies, their strategies and the nature of operations to counter these movements. All guerilla leaders of the stature of Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara, Von Giap or even historical military thinkers like Sun Tsu, have stressed that winning the population is the key to the battle. Any solution must be aimed at eliminating the causes which gave rise to militancy.

Here again it is a battle of hearts and minds. The LTTE, judging from "Operation Riviresa" and the pre-emptive measures they appear to be contemplating in Vadamarachchi/Thenmaratchchi indicate that they are very much alive to the political and military nuances of this militancy.

On this side of the cadjan fence, a highly hyped population is awaiting the much promised end to this war by General Anuruddha Ratwatte, Minister of State for Defence. In a public declaration at Hambantota, General Ratwatte assured that he would end the separatist war by the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, hardly three weeks away.

Whilst living in this hope, there is nevertheless a dark cloud looming and the bright lights of the national New Year will be dimmed by the power cuts.

In spite of this, Sri Lanka being a resilient nation, can still await the silver lining of the dark cloud - the end of the conflict before they sit down to Kavun and Kokis on April 14.

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