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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Lanka's climbing war budget gets diminishing returns

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

 

Lanka's climbing war budget gets diminishing returns

19 October 2000



Talking realistically about the war in Sri Lanka often reminds one of the tale of the Emperor’s new clothes, particularly since Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka began declaring that victory is at hand. Once the horse deals are over the biggest task before the new government would be the prosecution of the war.

There are few options for the PA to work around it and take the country on a path of economic advancement and prosperity.

The war budget will have to increase this year, placing a greater burden on the economy and the people. And it is quite clear that defence spending will keep going up and up unless there is a sustainable cease-fire or a clear victory in the battlefield. What would be the purpose of the increased war budget this year and next? Firstly, a large part of it will go into increasingly high tech, fire intensive efforts by the army to shift the strategic balance in its favour in the Jaffna peninsula. There is certainly a stalemate in Jaffna, at least for now.

The interesting point here is that everyone has accepted, unconsciously, the current status quo in Eelam War III as the standard by which to judge the army’s progress in the battlefield. Compare what was expected in return for the money spent on the war in 1998 with what the government expects the army to do now for a much-increased budget this year.

The war budget in 1998 was primarily meant to capture the northern part of the Wanni between Paranthan and Mankulam on the north-south axis and between the Mannar coast and Mullaithivu coast on the east-west axis. It was also for the deployment of adequate troops to dominate the east and southern Wanni and the whole Jaffna peninsula.

Now, two years later, the object of a war budget which will be much greater than that of 1998 will mainly be to pour more military resources into stopping the LTTE from advancing any further into Jaffna and for the deployment of less troops in the east and the much shrunk parts of the Mannar and Vavuniya districts.

The new government is going to demand more and more resources from the economy and the people just to keep the pressure on the LTTE positions which are now inside Jaffna.

In short, expectations as to what the army ought to achieve are decreasing imperceptibly while the money spent to achieve the diminishing returns from the war keeps increasing by billions of rupees.

Now let’s take a look at what it takes at this conjuncture to maintain the status quo by keeping the military pressure up on the LTTE inside the peninsula and by deploying the minimum required number of troops in southern Wanni and the east to defend the areas held by the army currently.

The army concentrated almost four and a half divisions to the defence of Jaffna since December 1999. They were the 51, 52, 53, 54 and some elements of the 55. The 54 is now a non-operational division.

The 21, 56 and the 55 hold parts of the Vavuniya and Mannar districts. The 21 and 56 are not full strength divisions. They are much short of manpower.

Div. 22 and 23, both of which are also quite short of troops, hold the east.

Ideally, each of these divisions should have at least nine thousand troops including supporting artillery and amour units. Therefore in theory the army should have 81 thousand troops deployed against the Tigers in the north and east now.

Informed military analysts say that at any given time there are at least 15-20 thousand soldiers who have deserted their ranks and are still at large. Then it is estimated that the army has lost at least six thousand soldiers who were killed or reported missing in action and who were wounded permanently since the LTTE unleashed Operation Unceasing Waves III on November 1999.

The recruitment since April this year has not gone much beyond the number required for filling the vacancies due to soldiers retiring and leaving (the natural depletion rate).

Hence we can safely surmise that there are about of 55-60 thousand soldiers actually deployed in the north and east currently. The average strength of each of the nine divisions in the north and east is therefore, hypothetically, around 6000-6500.

What is the current strength of the LTTE which these divisions are pitted against?

The army says that the hardcore manpower of the LTTE is around 8-10 thousand. The auxiliary forces raised in the Wanni by the Tigers since 1998 are estimated to number at least 40 thousand. (These are now being reorganised into a more formalized militia called the Makkal Padai with its own commissariat and command structure along the lines of a conventional army) Reports from the Wanni indicate that the Tigers have mobilized at lease ten percent of the population there in to the semi conventional militias. (According to the Vavuniya Kachcheri there are approximately 375,000 people currently living in the LTTE controlled part of the Wanni.)

Here we see a gradual and imperceptible process whereby force levels in the overall military balance in the north and east are getting equalized. In this context we have to take note that the LTTE has not made any attempt so far to mobilize the Tamil population living in areas under its control in the eastern province. This process towards equalizing of force levels is also bringing about, again imperceptibly, a reduction in the overall offensive capability of the army.

Given the fact that the two army divisions in the east and the two and a half divisions in the Vavuniya and Mannar districts are not deployed in full strength, it is obvious that the army cannot pull out enough troops in either region to concentrate enough forces for any decisive offensive operation against LTTE positions there.

The only place where the army can achieve adequate concentration of forces to go on the offensive against the LTTE is the Jaffna peninsula. But again, the troop and fire concentrations required for offensives against the Tigers in Jaffna keep rising to unprecedented levels, although the returns to show for them are perceptibly decreasing. Compare what it cost for Op. Kiniheera to take part of the Chavakachcheri town with what it took for the army only three years ago to take Nedunkerni and Puliyankulam from the Tigers.

Therefore, in the final analysis, the central question before the government in prosecuting the war against the Tigers for the next six years is to arrest the processes whereby force levels are equalizing and the offensive potential of the army is facing limitations that may be beyond its control.

Otherwise spending infinitely more for inexorably diminishing returns in real military terms is inevitable.

The options available to the new government for overcoming this situation are few and bitter. One of course is to call for a ceasefire and begin talks with the Tigers. The other is for the army to draw the LTTE into a destructive war in Jaffna which could eventually sap its real strength by achieving even greater concentration of forces in the peninsula at the cost of temporarily losing a little real estate to the Tigers in the east and Wanni.

And this seems to be the course which the government is most likely to follow. Politically it has painted itself into a situation where it cannot consider the first option. Hence more war at greater cost is the only course left open for the PA now.
 

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