LTTE gearing up for battle of Jaffna
3 March 1992
The latest issue of the LTTE's official organ "Viduthalai
Pulihal' carries a message from Mathaya to the people of Jaffna
headlined "we shall resolve to defeat the invasion".
The message is about an impending army offensive into Jaffna, the
L.T.T.E's current position on war and peace and what the people of
Jaffna should do by way of preparing for facing the battles of the
offensive. The message says "we keep the doors of peace wide open.
But the Sri Lankan government keeps on beating the drums of war. The
government doesn't appear to be interested in talks now.
They dream of an easy military victory. The government's present
position is to carry out military operations till the Tigers are
weak and sizeable territory is captured and then drag them into
negotiations and impose solutions. This is why the government is
making preparations to launch a massive invasion into the Peninsula.
It knows that as long as the LTTE is strong it cannot impose
inadequate solutions... therefore the destruction of the Tigers'
power is equal to the suppression of the Tamil struggle. We have to
defeat the invasion of the enemy. Our fighters are preparing to face
this military invasion of the Sinhala government. If the Sinhala
army comes into the Peninsula it will be a battle bigger than all
the battles in the past. Hence we have to immediately start making
massive preparations to counter it. When we say massive preparation
we will need manpower on a large scale. This cannot be supplied by
the Tigers alone. The people will have to turn Tigers to meet this
In the battles for the Elephant Pass and Manalaaru (Weli-Oya)
the role played by the people has given us encouragement. History
will proudly record the work done outside those battle fields by the
A similar role is expected of the people in the coming battle as
well. In this battle the self defence of the people is intertwined
with the back-up work for the war front... Preventive measures and
duties: Volunteer corps should be set-up in every village, bunkers
should be dug everywhere: dry rations should be collected and saved:
rumours should be controlled and needless displacement of people be
prevented; information co-ordinators will have to be appointed to
every village to avoid rumours and displacement: a force has to be
formed to donate blood and look after the wounded; Vigilante groups
should be created in certain areas: above all young boys and girls
should join our army to replace our army to replace our fighters who
die in the battle." This message of the LTTE to the people of Jaffna
leaves no room for doubt that it had certain expectations of
Thondaman's proposals. It is also clear that they hope that by
projecting this - after the Elephant Pass - as the mother of all
battles, there will be greater international attention focused on
their war and that their ranks would swell with young recruits who
may be roused by the impending 'great' battle. As at Elephant Pass
many children will die.
(One LTTE member who was killed there Thiruchelvam Gajendran was 13
- born 25.7.77. another a girl Mallika Ponrasa was 14 - born
According to the `Viduthalai Pulihal' (p.3) the LTTE thinks that the
army will launch simultaneous attacks on several fronts or points on
the Peninsula's periphery - which would be aimed at the heartland of
the Peninsula. This assessment of the army's strategy by the LTTE
might put the Tiger commanders in some difficulties.
In his lengthy discussions on bad strategic choices by the
commanders, General Jomini observed that many military leaders, in
attempting to defend territory or a weaker army let the adversary
take the advantage of deciding where, when and how to attack. He
also noted such commanders, in the history of western warfare,
invariably courted disaster when they, uncertain how to protect or
exploit several natural lines of operations hedged their bets by
dispersing their forces among several possibilities.
In a first glance scenario it would appear that the Tiger leadership
has got itself into a situation where it would be compelled
inevitably to make precisely those bad strategic choices described
by Jomini. Firstly it would seem that - if one were to go by
Mathaya's message -in their attempt to defend the Peninsula they
have let the army take the necessary advantage of deciding when,
where and how to strike with superior force. Secondly that,
uncertain of the army's aims for the Peninsula they will have to
hedge their bets by dispersing their precious manpower among several
points through which they think the army can launch and sustain
offensive thrusts into the peninsula.
If this were to be the case, by the transfer and manoeuvring of the
mass of its northern forces in the past two months so as to threaten
the decisive points in the Peninsula's defence, the army should now
have dispersed the Tigers troops strength among all these points.
And then the army will have to hurl all available forces against
only a fraction of the Tigers thus dispersed defending some of these
points, and thereby technically establish a military dominant
presence in the Peninsula.
But the crucial question is - has the troop movements and the
publicity related to `the' impending battle for Jaffna's control,
pushed the LTTE into making bad strategic choices? One can have an
inkling of the LTTE military future in Jaffna if one considers two
things. The one, the nature of the `decisive points' on the
Peninsula's periphery. The other, the inner compulsions and
imperatives of the LTTE itself.
If one were to go by the LTTE assessment of the `impending' battle
for Jaffna, there are five points on the Peninsula's periphery at
which offensives to break into the Tiger held interior might be
directed. They are A: the Pooneryn - Kerathivu-Chavakacheri zone. B:
Idaikadu Thondarma-naru - Vadamaradchi interior. C:
Vallipuram-Nagarkoil-Thalaiyadi coast Vadamaradchi interior.
D.Ponnalaimoolai-Chulipuram-Mathagal coast and hinter land. E: Arali
Jetty-Pommaiveli -Jaffna Town - Ariyalai-Poompuhar.
After almost 20 months of intense war in the north the army has now
secured three strategic zones to the south, south west of the
Peninsula's periphery. Offensives into Jaffna's heartland in the red
soil region and Vadamaradchi-interior can be launched and sustained
from these zones. The South-South western zone comprising Kayts and
Pooneryn have made points A and E vulnerable. The north western zone
comprising of Karainagar island and Palaly-K.K.S. area has made
points B and D vulnerable. The considerable amphibious capability
demonstrated by the S.L.A. in Vettilaikerny makes point C
The problem is that all major operations from the south and south
western zone have to include a substantial amphibious component
because of the shallow sea that separates Kayts and Pooneryn from
the mainland. Resource constraints can arise if there has to be more
than one large scale amphibious operation. Unlike in Vettilaikerny
where Tiger defences, as they themselves acknowledged later, had to
fall in the open spaces of the region, all areas that lie on the
mainland have built up areas near the coast. The Kerathivu -
Chavakacheri road and the Arali-Jetty-Pommaveli road lie in open
spaces but the hinterland in both cases has dense buildings and an
intricate network of by-lanes.
Red Soil region
On the other hand the north-north western military zone lies by
Jaffna's densely populated red soil region. The zone was
substantially expanded into the interior last year with little
resistance from the Tigers, up to Kurumbacity and Kadduvan in the
south east interior of the red-soil heartland and up to the environs
of Atchuvely and Idaikadu on the coast towards Thondamanar.
But there are very few or no civilians in this expanded military
zone. People start vacating their villages as soon as there is an
indication of a major military move. The control of territory sans
its civilian population makes the final political objective
meaningless. Hence avoiding large scale civilian displacement while
advancing against the LTTE defences can be a problem in the
hinterland of this zone if the army is thinking in terms of wresting
civilian control also from the LTTE.
Finally, the Vallipuram-Thalaiyadi coast is most vulnerable because
of the vast open spaces of its hinterland.
So the LTTE which according to its official organ expects
simultaneous offensives through decisive points on the Peninsula's
periphery into its heartland, has to distribute its troop strength,
resources and fire power at least among the five points described
here which lie exposed to the army's three launching zones and an
amphibious assault from the sea.
In attempting to defend Jaffna with their troops which do not have
the crucial artillery support, they now have no other choice but let
the army decide when, where and how. And the Tigers in these
circumstances, have to hedge their bets by dispersing troop
For General Jomini this is the inevitable recipe for disaster in the
long history of conventional war. But the fact that all the
anticipated points on Jaffna's periphery which can be supplied
easily from its heartland which has a highly developed
infrastructure and an intricate net work of roads and bylanes,
introduces a qualifying dimension to Jomini's battle tested recipe.
The problem of Vallaveli's vast open space separating Vadamaradchi
from the rest of Jaffna has been surmounted by the LTTE due to their
setting-up of Vadamaradchi and non Vadamaradchi commands for Jaffna.
This means the Tigers might have enough time to relocate resources
and troops to a point by the time it becomes certain that the real
thrust is directed at that point. But if there is a two pronged
attack one supplementing the other the LTTE will have to loose some
part or parts of the Peninsula. The most important aspect of LTTE's
military response however will be determined by the number of their
boys and girls, they are prepared to throw into the battle or
battles to defend Jaffna.
I think that there is a definite and decisive internal compulsion in
the LTTE to minimize casualties and save manpower as much as
possible. According to their own statistics from October to December
last year they have lost only 86 members but claim to have recovered
155 weapons and killed 256 army personnel. They now say that its
going to be a long haul. So this trend will be decisive.
The twin objective of defending Jaffna and saving up man-power: How
can they do it? The conditionality which centrally underpins
Mathaya's message and all their public statements provides the
answer. The battle for Jaffna - the Tigers may hope - will be
defensive and hence low on casualties but civilian involvement and
youthful emotions roused by the "greatest of all battles" may swell
their ranks immensely. And with that they may prepare for the long
haul. All this will depend finally on how many troops the government
is prepared to commit for holding operations in the Peninsula and
how much civilian control can be taken from the LTTE.
If the Tigers demonstrate an ability to sustain a massive fire power
in the battle for Jaffna the government would do well to discard the
belief that Indian action in Tamilnadu and the Palk Strait is a
sufficient condition for weakening the Tiger. The Arul 89 which was
assumed to be out of production because of the closure of Tamilnadu
supply points, was recently fired at the army near Mattuvilnadu in
Pooneryn according to Eelanatham (15.1.92) and then an Indian
government official said this week that they had reliable
information that a large consignment of explosives and ammunitions
for the LTTE's heavy machine guns and recoilless rifles had slipped
through their surveillance in the bay of Bengal and reached Jaffna.
An anti-LTTE group close to the military intelligence confirmed that
the Tigers have in the past few weeks began re-using the RCL and the
.50 calibre. Another anti-LTTE source close to Delhi had reason to
complain on Friday that the Indians were unable to touch 'J' the
founder and boss of a powerful multi-national corp in an important
South East Asian country who allegedly handles the arms shipments of
the LTTE. He is said to be a close associate of 'K.P.' -
Prabhakran's elusive arms purchaser.
Therefore, if it is going to be one long haul after the battle for
Jaffna the war will then be determined by how much of its manpower
that the LTTE would be able to retain after the battle and how many
troops that the government can afford to use for holding Jaffna.