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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > LTTE gearing up for battle of Jaffna

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

 

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 need.

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 people.

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 22.8.76.)

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.

Wrong Choices

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 penetrable.

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 strength.

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.

 

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