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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Game Plan for a Grand Slam

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

 

Game Plan for a Grand Slam

3 March 1996


Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte has said that the war would be brought to an end by April this year. It is clear from the actions and statements of the Tigers that they have more or less assumed that the next major operation in Jaffna would be into the southern part of Thenmarachchi with a view to cutting off the peninsula from the mainland completely - a large scale version of Operation Yal Devi. (The LTTE's International Secretariat claimed recently that the government is delaying the operation because some senior officers in the army are reluctant to sanction it).

It is also evident that the LTTE is not going to resist the offensive. It has pulled out almost all its vital military assets from both Vadamarachchi and Thenmarachchi and seems to be digging in for a long haul in the region.

The government on the other hand may find it easier this time to achieve what it singularly failed to do in Operation Riviresa. Unlike the thrust towards the Jaffna town, an offensive which spreads towards Chavakachcheri, Kilaly and Pallai either from army positions in eastern Valikamam or from the bases of Elephant Pass and Pooneryn can be expected to prevent a mass exodus from Vadamarachchi and Thenmarachchi mainly due to its swiftness in the absence of heavy resistance from the LTTE. The government's aim of stopping the civilians from running away from captured areas may be facilitated this time by the current mood in the LTTE hierarchy as well.

The Tigers, it appears, will probably decide not to evacuate the population to the Vanni through the now precarious Kilaly passage. An impending drought in the Vanni, opposition in both areas to mass relocation and the perception of certain tactical advantages are factors which now weigh against the prospect of another evacuation.

However, given the manner in which the army moves into Tiger-held areas, an exodus on a smaller scale would still be inevitable. If the army's next offensive, as the Tigers say, is going to be in the peninsula it will no doubt help the PA claim that the whole or most of Jaffna is under government control. In reality the situation would be such that the LTTE would draw the army into uselessly committing substantial resources and manpower to the captured areas while continuing to collect revenue from the people.

The army would be spread thin on the ground and the cost of maintaining the military balance in the north is bound to go up. The current state of affairs in Valikamam provides an idea of what may lie in store for the government in Vadamarachchi and Thenmarachchi. Refugees who went into the Valikamam region from Chavakachcheri to bring back produce from their now abandoned gardens say that there is no indication of the army's presence in Vaddukoddai, Manipay and several other areas. All these places are officially supposed to be under government control.

Though there is no other way to confirm the reports of these refugees who have, however, sold their produce brought back from Valikamam in the Chavakachcheri market for a good profit, one is able to gather from the LTTE's current stand on allowing people to go back into such areas, that it has other plans for what appears to be a military vacuum in many parts of the region captured by the army during Operation Riviresa.

The LTTE has launched a relentless recruitment drive in the north and in many areas of the east. The LTTE says it is in need of more fighters to eventually lay siege to the army in the peninsula and capture its arms in general and its heavy weapons in particular. In this context it is pertinent to examine what the forthcoming offensive in Jaffna together with Operation Riviresa can achieve in bringing the war, according to General Ratwatte, to an end by April.

The conclusion of, or victory in, a war prosecuted against an unyielding enemy is measured primarily by the irreparable destruction wrought on his military assets and on the means by which he sustains those assets.

We may say that today the military assets of the LTTE are: a) the officer corps which was systematically trained and raised, though without rank, during Eelam War Two. b) the production units, vessels, arms, special units etc., of the Sea Tigers c) the apparatus for training and institutions for defence studies including specialised libraries and original defence publications in Tamil. d) the research and development units. e) logistics f) ordnance. g) communications. h) fuel, ammunition, and explosives dumps. i) medical units and their supplies. j) the expertise, networks and wherewithal to plan and execute operations outside the northeast.

The nature and scale of the army offensives in Jaffna have to be such that the LTTE is assured of ample time to safely relocate its military assets.

It should have been clear to the government at the conclusion of Operation Leap Forward that the Tigers were not going to expose all their resources in defending their positions in the peninsula. According to conventional wisdom the LTTE should have poured a significant portion of its military assets into defending at least the town of Jaffna and its environs when Operation Riviresa forged ahead.

This had been the experience of the Indian army when it fought its way into Jaffna. The Tigers exposed and lost the core of their experienced officer corps, a significant portion of its R and D units, ordnance, fuel, ammo and explosives dumps, and many more in Operation Pawan. When they had to retreat into the jungles of the Vanni they went virtually without any of the military resources which they had managed to build up during the latter phase of Eelam War One, depending, precariously, on some supplies that had been stored in the jungles of Mullaithivu.

It is a long standing belief among western military thinkers beginning with Jomini that an enemy would concentrate a substantial and critical part of his military assets in one particular place and thereby expose them to destruction at the hands of a force with a decisive and overwhelmingly superior firepower, if something considered by him ( the enemy) strategically vital and perhaps indispensable - a town, a pass, a line of supply, a stretch of coast etc., - is substantially and really threatened.

The task of destroying the enemy's military assets would otherwise be drawn in time and space, costing much to the government prosecuting the war while providing ample tactical and strategic advantages to the opponent .

It therefore follows that the Tigers who considered Jaffna vital to their political, military, economic, cultural and administrative affairs should have concentrated most of their military resources into a concerted attempt to defend the place. This should have helped the army with its superior artillery and air power destroy a critical part of Tiger manpower and arsenal with ease in one place and within a short time. But this did not happen despite the claim.

While the LTTE resisted the advance in some places, the massive relocation of its military resources was very much underway. It is patent from the LTTE's statements after Riviresa that the decision to withdraw had also been occasioned by reports (most probably from its intelligence wing) that the Indians were involved in the artillery barrages which were helping the army immensely in pushing through Tiger terrain with greater ease.

The army was confronted fiercely at Neervely only to the extent of providing adequate time and cover for the complete evacuation of a vast fortified underground complex in that area. The cream of the LTTE's officer corps was deliberately kept away from all the encounters of Operation Riviresa.

The Sea Tigers remained largely unaffected by the offensive even though following Operation Leap Forward it was expected in the north that the army would attempt to capture the Vadamarachchi coast in a swift move to inflict maximum damage on bases of the LTTE's powerful naval arm and the resources accumulated in them in order to eradicate the threat to the government's supply routes in the northern seas.

It is of course true that the LTTE lost many steel and concrete structures above and below the ground in Riviresa. But these cannot essentially be classified as military assets. It should be reminded in this connection that both Jomini and Clausewitz who drew their principles mainly from Napoleanic warfare failed to study the nature and strategy of enemies who would rather live to fight another day than expose their military resources and strength to a superior force, regardless of the degree of threat to something considered vital to their strategic or economic interests.

(When Napoleon approached, the Russians torched Moscow and retreated. The Kandyan kings did the same when they fought the Dutch.)

Here an objection may be raised on the ground that Operations Leap Forward and Riviresa have substantially diminished the number of troops the LTTE can actually commit in any future battle with the forces and secondly, that these operations have deprived the Tigers of a part of their main revenue base in the peninsula which was Valikamam. This, it may be argued, can make the sustenance of the LTTE's military assets difficult in the long term.

Firstly the question of the substantial reduction in LTTE's troops.

It may be recalled that during the peace talks between the government and the LTTE, reports from various quarters indicated that at least three thousand youth had been recruited in the districts of the eastern province alone. There was a recruitment drive in the north as well in this period. Government sources said at that time that the military intelligence and the NIB also had reported a similar figure.

Even if we were to believe a foolish claim by someone that at least four thousand Tigers have died since the beginning of Eelam War Three, it would still mean that the LTTE now retains its pre- peace talks troop level which of course was considerable.

Secondly the question of the LTTE being deprived of its main revenue base which is essential to sustaining its military assets.
The capture of Jaffna should have ideally led to the sudden and irreplaceable loss of revenue required to maintain the LTTE's semi-conventional military power and administrative apparatus . This in turn should have critically reduced the LTTE's capacity to undertake major military operations, compelling it over a period of time to become a guerrilla force that could be fought less expensively.

The LTTE, however, decided to take its revenue base with it when it moved out of Valikamam. The LTTE believes that once conditions stabilise in the Vanni the displaced people of Jaffna would constitute a substantial and reliable source of revenue. Even if that belief were to be only partially correct it does not diminish much from the fact that the Tigers still retain the means essential to support their military assets. Then the government also helped them balance the loss of revenue in the north by letting vast fertile areas in the east to fall into their hands.

To repeat - the successful conclusion of a military campaign is measured by the irreparable destruction or the effective neutralisation of an enemy's military assets where other means of coercing him into peace or submission have failed.
The government's apparent determination to bring the war to an end by April has to be judged in this light.
 

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