Tigers short of manpower ?
9 May 1999
It is more than seven months since the LTTE attacked and overran
the Kilinochchi base. There is speculation in many quarters as to
why the Tigers have not done anything big so far. The establishment
thinking is that they are quite short of manpower. Even the most
exaggerated accounts of the losses suffered by LTTE in the
Kilinochchi attack do not exceed 2000- killed and permanently
The organisation has been engaged in an aggressive recruitment drive
since October 1998. The LTTE would normally draw at least hundred
boys and girls a month from each of the high recruitment districts
of Batticaloa, Mullaithivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar. Not less than
another hundred a month join from the districts of Ampara, Vavuniya,
Trincomalee, Jaffna and the hill country. (The LTTE recruits more in
those parts of Mutur and the southeastern coast of Jaffna, both
which are not under the direct control of the army).
The rate at which boys, girls and children attach themselves to a
guerrilla organisation without propaganda, persuasion or coercion
can be called 'accretion' (as in the usage of the term in geology
and astronomy). Here we are talking of a minimum accretion of three
thousand new recruits, drawn since the Kilinochchi attack, if we
deduct the number that got killed in confrontations, army ambush
etc., in the seven months that followed.
But the LTTE insists that this is not enough and it is obviously not
willing to commit any of its battalion sized combat groups to defend
territory in the north.
An editorial comment in the Feb-March issue of the Viduthalaipuligal,
the LTTE's official paper published in the Wanni, was mainly the
basis of recent military intelligence reports that the Tigers want
to train all able bodied adults and youth in the areas which they
The editorial of the Viduthalaipuligal acknowledges, rather
uniquely, that the shortage of manpower was the main reason that the
LTTE was unable to stop the army from capturing new territory in the
Wanni. There is an urgent need for more people to prevent the army
from further expanding its area of control says the
Firstly the shortage that the LTTE is talking about is not merely a
problem of sustaining force levels. As we pointed out at the outset,
the monthly rate of 'accretion' in the high recruitment districts
alone is enough for the Tigers to sustain the optimum force levels
for the conventional military power that they had when they attacked
Kilinochchi and to carry out guerrilla and infiltration attacks in
army held areas in the north and east.
This is enough to keep the army spread and pinned down all over the
Wanni, Jaffna and the east until such time the economy of the
country is in tatters. Therefore, quite obviously, the LTTE's call
for new recruits is not just a call for its survival as a
semi-conventional fighting force.
A brief common sense perusal of the strategic trajectory of Eelam
War II and III would reveal (as we have underscored in these columns
often) that Prabhaharan is intent on inexorably escalating the
intensity of conflict. The size and military strength of each target
the LTTE has been able to take on since 1990 have increased
From Mankulam to Kilinochchi this growth has been unaffected by the
loss of territory. In other words, the degree of damage the LTTE is
able to inflict on the army's military assets goes up in every major
attack (if it is a success of course). If this reasoning is valid
then the next attack by the Tigers will be aimed at wreaking greater
destruction than what Op. Unceasing Waves II did to the Kilinochchi
military base complex.
So the LTTE's current recruitment drive is not merely for the
purpose of replenishing the strength of the conventional units it
had at the time of Op. Unceasing Waves II but to raise new units and
formations to match the hardware that's coming in.
Hence what the Tigers mean when they currently talk about their
manpower shortage is apparently this: they do not have enough troops
to stop the army from taking strategically unimportant areas while
being able to deploy adequate forces to defend their heartland from
any major thrust by the army, to maintain strategic reserves (the
core units with Prabhaharan), to escalate hit and run attacks in
Jaffna and to train for another conventional operation against army
The LTTE assumes that the army wants to disperse its still
unimpaired potential to achieve a formidable concentration of forces
against a logistically practicable military target by capturing
"strategically peripheral territory" and then launch a final
multi-pronged strike into the 'heartland'.
This, according to the Tigers, is the army's current strategy to
decisively break their conventional power in the Wanni. The
Viduthalaipulihal says that the government abandoned Op. Jaya
Sikurui when it failed to achieve this by attacking right into the
heartland for opening the A9.
Now, according to the official organ, the army wants to extend the
theatre of operations by identifying areas where the LTTE would
offer least or no resistance and, thereby, diffuse the conventional
formations of the organisation over a wider front.
The expanded theatre of operations gives the army the tactical
advantage of more and shorter internal lines than what the LTTE has
in the territory under its control in the Wanni currently. The
Tigers say that this would create the 'objective conditions' for the
army to launch a decisive conventional thrust with its strategic
strike force into the Wanni heartland.
From what they say, it seems that the Tigers are looking at two
possibilities. One is that they would wait until the army sends in
its strategic strike force to encounter it and damage it decisively.
They seem to think that the army's normal units are spread so thin
on the ground that any degree of damage suffered by the strategic
strike force would be to their long-term advantage. Hitting such a
unique concentration of the army's core fighting units in the
heartland with the strength that he has been building up since
Kilinochchi was overrun appears to be a prospect that Prabhaharan is
carefully considering with his planners.
But then, as I said, it might be just one of his options.