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Home > Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom  > Tamil Armed Resistance & the Law  > Reports on Armed Conflict in Tamil Eelam > Liberation Tigers combined air, ground attack on Anuradhapura air base > Who's writing the script of the war?

REPORTS ON ARMED CONFLICT IN TAMIL EELAM

Who's writing the script of the war?

J.S. Tissainayagam, 28 October 2007

The frustration and chagrin of the Indian establishment at the LTTE's attack on the Anurdhapura airbase were reflected in the editorial of The Hindu:

"Pushed into the Wanni jungles … as a result of a relentless, year-long campaign by the Sri Lankan military, a desperate LTTE has scored a hit of modest military significance."

The same impotent rage was evident in Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake's statement in parliament:

"The attack was an act of desperation by them to build their flagging morale and also to get the attention of the international community."

Beyond the rhetoric, however, both the government and the international community will no doubt realise the enormous impact the attack has had on the military capability of the Sri Lankan security forces and factor it into calculations on how they deal with the rebels in the coming months.

For the LTTE, the most important gain from the attack is that it turned tables on the government with one well-calculated stroke. A recurrent theme in the rhetoric of the government, especially Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was that the military's successes in the East gave the LTTE two options: either come for talks from a position of weakness or face continuing attacks on its stronghold in the Wanni.

The attack, however, has forced the government that was on offensive mode to go on the defensive. Though it claims that its attack aircraft are still intact, a vital component in any offensive - surveillance and intelligence gathering of enemy targets - has been effectively neutralised by the destruction of the Beechcraft and drones. The loss of the Beechcraft also greatly inhibits the security forces' naval surveillance capability. Second, combat helicopters, which play an important role in assisting troops during ground operations, have been lost although the loss has not disabled the SLAF completely.

It stands to reason that the military assets lost at Anurdhapura airbase, estimated by senior UNP Parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne to be around US$ 439 million, be made good. But as important, resource allocations have to be made for installing/strengthening defence systems, including air defence, because what was in place has clearly proved inadequate.

An important component in military strategy is to derail the strategic plan of the enemy. An emergency compels a combatant to deal with such a development immediately, resulting in not only resources allocated for something else being channelled to meet the emergency, but also the physical energies going to counter the unexpected leaving the combatant impoverished. It also saps morale.

On this instance, by compelling the security forces to look to strengthening their defence capabilities for resisting further attacks rather than going on the offensive in the Wanni, the Tigers have forced the government to respond to a plan they have scripted, rather than advance the programme the government would wish implemented.

Third, the attack in Anuradhapura, a garrison town and population centre, located well within Sri Lanka government-controlled territory, which is almost exclusively inhabited by Sinhalese and is of great Buddhist and historical significance, places an enormous burden on the government. What the LTTE has done is to signal that attacks in the future would not be confined to the Northeast, but that its strike capabilities extend to the South as well.

Although the airbase was a military target, since it was located within a population centre the attack has affected civilians such as those denizens of Anuradhapura who appeared on TV to relate their tales of woe. This comes on top of the unpopular spiralling cost of living that the public has been ordered to endure as an inevitable consequence of suppressing terrorism. In other words, the political fallout of the attack is going to be of tremendous significance to the government.

Following the attack on the airbase, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was quoted as saying, "…Monday's attack on the Anuradhapura camp would not in any way upset planned military operations against the LTTE terrorists and their bases in the Wanni." If indeed "planned military operations" have not been "upset" in "any way," the civilian population in the South would be placed at a huge risk to guard against further incursions by the Tigers. Because however hard the government might try to gainsay the fact that the attack has not compromised it significantly, the fact remains that if the security forces continue to place greater emphasis on an offensive, there will be repercussions on guaranteeing the security of both installations and civilians in the South.

We should also note that the deep penetration mission carried out by 21 cadres of the Black Tigers continues a trend the LTTE has been using successfully from the late 1990s to neutralise the enemy's military assets and capability. It is path-breaking only in that it effectively combined the use of ground and air attack capability effectively.

In February 1998, the LTTE used commando units to neutralise the Paranthan camp of the Sri Lanka army that lay between the Kilinochchi military complex and Elephant Pass base before securing Kilinochchi after an operation lasting several days.

Similarly, in March 2001, during Operation Unceasing Waves III, the Tigers carried out an amphibious guerrilla attack on Pallai camp to neutralise the army's artillery base and interdict the supply route to Iyakatchi and Elephant Pass camps. This was followed by attacks on the water supply from Iyakatchi to the Elephant Pass base culminating in a full-scale assault on Elephant Pass, which fell in April 2001.

The operation carried out on the SLAF's Katunayake base in July 2001 resulted in losses to the air force and Sri Lanka's commercial air carrier, the consequence of which was expediting the ceasefire and talks that the Tigers believed would serve them well at that juncture of the conflict.

This column said (Telescope July 22, 07) that with the Northeast monsoon placing restrictions on the mobility of the security forces, the Tigers would begin systematic guerrilla operations to regain the military parity they had lost by the government pushing them out of the East.

These losses in the East are, however, measured by the territory the Tigers had ceded to the army. But withdrawal from the East, while keeping much of its fighting units intact have given the Tigers the capability to turn their attention to delivering a crippling blow on the air force and negating some of the recent military advantages the government gained. The consequences of Anuradhapura attack are bound to be apparent in military operations in the days to come.

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