Tuesday, October 21, 2008

LTTE – Is it the Beginning of the End?

Sri Lanka’s counter-insurgency campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) entered a critical phase with the Lankan army tightening the noose around the rebel capital of Kilinochchi. If this were to happen, the LTTE would be confined to Mullaitivu. According to analysts, the fall of Kilinochchi could be the precursor to the opening of the Elephant Pass, leading to the Jaffna Peninsula.

The latest success achieved by the Lankan army came in the form of the capture of the strategic village of Vannerikulam, west of Kilinochchi following a two-month long hard-fought battle.

On September 15, 2008 a fierce battle started in the area of Akkarayankulam, which is located in the proximity of Kilinochchi. Military's spokesman said SLA troops were now just 5.5 km (3.4 miles) away from the rebel headquarters at Kilinochchi. BBC sources on the ground said that civilians were fleeing Kilinochchi into areas to the east, and rebel fighters were also going in the same direction.

On October 17, 2008 SLA troops cut-off Mannar-Poonaryn (A-32) road north of Nachchikudha, thus effectively encircling Nachchikudha, which is the main remaining Sea Tiger stronghold on the northwestern coast of the Island[i].

Task Force 1 of the Sri Lankan army which had bypassed the rebel stronghold Nachikuda, captured Manniyankulam and Vanneikulam advance along the A32 route to Pooneryn. It is probable that the LTTE’s access to sea routes to Tamil Nadu from the northern Mannar coast may be severely impeded. However, the top leadership of the Tigers may still be able to sneak out through the Uppu Aru Lagoon or through the Piramanthan Aru to the Indian Ocean. The possibilities of escape are quite high considering the topography of the region.

According to the Sri Lankan newspaper, Daily News, (20th October 2008) fierce fighting was on in Akkarayankulam west on 19th October as the LTTE continued to launch counter attacks on the troops which were holding the massive earth bund west of Akkarayankulam tank as they were aware that the loss of this earth bund would result in the loss of the Akkarayan village also to the security forces.

Task Force I operating under the command of Brigadier Shavendra Silva in the Kilinochchi district moving towards Nachchikuda by afternoon of 19th October completed the task of capturing the earth bund from west of Pandiveddikulam to Akkarayan west, capturing one kilometre stretch of earth bund in the east of Vannerikulam.

With the capture of the one km stretch of earth bund in the east of Vannerikulam the Task Force I troops have fully captured the 10 kilometre stretch of earth bund between the west of Pandiveddikulam and towards the east of Vannerikulam.

Pandiveddikulam is located some 7 kilometres north east of Nachchikudha.

There is only a kilometre stretch of the earth bund west of Akkarayankulam to be captured by the 57 Division to take full control of the earth bund from west of Pandiveddikulam to Akkarayankulam.

The Task Force I troops continued their march towards the north of the earth bund capturing Adampamodai village which is located 10 Km north east of Nachchikudha by yesterday afternoon.

With the capture of the Adampamodai village Task Force I can launch attacks towards Pooneryn in the North, Kiranchi or Valaipadu in the West, Nachchikudha in the South or Kilinochchi in the East, as they are now operating in an area with access to all directions.

Factors responsible for the Tigers’ downfall

The single most important factor which dented the Tigers’ combat capability was the split between its northern and eastern wings. In March 2004, eastern province military commander, V. Muralitharan, a.k.a. Karuna, wrote two letters effectively formalising the rift. The first to the LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran requesting that the LTTE’s eastern wing be allowed to “function independently” and called for a separate administration structure in the eastern Batticaloa-Ampara districts. The second letter was addressed to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), which oversaw the ceasefire, calling for a separate truce arrangement with the Colombo government. The central LTTE leadership, based in the northern Wanni area, first attempted to downplay the crisis describing it as a “temporary” episode. But on March 6, leader of the political wing, late S. Thamilchelvan, announced that Muralitharan had been removed and replaced by his deputy, T. Ramesh, and that other Prabkakaran loyalists had been appointed to eastern regional posts. He declared that Muralitharan’s move had been “instigated by some malicious elements” opposed to “Tamil liberation struggle” and that he had acted “traitorously to the Tamil people.”

Thamilchelvan’s statement amounted to a virtual death sentence for Karuna and his men. Karuna, however, had an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 guerrilla fighters—about one third of the LTTE’s total military forces—under his control. Far from backing down, he moved quickly to consolidate his position in Batticaloa-Ampara districts.

Secondly, LTTE became increasingly isolated internationally. The US and Canada besides India declared it a terrorist organization making it extremely difficult for the Tigers to raise funds and procure arms for its campaign against the security forces. The assassinations of Tamil politicians and the indiscriminate use of violence made it virtually impossible for the international community to recognize it as a representative of the Lankan Tamils.

Thirdly, the Sri Lankan navy achieved unprecedented success in 2007 when it was able to sink a number of ships of the Eelam navy. (Read the Author’s The LTTE: On the Backfoot November 3, 2007) The naval operations had a big impact on the illegal arms shipment network.

Further the death of Anton Balsingham who was a political strategist and negotiator was a body blow to the separatists.

Sri Lanka also obtained necessary support from China, Pakistan and military hardware (read Kfir C-2 aircraft-6 Nos) from Israel in 2006 and radars from India and the US. Eelam War IV saw the Lankan navy and air force playing a more meaningful role in the war against Tamil terror.

In conclusion, it remains to be seen whether the rains in Sri Lanka will bog down the armed forces making it difficult for them to speed up operations. Any respite at this point of time will only enable the Tigers to carry out a tactical retreat and later regroup to fight another round another day.

[i] Wikipedia