Since the launch of 'Op eration Jaya Sikurui' or 'Victory Assured' on May 13, the intensity of the separatist war during the past 117 days has centered around the Wanni. Not a day passed without the burst of gunfire, artillery and mortars. The only exception was the past 48 hours where a UN agency called a truce for the sake of the next generation now caught in the cross fire.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) embarked on a countrywide Polio Immunization Programme on Saturday and Sunday. It will continue on October 10 and 11 too. Both LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga agreed to call the four days in September and October 'days of tranquility.' In a statement issued from the LTTE's 'International Secretariat' in London, Tiger leader, Prabhakaran said 'LTTE is prepared to declare 5th and 6th of September, as well as 10th and 11 of October, as 'days of tranquility' and expressed his 'hope that the Sri Lanka Government would co-operate with UNICEF's campaign by also observing peace during those four days.'
In a statement issued on Saturday, President Kumaratunga said 'I am glad to be informed by UNICEF that they have a message from the LTTE leader, of a similar declaration of 'days of tranquility.' It is a fleeting but significant moment of common respect and recognition for the key health interventions of immunisation.
Added President Kumaratunga: "A special word of thanks is due to the ICRC which liaised with the LTTE, and which has helped in numerous ways to ensure the success of the campaign in the north."
Just before the '48 hours of tranquility', the security forces and Tiger guerrillas fought pitched gun battles for the strategic Puliyankulam junction. Troops were still a kilometre away. The fact that there was temporary peace on the battlefield did not mean all was quiet in the portals of the country's defence establishment. To the contrary, they were far too busy. Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, summoned Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force for an urgent session.
The shock waves caused by the Sri Lanka Air Force aircraft losses — 19 in the two years of so called 'Eelam War Three' - (SITUATION REPORT August 31) was continuing to reverberate in the war establishment. Of the only two remaining AN 32 transport aircraft, only one was air worthy and operational. The other transport aircraft, the Shaanxi Y 8 which underwent a complete refit with the manufacturers in China and was brought down only two months ago, is at the hangar with a nose problem. Added to that, a private operator's contractual obligations were to terminate over the week-end.
Needless to say that the slowing down of troop movements through an air corridor was not a matter of comfort for Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte. He has been under tremendous pressure from his senior field commanders who were faced with the twin problem of sending troops on leave from the north to Colombo and having others who had gone on leave to return to Jaffna. The build-up of a considerable number is due to SLAF's inability to maintain an effective flight schedule due to lack of aircraft.
Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera came to the Army's aid several months ago by arranging to transport a considerable number by sea. However, heavy strains on the Navy's resources have placed considerable restrictions.
Defence Secretary de Silva, official sources said yesterday, worked out immediate plans to overcome a crisis situation. For obvious reasons they cannot be spelt out. But suffice to say that the serious situation has been brought about by the string of air disasters faced by the Sri Lanka Air Force - a matter which prompted President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to appoint a top level Committee to conduct a detailed probe. The report is now being studied by her. In the past months, difficulties encountered by the SLAF to meet the increasing demands of troop movements prompted senior Army officials to think seriously about the creation of an Army Air Corps like in the case of the United States or in the United Kingdom.
'The idea is not to commit heavy expenditure into setting up another air arm. Our numbers have grown manifold. Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is making all armies to modernise for a new century. The time has come to start in a small way. A good example is our commando squadron which is now a Regiment,' explained a senior Army official who did not wish to be identified.
He added 'we must appreciate the role the Air Force has played in the past. But recent events which are unfortunate have placed very severe constraints. That should not be allowed to hamper the war effort.' The remarks seemed to underscore the immediate urgencies necessitated by 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' in the past three months. If the past months have seen the creation of records in the field of cricket and atheletics, records also tumbled in Sri Lanka's post independent military history in the same period. 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' ('Victory Assured') has entered Sri Lanka's military history with the highest casualty rate and heaviest in terms of equipment losses. Statistics now being compiled record a staggering 600 killed in action. Although more than 3,500 have been wounded, the majority of them are classed as 'walking wounded.' This has surpassed the casualty figures of many phases of 'Operation Riviresa' that led to the capture of Jaffna peninsula. In the latter operation 450 died and 3,331 were wounded.
Besides losses of assorted arms and ammunition during counter attacks, the Army has lost ten Main Battle Tanks including a command tank since 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' was launched. The LTTE also captured a tracked Russian built armoured personnel carrier.
For the LTTE too, the onslaught of the military offensive has been severe. One of its biggest problems, senior military officials said, was the difficulty of tending to its casualties. These reports have been corroborated by LTTEers who were captured recently.
The LTTE now confined to the jungles of the Wanni are bound to have ever increasing problems of logistics. As far as military hardware and ammunition is concerned, the LTTE are reported to have a fair inventory, most of it seized from the security forces. The main area of concern to the LTTE leadership must surely be the many aspects that go to sustain a fighting man logistically.
Even though the guerrilla is psychologically attuned to frugal living and hardship, their morale and well being still depends on survival logistics mainly rations, access to medical facilities and rehabilitation of the maimed and crippled.
Even though the LTTE must have a basic medical organisation, the lack of more advanced facilities is a drawback. In the early stages of the war, the LTTE had access to the medical infrastructure of Tamil Nadu. With LTTE control over Jaffna, the base hospital in the peninsula was available to them. Even after the loss of that facility, the LTTE was developing Kilinochchi as a medical base. That too is now lost. Even though a limited number of casualties are yet evacuated to Tamil Nadu, the lack of medical logistics is a grave setback both to the morale of the LTTE cadres as well as to the attraction of new recruits.
In spite of these logistics shortcomings the resilience of the LTTE should not be under estimated. If cadres are prepared for suicide missions, then survival even in the face of medical shortcomings is comparatively less painful. The best illustration of the hardships a guerrilla is prepared to undergo is in the case of Vietnam.
The Army Headquarters has made a few changes at the senior levels. Major General Patrick Fernando, General Officer Commanding the Army's Two Division hedquartered Anuradhapura has been named deputy to Overall Operations Commander, Major General Asoka Jayawardena. Taking over as GOC Two Division is Major General Asoka Silva, who was GOC One Division. The latter division is to be overlooked by Major General Jaliya Nammuni, Commandant of the Volunteer Force.
Brigadier T.M. Bohran has been named Deputy General Officer Commanding the 55 Division. Brigadier Gamini Gunasekera who held that position has taken over as Commander, 12 Brigade in Colombo. On this side of the fence, 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' which started with a bang has whimperingly stalled. This has come about, paradoxically, not because the security forces lacked the strength and clout to face its advance to Kilinochchi but because it was incapable to consolidate and secure its gains against LTTE counter attacks.
This perhaps is a classic example of bad operational planning. It is not that the security forces lack professionalism to do so for professionally most of its planners are both qualified and now battle seasoned to disregard or under estimate the nuances of operational logistics. Hence the inescapable conclusion here is that they have been compelled to subordinate essential aspects of military planning for other priorities.
And the only other priority that prevails and has been earlier demonstrated in the hindsight of failed operations is the priority to political exigencies over military realities.
For instance, what now appears to be an ad hoc decision to raise Navy, Air Force and Police battalions to fortify the rear of the advancing 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' columns or to plug in surrendered deserters to do so exposes the naiveté of planning against the reality of guerrilla methodology. Quite apart from the well known guerrilla doctrinaire of attacking the rear, a mere assessment of the capabilities of the LTTE would have realised that they are incapable of facing up frontally to the conventional superiority of the security forces.
In such circumstance, the obvious selection would be to attack behind the lines which the LTTE successfully did on three occasions. What surprises some senior military officials is that considering the original name 'Jaya Sikurui', to open a 74 kilometres corridor (from Vavuniya to Kilinochchi), military planning should have taken into account the securing of that corridor to maintain a full time, usable main supply route.
That they were unable to maintain this in a mere 17 kilometre (from Omanthai to near Puliyankulam) only exaggerates the question as to how the security forces could, in such a situation, maintain a 74 kilometre main supply route. This question will continue to baffle those who closely observe the nearly 16 years old separatist war. However, whilst these questions beg answers, it is being fortuitously fortunate that the advance to Puliyankulam has enabled the security forces to consolidate more or less in a contiguous line from the east to the west coast. Many observers hope that the consolidation will not develop into an extended bunker line which would turn into defensive posturing. In as much as it is mot unlikely that the security forces can make further meaningful gains before the onset of the monsoon, they say, that the SF should actively dominate the Wanni. This, they say, is the logical counter to the guerrilla who depends on mobility and surprise to gain military advantage.
That being so, in the northern theatre, military observers say, that the north east monsoon period is an ideal time to activate increased operations in the eastern province to restore security forces domination.
Considering the terrain and the distribution of population in the eastern province, the monsoon period should not hinder security force operations in the eastern sector as much as it would in the totally different type of operations required in the northern province.
If the security forces could wrest some advantage in the eastern province, it would stand in good stead to reinforce the operational capability of the 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' programme in the post monsoon period.
Thus, it would appear that the monsoon period is time for consolidation and the security forces should take advantage of their infrastructural superiority to gain a military advantage over the LTTE in those months.
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