ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 33
Columns - Situation Report

LTTE strengthens its striking power

  • Heavy infiltration into more towns and the armed forces
  • News blanket and alleged success stories giving wrong picture to people

By Iqbal Athas

The undeclared Eelam War IV now raging is assuming a unique character different from the three phases earlier.

Never before have members of the public countrywide been forced to personally feel the impact. This is the direct result of bombs that exploded inside buses. The one in Nittambuwa on January 5 left six dead and more than 50 injured. The other in Godagama in Hikkaduwa on January 6 left 15 killed and over 40 wounded.

The attacks were claimed as retaliation for alleged Air Force bombing of civilians near Mannar and an Army Long Range Reconnaisance Partrol (LRRP) in Nedukerny days earlier. The LTTE, as it has always done during attacks on civilians, stoutly denied it was responsible.

With warnings of more bomb explosions in buses, and even trains, checks of all passenger luggage including hand carried items have become a must. Security Forces personnel and Police have found these checks added to their already over burdened tasks.
An immediate impact of this move has been a drop in the use of public transport by civilians. That initial response was of course from casual travellers who opted out due to fear of bombs or the hassle of going through checks on what they carried. But that appeared to be only a temporary phenomenon. Moreover, State and private sector employees have to use public transport whether bombs explode or not.

This is in marked contrast to the previous phases of the Eelam War. Before the ongoing ceasefire came into effect in February 2002, checks were concentrated on those entering or leaving the City of Colombo. Thus, it was the greater Colombo area that was feared vulnerable to LTTE attacks. Sporadic checks were also carried out on civilians in principal towns then. That was confined largely to verification of national identity cards.

But today, the ongoing undeclared Eelam War IV has changed all this. Civilians countrywide find their belongings are subject to checks when they travel. In some towns, in addition, their homes are also subjected to searches. Highlighting this is by no means to fault the security forces or the police for conducting the checks or searches of homes.

But, a clear message emerges from these disturbing developments. That is the grim fact that the LTTE has developed new strike capabilities far outside the areas it dominates. It is such capability that helped the LTTE to move its cadres and bombs, or even explosives to build them, into areas like Nittambuwa and Hikkaduwa. Even earlier, similar incidents have underscored the same reality. A clear example was the truck explosion at Digampathana in Habarana on October 16. As previously reported, 116 were killed and over 130 wounded. A colossal number officially declared Missing in Action cannot be revealed for obvious reasons. Another is the guerrilla attack on the SLNS Dakshina, the naval establishment in Galle. Although the attackers came by boat from the east, it had become clear there was ground support from cadres operating secretly on the ground.

How many more such towns have the guerrillas infiltrated with bombs and weaponry? Even if the answer to this question is still not known, it is now clear to state intelligence agencies that a capability to carry out violent attacks was developed during the period of the ceasefire. Some of the security arms tasked to deal with this aspect obviously failed in their duty. Another is the equally disturbing find that treacherous officers in the Army sold intelligence information to the LTTE for vast amounts of money. Only a few have been found and they have helped unravel the mystery behind some of the major killings, attacks or assassination attempts.

Underscoring this aspect, The Sunday Times learnt, was a shocking discovery by a team of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) detectives probing the assassination attempt on the Commander of the Army Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka on April 25 last year. They successfully pieced together the damaged SIM card of a mobile telephone left behind at the scene of the attack by the female suicide bomber. It has come to light that someone, suspected to be inside the Army Headquarters complex, not only tipped off about Lt. Gen. Fonseka's exit from his office on that fateful day, but more disturbingly, the suicide bomber had received a call on the previous day too, possibility from within, though what they spoke is not known.

Hence, influencing treacherous officers with money and obtaining intelligence information has resultantly given the LTTE a new strike capability. That is to use such vital information to plan out attacks in places which the authorities may still not know. Here again some security arms tasked to oversee this vital area of activity failed.

One high ranking Police source conversant with ongoing investigations into LTTE infiltration in the armed forces said, "we have scratched the surface. There will be more as we dig deeper.” He spoke on grounds of anonymity.

It is therefore significant for many reasons that the LTTE has developed new capabilities during the ongoing undeclared Eelam War IV. Putting them to use in what seems a limited way has already shown signs of an increasing intensity. Unlike the previous phases of Eelam Wars, its impact is being felt by more and more Sri Lankans than before. Such a situation is developing at a time when both the Government and the LTTE are, at least officially, parties to a Ceasefire Agreement. Of course, the CFA only remains on paper. Yet, there are increasing signs that the ongoing undeclared war will escalate.

Main among them is the enhanced preparations the guerrillas are making on several fronts. It includes the western sea board, the Jaffna peninsula and the east including coastal areas. A fuller discussion of these preparations and what they portend would be of public interest. It will not only make them aware of developments but also educate them to be prepared to help the Government and the security forces much more.

However, such an appereciation is not possible in view of the Prevention and Prohibition of Terrorism and Specified Terrorist Activities Regulations promulgated on December 6, last year. As a result of this, accounts about the ongoing separatist war deny the public all the inputs for a full and proper appraisal of the realities or the dangers that lie ahead. Ill informed but powerful sections of the defence and security establishment believe success stories will obscure all reality and pave the way for more successes. Such moves have encouraged some to resort to a hunt for sources of some media persons revealing matters military or keep them under "close watch." The latter again is to track down news sources. Such moves have now assumed highly disturbing proportions and turned even intimidatory on some occasions. Thus, they pose serious threats.

LTTE's measures in the East have included the setting up of a new base at Kumburupiddy, north of Trincomalee. This is believed to be a move to ensure a land based route to Batticaloa district where the LTTE is now fortifying its positions. Such a route is in addition to the new training activity that is going on for Sea Tigers whose capability still remains largely intact.

Among the measures adopted in Batticaloa has been the mining of large tracts of land north of Batticaloa and induction of additional cadres by sea. With that induction, the guerrillas have also been successful in transporting their wounded cadres from Trincomalee-Batticaloa areas by sea to Mullaitivu.

It is in this backdrop that Navy Headquarters this week issued a warning to its establishments countrywide to remain alert for possible Sea Tiger attacks. They have been told that a group of cadres had been trained to attack naval installations, convoys, coastal deployments or harbours. The training imparted to them has been the same as those given to a group who made an abortive attempt in June last year to attack the Colombo harbour. They have also been told that Sea Tiger leader Soosai (Thillayampillai Sivanesan) has had a meeting with his senior cadres on New Year's Eve to review why they failed to. At the same meeting, plans for stepped up attacks had been discussed.

Despite a news blanket of sorts, the undeclared Eelam War IV, increasing signs show, will take a decisive course in 2007. The question is how many Sri Lankans will become privy to the course of events that are taking shape.

‘Disaster specialist causes disaster of sorts’

Three years ago, then Commander of the Army called for the written explanation of a Major General in charge of a coveted arm.

The charge - without official authorisation he was playing liaison officer for the representative of a renowned US international think tank. The officer had sought private appointments with some persons holding key positions in the defence and security establishments. This included senior Sri Lankan intelligence officials.

Though belatedly, the Major General owned up his misdemeanor. He had successfully set up some meetings by then. That is not all. He had also given his own opinion. He was warned and the matter ended there. Today, both the Commander in question and the Major General are retired. The latter is busy managing disasters and calamities. But his unauthorised action whilst in service has contributed to a "disaster" of sorts. This is in terms of the country's image and its security forces.

The work of the representative, a foreign academic cum researcher, The Sunday Times learnt, was for the RAND Corporation. It is a United States based non profit research organization "providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world." Yet, questions arise over some of the "findings" and whether they are both factual and objective.

Part two of a RAND research project titled 'BEYOND AL QAEDA - The Outer Rings of the Terrorist Universe" includes Sri Lanka. It was sponsored by the US Air Force and conducted in the Strategy and Doctrine Programme of RAND Project Air Force. The 178 page report notes it would be of "value to the national security community and to interested members of the general public, especially those with an interest in combating the blight of international terrorism." Research for the project was completed in September 2004 and the report was released last year.

Project Air Force, a division of RAND Corporation, is the US Air Force's federally funded research and development centre for studies and analysis. PAF provides "the air force with independent analysis of policy alternatives affecting the development, employment, combat readiness, and support of current and future aerospace forces."

Reproduced below are some of the highlights of references made to both Sri Lankan security forces as well as the LTTE.

= In many ways, the SLAF (Sri Lanka Air Force) has yet to emerge as a professional force that truly understands the nature and type of war it has been fighting. The majority of commanders have never seen any action, with many promoted purely on the basis of seniority or as a result of political connections, personal loyalties and friendships. Compounding the situation is the wholly inadequate training and support that is given to regular soldiers. Some recruits had been dispatched to the frontline after only four weeks of basic combat training, and troops regularly cite shortages in such basic requirement as modern assault rifles, ammunition, and field radio sets.

On a strategic level, the SLAF tends to rely on outdated doctrines that place a premium taking and holding static lines of defence through maximum force as opposed to more nuanced (and relevant) counter insurgency operations that combine civil campaigns to win hearts and minds with directed disruptive missions behind enemy lines.

Indeed the one positive initiative to create a permanent special forces body able to undertake unconventional missions of this type - Long Range Patrol Group (LRPG) - was reversed in 2003 after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe dismantled the group following unsubstantiated claims that the squad was involved in a plot against his ruling coalition. (The Long Range Reconnaisance Patrol (LRRP has been erroneously referred to as LRPG)

The weakness and associated failings of the SLAF have provided the LTTE with a useful benchmark of what not to do in terms of combat readiness and effectiveness. Indeed the group's military structure is exactly contrary to that of the Sri Lankan army…….

Tactically the LTTE has conspicuously exploited the outmoded doctrines of the SLAF to repeatedly confound Sri Lankan military offensives. Indeed, one of the main reasons the army has failed to secure much of the north and east is due to its overwhelming reliance on set-piece, trench warfare. The Tigers quickly recognized that the best way to defeat this type of war fighting stance was first to monitor the combat readiness and deployment size of known defence lines using long-range reconnaissance and sabotage teams and then, based on this intelligence, to hit with overwhelming artillery fire and battalion sized forces…….

These observations in Project Air Force report are in marked contrast to the findings by the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) assessment of the armed forces of Sri Lanka. In 2002, USPACOM formed, trained and deployed an assessment team to Sri Lanka in accordance with a US Department of Defense request.

Their voluminous report deals at length with the Air Force apart from the Army and the Navy. In brief, this is their observation of the SLAF: "The assessment of the SLAF revealed an adequate military structure manned with competent, committed personnel, but with critical operational shortfalls. The primary operational shortfalls are: inadequate Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance ….."

= Current estimates of the LTTE's overall on-ground strength in Sri Lanka vary between a low of 12,000 to a high in excess of 20,000. The true figure likely lies somewhere between these two approximations, although a recent split in Tiger ranks resulting from the defection of the group's special commander for the Eastern Batticaloa-Ampara District, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (alias Colonel Karuna), has complicated the picture somewhat, reducing the number of cadres available to Prabhakaran by an estimated 5,500.

Although Karuna's departure represents a potentially serious blow to the LTTE, it probably will not significantly dent the group's overall human resource and operational capabilities, for three reasons. First, most Tamil forces are concentrated in the Prabhakaran loyal districts of northern Sri Lanka. Second, virtually all the specialist units at the centre of past militant activities - including Black Tigers, the Leopards Division, and the intelligence wing - remain fiercely loyal to the LTTE and, just as important, view Prabhakaran's continued leadership as absolutely essential to the success of the Eelam struggle. Third, the immediate threat from Karuna was silenced after his forces were decisively defeated in a sustained Tiger offensive at the Verugal River on April 9 2004.

= Boosting its tactical and operational base is part of the LTTE's active and innovate R & D (Research and Development) agenda. The group has demonstrated remarkable skill in this regard, particularly in the realms of suicide devices, standoff resources, and marine attack munitions…….

In the conclusion, the report notes that the LTTE does not presently threaten the United States. However, it notes that "it does provide a benchmark for the sophistication that a sub state insurgency can achieve given the right combination of circumstances."

The document warns "there is always the danger that the group (the LTTE) could contract out its expertise to other groups that are of more immediate relevance to the ongoing global war on terror, including Jihadists in South and Southeast Asia, or could itself come to view Washington as an obstacle to the attainment of Tamil objectives.

It says: According to one source in Colombo's Internal Intelligence Directorate (IID), the LTTE has already made contact with al-Qaeda through Pathmanathan Kumaran (the reference is to LTTE weapons procuring boss Kumaran Pathmanathan), who allegedly travelled to Kabul between 2000 and 2001 to try to arrange the procurement of surface to air missiles. Note: The reference to IID is erroneous. It is in effect a reference to the former Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DII) which has now been re-named as State Intelligence Service (SIS).

The report adds: "The same IID (should be DII) source also explicitly referred to the residual threat of attacks being directed at US warships visiting the port of Trincomalee should Prabhakaran begin to view Washington's stance in the current peace process as unalterably opposed to the notion of an independent or at least fully autonomous Tamil homeland. For these reasons, the United States needs to be aware of how the LTTE has evolved and how learning has affected its organizational capabilities and the corresponding threat levels that those capabilities represent."

The document also deals with what it calls "Tamil Tigers Widespread International Criminal Network." The Project Air Force report quotes intelligence officials in Canada, Australia and the UK as saying that the LTTE is playing a "pivotal role in smuggling illegal migrants and refugees out of Sri Lanka and India to the West, charging anywhere between US $ 18,000 and $ 32,000 per transaction.

It quotes the Toronto based Mackenzie Institute as claiming that some of the "most profitable LTTE activities have been in the form of heroin trafficking, particularly since the 1980s when Afghan and Pakistani producers started to use smuggling routes through India and Sri Lanka more frequently." Officials in Colombo agree; one senior official asserted that collections from the Tamil diaspora pale compared to the group's narco based revenue," the report notes. However, it also asserts that "Definitive proof linking the LTTE to an official policy of drug trafficking has yet to materialize."

Noting that the LTTE's arms procurement network is led by Pathmanathan or KP, the report says "facilitating the movement of arms is a highly active merchant shipping network known as the Sea Pigeons." The LTTE, it adds, uses 11 deep sea freighters under Honduran, Panamanian or Liberian flags of convenience. It points out that the LTTE has effectively exploited the notorious lax registration requirements of shipping bureaus in these countries, allowing the group to confound international tracking and monitoring attempts by repeatedly changing the names.

According to the report, the LTTE has "moved to establish major weapons trading centres in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, North Korea, Ukraine, Croatia and South Africa."

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.