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3rd January 1999
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Majority politics and abortive military strategies

This article, the first part of which was published last week, analyses the government's military-political strategies in the ongoing war against the LTTE.
By Sumedha
The land extent in this country reduces from the Western coast to the Eastern coast from South to North. It is therefore logical that all military operations should be conducted from the government-controlled south to the north. Only limited military operations can be conducted from the North to the South given the constrains in transportation of military supplies by air and sea. 

image - a mapThe politicians with little or no military knowledge who try to evolve strategy must realise this basic fact. As much as a trouser can never be worn from the head downwards but from the feet upwards, the main military thrust to defeat the LTTE should always be from firm bases in the South to territory held by the enemy in the North. This main thrust from the South to the North should also be planned by the military leadership and be evolved from military knowledge of trained, qualified and competent Senior Officers. 

If there is opposition from such Senior Officers when a powerful politician tries to map out the route of military operations, the military leadership must not brush aside this opposition by retrying some of these Senior Officers and transferring others to lower places in the chain of command. Such action would inevitably result in disastrous consequences with the loss of both trained soldiers and valuable military equipment that this country can ill afford to lose. 

'Operation Jaya Sikurui' is perhaps now the longest counter insurgency operation in world history and we have seen several military debacles with the loss of many brave lives and much valuable military hardware in its wake. Was all this a direct result of political interference in the planning of military strategy?

Instead of exploiting the success of 'Edibala' to establish a land route from Mannar to Jaffna via Pooneryn, the Pooneryn defences were withdrawn and these troops were used to conduct an operation from Elephant Pass towards Kilinochchi 

Having captured both Paranthan and Kilinochchi, the Army was saddled with an additional burden of sustaining a larger number of troops for the defence of both Paranthan and Kilionochchi depending only on air and sea transport. 

The main thrust to establish a land route to Jaffna was begun next with the launching of 'Jaya Sikurui' in March 1997. Its aim was to re-establish the road from the Vavuniya defence line to the Kilinochchi defences covering a distance of about 75 kilometres. 

The operation after nearly seventeen months was successful in capturing Mankulam in September 1998 covering a distance of 40 kilometres. While the Army was thus concentrating on the capture of Mankulm town, the terrorists made a tactical withdrawal from this town and concentrated their forces to attack Kilinochchi and a part of the defences of Paranthan. 

While Mankulam from where the LTTE withdrew was captured by the Army, the LTTE was successful in capturing Kilinochchi and part of Paranthan. Though their route from Mannar district to Mullaitivu through Mankulam thus fell into the hands of the Army, the LTTE was able to capture the road from Kilincochchi to Mullaitivu via Parantan from the Army. Therefore the access from Mullaitivu to Mannar district has in fact not been denied to the LTTE and its forces are yet to be bifurcated by the Army with the onset of the North East monsoon.

Once the North East monsoon sets in around mid-October, the main thrust of the Army will come to a grinding halt. The LTTE which was holding the low-lying area of Mankulam which is relatively difficult to defend with the onset of the North East monsoon has now withdrawn from this difficult terrain to high ground in and around Kilinochchi which they captured from the Army and would be able to defend its positions more effectively during the monsoon period. 

Leaving aside this advantage gained by the LTTE in the defence of terrain, it must also be mentioned that while Mankulam is only just another junction town in the Kilinochchi district, the Kilinochchi town is the district centre with much more facilities such as the district hospital etc., which the terrorists needed desperately with the onset of the monsoon. 

While the LTTE has secured these advantages, the Army which was at Mankulam in September 1998 captured the town of Mankulam without gaining much ground in its Northward march. The Army in reality has lost around five kilometres to the LTTE in the North along the A 9 Jaffna-Colombo road which include the town of Kilinochchi and part of Paranthan. 

Thus in the tragic month of September 1998 along with the loss of many valuable lives of soldiers, military equipment and terrain, it could be concluded that the Army lost more than it gained. Even if 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' is finally completed with such unprecedented losses to the nation and a land route is established along the A 9 Jaffna-Colombo road holding this road would be a difficult if not impossible task considering the jungle terrain which has to be secured from LTTE. 

Bunkers will have to be established at a distance of not more than 50 metres from each other on both sides of the road. At least five soldiers will have to be deployed in each bunker. Thus for the two bunker lines on both sides of the road stretching from the Vavuniya defences to the present defences at the Army held part of Paranthan a distance of 80 kilometres will need sixteen thousand troops for deployment in bunkers. Another sixteen thousand troops will have to be set aside as a reserve strike force and for forward domination. 

Then there is also the requirement of at least another 3,000 troops to replace those who are granted leave, who fall sick or who dessert. Thus if this route is to be used, no less than thirty five thousand troops will have to be deployed for its security from LTTE attacks.

When my article in The Sunday Times of March 2, 1997 was published the Armed Forces were in firm control of Pooneryn and the distance to bridge the gap that existed from the Pooneryn defences to the Mannar defences along the coastline would not have exceeded 80 kilometres. I quote my article further where I said, ''The establishment of such a land route will enable logistical support to be provided to the troops in the Jaffna peninsula by land without depending on sea and air transport. The advantage of this land route when compared with the land route from Vavuniya via Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass to the Jaffna town is that it is easier to defend as it follows the coastline most of the way, thus needing protection from a bunker line only for the Eastern flank. The sea frontage in the Western flank could be defended by the Navy. This would result in the deployment of lesser troops for its defence when compared with the other land route through Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass that would have to be defended on both sides which has considerable jungle terrain.''

If these recommendations were considered, the troop requirement of around 17,500 for the establishment of a land route to Jaffna via Pooneryn could have been found at that point of time. The massive loss sustained both in valuable lives of soldiers and military hardware during the implementation of this main thrust from the South to the North to establish a land route to Jaffna could have also been minimised or completely avoided. 

Without such losses and setbacks the land route would have by now been firmly established from Mannar to Jaffna. If the failure of the military leadership to select this most obvious and correct military strategy was as a result of political interference in military planning, it is time that such political leaders realised that they can fool some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time but not all the people all the time. 

The majority will not remain silent much longer while these politicians play their stupid political games over the dead bodies of brave and heroic soldiers with the loss of valuable military equipment that would ultimately bleed this country and its people to a slow and agonising death.

The voice of the majority is now growing louder by the day against both the loss of their legitimate rights with the granting of more concessions to minority groups for political support to rule this country and against sacrificing the lives of brave soldiers for stupid political war games which are planned for political mileage and not to defeat the LTTE. 

The voice in the distance long subdued due to political differences in the majority is getting louder with the majority sinking all political differences to unite for a single purpose, their very survival. The political leaders unless they are deaf should now hear the voice of the majority which is getting louder every day saying, ''Mend your ways or end your days''.

From the Green Corner

Come '99: What a record of damage!

By Viruddha Paakshikaya
Today, I must begin by returning the compliments of the season to my unseen friend, Paakshikaya. Happy New Year to you, Paakshikaya. But for 1999 to be a truly happy new year to the people of Sri Lanka, the year should be an unhappy one for the People's Alliance.

image - a carttonBut readers and voters can at least be comforted by the fact that it's only two more years to go for a change of government and who knows, it may even be earlier if the PA leadership wishes to call a premature election before its deteriorating popularity plummets further.

Now, don't get me wrong, Paakshikaya, I'm not on a propaganda drive for the UNP. All you have to do is to look around you. The economy is in shambles. Not only is the Colombo Stock Exchange gathering cobwebs, even our traditionally robust rural economy is gasping for oxygen.

Rural farmers have been clobbered by onion and potato imports. Now, with the Free Trade Agreement with India which your President signed amidst much fanfare last week, there would be duty free food items flooding our markets. So, your government has sentenced the farmers of Sri Lanka to death, effectively. No wonder then, that our suicide rate is the highest in the world!

Well that's about the economy. What about the war? The People's Alliance has admitted defeat by abandoning 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' after the Kilinochchi debacle. General Anuruddha Ratwatte, your chief military strategist, should have resigned thrice over this year.

The first instance was when the Maligawa was bombed in his own electorate. He did offer to resign then, but that was just a publicity stunt to boost his image. Then, he should have resigned when Kilinochchi fell. Lastly, he should have resigned when his much publicised 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' failed to live upto its name and had to be abandoned.

If your President did not accept the General's resignation earlier this year and thought him fit and proper to persecute this war, then the President herself should take full responsibility for the conduct or misconduct of the war. Or else, she should resign. But then, all that is wishful thinking, isn't it Paaskshikaya.

In a new strategy your government has now appointed a JOB (Joint Operations Bureau) to the job but it is well known in military circles that this exercise is not so much to liquidate the LTTE but to check General Ratwatte's grip on the defence machinery as well as to streamline defence procurements which have gone to enrich the lives of a few people with Access to the top of the PA hierarchy.

Generally, what is obvious is that there is no direction to the management of the country. President Kumaratunga is so inexperienced and neither has she really learned on the job. In fact, many in your own party feel that Ms. Sirima Bandaranaike who came to govern the country virtually from the kitchen, learnt faster. She captivated the world and she was solid in her handling of foreign affairs. Even her domestic policies were acceptable, at least from 1965 to 1970, unlike her daughter's present day policies!

Then, Paakshikaya last week referred to the "vote banks" held by Saumyamoorthy Thondaman's CWC, M.H.M. Ashraff's SLMC and Douglas Devananda's EPDP. That is hardly surprising, coming from a loyal PA supporter.

We now know that Paakshikaya and his party will do anything for a vote, just about anything. They want to win the elections - Provincial, General or Presidential by hook or by crook. And the best example of this intention is Wayamba, or the North Western Province.

Already police transfers have been initiated to ensure a 'hora chande' win. I must ask you what your comments are on this issue, Paakshikaya, because it was you, who gloated about a police officer who was a friend of our Chief Minister to be Jayawickrema Perera, being appointed to Wayamba. It was you who cited that as an example of sincerity by the PA. What do you say now my friend?

The transfer of DIG Jagath Jayawardena to Wayamba from the first of this month clearly shows your intentions, Paakshikaya. You can't now hide the fact that you want to win Wayamba by hook or by crook.

For that purpose, you will fall on your knees for each and every vote, be they from the "banks" of Thondaman, Ashraff or Devananda? But, remember this, Paakshikaya: you are sure to learn the lesson of your life when they all back the UNP if and when WE win!

Mr. Thondaman himself has admitted this in an interview with The Sunday Times last week. He says what he does is not opportunism, but says "we are a minority; so naturally we can't rule the country. So, we side with the majority to work with them to ensure the rights of the workers."

Now, Paakshikaya, those are his words. And, if Mr. Thondaman was thick skinned enough to enter Parliament on the UNP National List and go sit in the PA Cabinet, you must always realise and remember that he can do the reverse too!

Our Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is for "principled politics," Paakshikaya. He has tried to keep certain elements in the UNP identified with "Beeshanaya" and "Dooshanaya" out of the party. Of course, this being politics, your government has tried to exploit this courageous course of action by driving wedges within the so called "factions" in the UNP. That is your last resort, Paakshikaya, because you tried to nail our leader through the Batalanda Commission and you know how miserably you failed!

So, in the New Year, Paakshikaya, there is at least some hope for our people. They know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. They know that your days in office are numbered. They also know the UNP under its new and dynamic leadership will be able to restore the shambles you have made of this country.

Therefore, Paakshikaya, may I conclude with many apologies to Winston Churchill: "Never in the history of our country has a government done so much damage in so short a time as the PA government under the leadership of Chandrika Kumaratunga!"

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