Saturday, October 20, 2007

Complacency Our Blight

Complacency was setting in the Deep South when the calm was suddenly disturbed last Monday by an LTTE attack on the southernmost border of ‘Tamil Eelam’. The attack on the Army detachment at Yala National Park was quite unexpected. Nothing ever happened in Thalgasmankada except for (alleged) illegal felling of trees by Dewa Horu or Timber Racketeers. It was known as a ‘privileged’ duty post. But things were about to change.

Close to around 5.30pm, a small group of LTTE cadres launched an attack on the detachment. Despite all the propaganda about the LTTE unit being a reckless, trapped unit, making a desperate attack, the defence establishment was clearly shaken to its roots by the attack. Elements in the Special Task Force had ensured the political leadership that operations against the remaining LTTE cadres in Ampara were ‘on track’. At first, some top-ranking STF officers dismissed reports of the attack claiming they were rumors. By the time truth dawned on everyone and reinforcements located the remains of six men, over ten hours had passed.

The LTTE operation had all the signs of a carefully planned guerilla operation. Launched four days after the conclusion of the Full Moon period, the guerillas knew Army reinforcements would find it very difficult to trace their path in the jungle in total darkness. They had done their homework. Tamil pilgrims to Katharagama from the East and even Jaffna had made annual pilgrimage along jungle routes inside Yala, Kumana and Lahugala for centuries. For the Eastern LTTE cadres, finding their way in and out of these areas was not that difficult.

The attack also signaled a return by the LTTE to guerilla tactics. Semi-conventional war would have to wait until it replenishes its stocks devastated by Navy attacks on its floating warehouses. Waiting does not however mean that the war is over for the LTTE. In fact, guerillas are better at the waiting game than governments. They never work to a timetable. Governments often work to political deadlines set by elections. Pripaharan is also a man who is not concerned with the Cost of Living, Subsidies, political outbidding and outflanking by opposition political parties etc. For the time-being, the organization will focus its attention on guerilla operations, intelligence gathering, and planned tactical attacks on identified economic, military and political targets.

The Yala attack was also an attack with enormous economic and political significance. Not only had the LTTE struck the Deep Sinhala South, they had also struck at its most important livelihood; tourism. Some Western government representatives almost recommended their governments impose travel advisories to the South, the heartland of coastal tourism in Sri Lanka. We are lucky that they managed to stop short of travel warnings instead. It’s a great shame for Lanka’s premier National Park which was to reopen the next day. Next day brought more bad news. Retreating LTTE cadres had placed a pressure mine and several Jhonny mines, which killed a soldier on that day.

Last Wednesday saw a new face at the Security Council Meeting. It was Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka who had just returned from a visit to Yala. His visit resulted in the airdropping of a platoon of Commandos and regular infantry that began a search in Yala. They couldn’t find any trace of the LTTE unit. Yesterday was also an eventful day in Yala. Around 25 men detected a boat moving close to the shore with another boat following the first. They fired at the first boat after which both boats vanished. What happened next raised some eyebrows. It also raised concerns about possible competition between the top leaders of the two Armed Forces. For the sake of the morale of our troops, we will limit our discussion to that.

Another serious question has emerged with regard to large numbers of LTTE casualties being reported from the Northern theatre of operations. It could mean two things, the most serious of which, to an unassuming foreign gaze for example, would mean that the LTTE is recruiting more people that it is losing.

The main point of all this is that complacency, political agendas and intentional information failures are serious disadvantages when combating insurgents, guerillas and terrorists. In the LTTE’s case, it is all that rolled into one, plus an ethnic conflict, requiring some sort of a political solution as well. Let’s hope our leaders in the government, military, civil society and Diaspora community realize these things before it’s too late!

18 comments:

tangara said...

Sorry out of topic,

from nationalsecurity.lk

UDAPATANA: The Army were fired at from TWO BOATS which they observed when conducing a search operation on Friday (19) around 5.45 p.m. in UDAPATANA area.

Troops retaliated. The TWO BOATS had fled to the deep seas.

The Sri Lanka Navy is conducting search operations in the area. Army believes the LTTE Terrorists sustained severe injuries in the confrontation.

Defencewire said...

We have the same response we gave about the same news published on army.lk. Our very close and personal sources say this is not how it happened.

tangara said...

Defencewire,

I believe your version to be the true account of the events that happened in Yaala...

The ultimate goal of all the armed forces should be to defeat the Public Enemy No . 1 of all Sri Lankans, LTTE..

Get the top 10 leaders of the LTTE, the war is over in no time.

We need good intel on that and then unleashed precise air strikes...

Way to go...

perein said...

More like get the most senior and game would be over.
Remembered there was an article about bombing one of the major leader meeting few weeks ago.
That's sounds like we are getting some good interligents. Which was never the case before. May be defencewire can confirm the truth about it.

As for the Yala, hope our units will stop making a competition and move on with what they should be doing as they did todate.

Defencewire said...

tangara & perein,
specific orders have been given to that effect.Real-time intel is still lacking. Last attack was made on info considered the best at the time. Top leaders have also significantly reduced movements.

don said...

yala attack wasn't a big deal for SLA but it was big deal to LTTE.. for there propaganda campaign, now LTTE trying to something by hook or crook. they failed every time except this week.

onecountry said...

It doesnt make sense about the response to hambantota suspicous boats. Why sending navy boats from Galle when you have an airforce base in Weeravila? Don't they have at least a chopper at this base? What is it? SLAF vacation spot?

NOLTTE=Peace said...

One Country,

I agree with you. SLAF has attack helicopters that are rusting.

Something wrong somehere...

SLAF doing its own operations only, no joint operations!

NOLTTE=Peace said...

Once the Hambantota Harbour is built, there should be an adjoining Navy camp too.

But, SLAF not engaging in support operations are puzzling me lot. What is JOC doing these days?

Castedeus said...

From what Defencewire has reported, the unidentified boats appear to be fishing boats, not those of the Sea Tigers, so let us not get ahead of ourselves in debates based on propaganda. Btw, great work once again, on your reporting, Defencewire.

Getting 'the leader' of the LTTE will seriously affect their morale but a political movement such as theirs requires a lot more than that to exterminate it altogether. In this respect, I completely agree with DefenceAnalyst's observations that in addition to the military dimension, we're also presented with "an ethnic conflict, requiring some sort of a political solution as well."

Given the above observation, I am somewhat apprehensive of Champika Ranawaka's attendance at the NSC. If this is to be the course of future events at the Council, I hope for the country's sake, that an ideological balance is maintained in decision-making: ideally, I think it would be a good idea to have the military and political dimensions balanced with a strategic perspective to be introduced to the NSC via an academic specialising in the area. Security policy in the contemporary period is about a lot more than just military affairs.

GoldenEagle said...

Guys, we all know that these kinds fo sneak attacks are hard if not impossibe to counter. The LTTE groups can choose the location and timing of the attack.

Its clear the LTTE is not trying to recapture the east, only disrupt it. We must keep our eye on the ball and not be distracted by their attention grabbing sneak attacks. Their real goal in to recapture Jaffna.

We might have a chance of negating their advantage in the jungle if we buy more UAVs that have thermal imaging and attack capability. I don't really know how much these would cost but they would help our forces a lot when it comes to getting battlefield info.

defenceAnalyst said...

Castedeus,
I agree with the need to moderate the NSC but who can do it? don't we already have enough academics from Kohona, Rajiva Wijesinghe to Dayan Jayatilleke? Sometimes I feel what is lacking is not knowledge but wisdom, not theory but practical thinking!

Castedeus said...

DefenceAnalyst,

I maybe wrong but I don't think either of the three that you mention specialise in counter-insurgency/security affairs. Rohan Gunaratna does, although he's not in Sri Lanka and am unsure of what role he could play. Shanaka Jayasekara is perhaps an option to consider for the future.

It is heartening to note that the Lakshman Kadirgarmar Institute for International Relations (LKIIRSS) and Strategic Studies has finally got their act together in organising a conference on CT that is ongoing at the moment. However, it is also disappointing that the LKIIRSS has been largely a paper body with an office gathering dust till this point - certainly a dishonour to the great man after whom the Institute was named. Sri Lanka's policy has always been reactive. We wait for natural talent to hone itself in random people, whom the state could then use with a bit of luck. Its high time that we groom our own talent. The BCIS is doing this in many respects but it is the role of other bodies to address the strategic aspect. My understanding was that this was what the LKIIRSS was set up to fulfill. We have no thinkers because we don't groom them... hence people like Champika Ranawaka (with due respect) to enter the NSC.

defenceAnalyst said...

castedeus,
Rohan learnt his work from the Sri Lankan military, which is rich in theory and practical experience in counter-insurgency. We need people with practical wisdom who can create a paradigm shift in thinking from pure military responses to a more balanced political/military/social/economic/religious approach. I currently do not see any single person with such wisdom as an advisor in the SL gov. Neither are there such advisors in the US for example. It is difficult to find such wisdom embodied in a single person. We must therefore create a system where various existing strengths are strung together to give a more holistic approach. This must come before a military thrust into the Vanni because once you go there, you must not be wondering around as to what next we can do.

jiffy said...

just a question. is the problem we face so complex that it requires a host of 'experts' or is it more simply a case of an inability to act on the existing wisdom out there? what i mean is, do we lack talented people or is the 'bleeding obvious' (with regards to the military, political and economic best interest) simply not achievable given our bureaucratic and constitutional limitations? how can anyone change that on their own, however impressive their practical or academic credentials?

jiffy said...

i guess i'd be a little skeptical about the prowess of 'experts'. the US has many of these too, but clearly they still managed to bumble their way into an unwinnable war. my suspicion is also out of fear. how much power should they wield on behalf of the people? to what extent are the elected officals in control of the decision making process? i'm not sure who this champika character is, but if he is an elected offical (by the people, for the people) i think this is a necessary precaution. but again, i'm am in no way an expert on these issues. i'm just a curious bystander, that's all :)

NOLTTE=Peace said...

Castedeus,

About the below statement, "an ethnic conflict, requiring some sort of a political solution as well."

I do not want to make this a political debate, but what is this so called "Ethnic Conflict"? Is there any? If there is any what are the qualifying criteria?

Just I am curious. There are many names being used i.e. "the national question", "ethnic issue", "Tamil question" etc. etc. But there is no one describing it exactly. What is it? From my knowledge, there is no such thing. Perhaps,n there is only a shell without any meat. But, I would like to know what Tamils face in Sri Lanka that is not common to all.

Castedeus said...

Defence Analyst,

I take your points. What concerns me is that simple wisdom with regard to the social impact of security policy has been found wanting with regard to the MoD on many occasions. Past actions and comments by the Sec. of Defence stands as ample testimony.

When the LKIIRSS was established, I hoped it would be the dawn of a new era where specific/relevant policy alternatives on the strategic aspect would be available to the GOSL. For the large part, the Institute has become another typical body in competing to collect the most amount of dust, so to speak. I hope the weekend's CT conference will be followed up with some robust thinking and relevant policy alternatives. Clearly, Colombo can benefit from this. As to what level such thinking should be introduced, ie. at NSC level or an external level - I'm a bit unsure.

Noltte=peace,

Mate, whether or not there is an 'ethnic conflict' is unfortunately not a matter than can be dealt with within the limited confines of this comment. I have attempted to deal with this aspect in some of my own blog posts in the past but I would suggest re-visiting Sri Lankan history to give you a better idea of what I mean. Many writers and scholars have dealt with this aspect better. A history of ethno/ethno-religious nationalism/populist politics and abrogated pacts will, I hope, bear testimony to the claim by Defence Analyst and myself of an "ethnic conflict requiring some sort of a political solution as well."

My apologies for not providing you with more meat on this claim in response to your query but I hope you will appreciate the constraints of time and space involved.

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