The Mannar ‘Rice-bowl’ is in Army’s hands, over a year after the Sri Lanka Army launched its first offensives in the undeclared war, unofficially called ‘Humanitarian Operations’. The battles have finally reached Mullaithivu, where it might last at least another one year more, unless the LTTE manages a reversal.
One thing is certain. The Military, at least at the higher echelons, has a PLAN. Who translates it and how on the ground is a different matter--one that may become pertinent as battle fatigue sets in.
The operations into LTTE areas so far has been all over the place, except along the A-9, as it has traditionally been. In the Western Flank, it is evident now that the target is Veduthalthivu and the A-32 Mannar-Pooneryn route. In the Eastern Flank, the immediate objective is looking increasingly like Alampil and Nayaru and perhaps even Oddusudan.
In the battlefield scenarios of yesteryear, the objective was to capture the MSR (
The Tigers at that time fed itself fat of provisions unloaded from its ‘fishing trawlers’ and floating warehouses from the Western and Eastern coastal waters respectively and sustained a series of devastating attacks that saw a complete reversal of the gains of the Jayasikurui Operation. Then, it was the Tigers who were handing over Army corpses in Mullaithivu. Today, it is the Sri Lanka Army that is handing over dead LTTE corpses in Mullaithivu.
Eight years later, under a new military and political leadership, the Sri Lanka Army is sitting pretty on the Eastern and Western Flanks of the A-9 while the Tigers hold onto the MSR in Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi.
The A-9 has always been a symbolic MSR. It is untenable and unproductive. The Eastern and
Soon, if all goes well, the feeding frenzy from the sea will end and the Tigers will have the A-9 in parts of Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi, with perhaps Chalai being the only other remaining option for the goods to come, at least for the time being. This option could become further inhibited if there is a successful amphibious landing at Pooneryn. If only the hierarchy of the Army and the Navy were on talking terms.
Perhaps it is due to the Navy’s inability to secure the coast that the Army is now trying to do on its own. But doing things on one’s own, no matter how confident you are, is always a tall order against a cunning foe. Perhaps, with the Navy’s valuable assets like the Dvora at high risk from suicide boats, this is the wisest decision ever made.
Given the LTTE’s strategy of recruiting large numbers of youngsters, the guesstimates of the current military leadership seem way too low for a campaign of this nature. As long as there are civilians in LTTE hands, there will be LTTE fighters.
Of the regions under military campaign, Mannar is the least inhabited. The majority of Tamil civilians in Mannar have escaped via Mallavi and Thunukkai. How many of these locals would eventually be recruited to the LTTE would require a good educated guess.
Mannar, particularly areas like Periyamadu are renowned for inhabitability. Swarms of mosquitoes roam these areas in the dry seasons and in the wet season; the ground becomes soggy, like a wet loaf of bread. Holding on to Mannar, let alone fighting there has been a mess. With monsoons to hit us again in October it will be interesting to see how long the units can sustain this offensive.
The Army's Divisions do not shift their theaters of operations any more, like the 53 for example, but wage continuous war in an area becoming specialists at it. The 58 from Mannar is Task Force 1, a semi-Division of around 3,000 troops scattered along at least five Avenues of Approaches. The 57 headed westwards to Mannar from Vavuniya and that is a full Division. Therefore, 10,000 troops are in an offensive role in Mannar.
But as they move further, more troops would have to be deployed-- in a defensive role this time. As they move further and further, the 10,000 men will also thin-out. This is the opportunity the Tigers may be waiting for. A combination of several battalions of canon-fodder, followed closely by some Charles Anthony and other ‘Elite’ units can still pose a serious challenge. Perhaps this is why the Army has launched sustained attacks without a break, given rain or shine.
The capture of Mannar comes in the wake of rumours that
There is some ‘Indian Influence’ in the East Coast as well. This is the time when LTTE must be kicking itself for Killing Rajiv Gandhi, as Sonia Gandhi’s shadow gradually falls on
Whether the Indians are here or not, the Tigers have a duty to their ‘people’ to hit back and reverse the military operation against it. If they don’t, they will further lose foreign support. If they do, foreign support will continue- at least till Velupillai is around.
We can but guess how they might do this. They might, for example, attempt to overwhelm the offensive units with a larger force or they might target assets, like the 5 Radar Units stationed in the Vanni and
While the Military is eyeing the LTTE leadership for decapitation strikes, the champions for decapitation strikes has always been the LTTE. This is not because of pure talent of the Tigers, though their commitment must be recognized, but because many of the Targets of Opportunity are in-fact public figures who roam around engaging in politics in a democratic state where even a suicide-bomber has ‘Human Rights’.
The Military is actively seeking-out the LTTE leadership. Many leaders went underground for a while, but have now reemerged. Prabhakaran is among them. Prabha has lived so long because he is afraid. Fear is a quality that preserves life. One can be fearful of losing one's own life, but brave in sacrificing the lives of others.
Despite many of these variables, the invariable is time. In a continuum of time, this present operation might be a blimp in the radar or one the size of a football. In comparison to many of the world’s major wars, the Sri Lankan conflict has entered a phase of maturity. It has lasted 25 years. It will not last another 25.