Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Path To Vanni

On 3rd and 4th September 2007, it was reported by the media that the Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Senior Adviser to the President Basil Rajapaksa had attended high-level talks with the Indian Defence Secretary Vijay Singh , External Affairs Secretary Shivshankar Menon and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan in New Delhi. Among the topics discussed was the "developing military situation in the North "and the need to further strengthen "mutual ties " between Sri Lanka and India. Judging by those present, the discussions were primarily focused on defence-related issues. Media sources claimed the two countries had formed a Defence Committee to oversee security issues. This oversight will naturally be on the forthcoming conflict in the North. Defence Secretary GoSL Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Def. Sec of India Vijay Singh and National Security Adviser of India M.K. Narayanan are from the Defence Sector and hold clout in their respective governments. The important issue is the timing of the talks, which is in a backdrop of an imminent Security Forces Offensive in the Northern Theater. The other issue is India's concerns of Pakistani and Chinese military collaborations with the Colombo government in the fight against the LTTE.

The meeting comes at a time when the GoSL's Military strategy is unfolding. The Security Forces are blocking LTTE supply-routes via the sea. Operations to capture Sampur and Silavathurai are examples of this strategy. The Armed Forces have also 'cleared their backs' of the enemy. There's only one way to advance now, and that is towards the Vanni. The LTTE is also waiting for this push. The Monsoons starting in October is a blessing to the LTTE. They have waited for a full-scale frontal assault by the Army from Mannar, Vavuniya or Weli Oya for several months now. Large numbers of its elite troops have been brought in. The LTTE is no push-over either. They successfully beat-back a frontal assault by the Mechanized Infantry from Muhamalai. The LTTE's Jeyanthan, Charles Anthony and Victor Anti-Tank Units are capable foes. The Charles Anthony Bridge is over fifteen years old and the Jeyanthan Brigade is over twelve years old. During this time, these brigades have been involved in all LTTE Offensives.

But the frontal assault the LTTE is awaiting may never come. Instead, strategic, limited scale offensives using elite troops will be launched. Simultaneous operations launched from the Northern theater FDLs, Mannar and Vavuniya FDLs and the Weli Oya FDL could create a serious problem to the LTTE. Troops engaging in such offensives will not capture land, but the sea coast in Mulaithivu, Mannar and even south of Jaffna. Small groups will engage the enemy from afar using fire-support from long-range weapons. Face-to-face fights will be limited. The visibility of large columns of troops to the enemy will be avoided. The LTTE's Artillery Guns, which includes at least 22 122mm Guns would have to be dragged-out of their hangars and out into the open during fierce fighting. But the LTTE would have to hide them from the Air Force UAV's which have infra-red and thermal-glare sensors. The Air Force has also acquired Precision/Guided Munitions and may also acquire fuel-bombs in due course.

The Army's current mission is based on a 'kill ten a day' theory. For the most part, the theory has been made operational with almost daily results. This is what many have called 'softening up operations'. However, a large troop deployment is on the cards. It is not a question of if? or how? such an offensive will be launched but a question of when? it will be launched.

It is in this backdrop that the High-level talks in New Delhi have come. A mixture of High-ranking Military-men and Political Advisers in the delegations from both sides hints of a politico-military approach to this question, at least from the GoSL. The Indians have again issued their standard and politically correct response that they wish to see a political settlement to the conflict. The Government of Sri Lanka has pro-actively sought access to the top-ranking Indians. They have demonstrated respects, and humility in seeking the advice of the powerful neighbor across the Palk Straits before taking matters to its hand.

It is likely that the pro-LTTE South Indian lobby would be critical of any backing by the Central Government for a military operation in the Vanni. Obviously, a fresh offensive in the Vanni has a bearing on internal politics in India. The government may have acted early to negate such interference. The success of the Eastern and North Western offensives have been tabled to win Indian support. However, none can predict how India would react when 'crunch-time' finally comes. One thing is clear about Indian governments, they will act ONLY on their internal political interests and external hegemonic interests, whatever they maybe right now!


Anonymous said...

Why the GOSL is pushing the millitary path before devising a political solution?

IC will support if we get a political solution on the table follow the millitary option rather than the vise-versa..

In the eyes of the IC, political solution first and followed by an offensive will be seen as a more democratic...If we conquer Vanni without a politcal solution IC will see the GOSL as an agressor.

Suppose we lost that fight, then there is a huge possibility that Ealam will be on the map...

Do you agree ?

Defencewire said...

Congratulations for your analysis! Yes we agree with you. However, There is another school of thought where it is questioned whether civil-wars are amenable to conflict resolution and a negotiated solution (read Stedman, John Stephen and the book 'Give War a Chance'). This is why we propose a mixture of the following approaches...counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, minority rights, human rights, development, rehabilitation and reconstruction, etc.

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