Monday, October 22, 2007

Strategic Vision

"Presence of mind . . . is nothing but an increased capacity of dealing with the unexpected."- Clausewitz

The attack on the Anuradhapura Airbase once again brings us back to the stark realities of war. Unforeseen events in war will surprise even the most season generals and policy makers. Hence, this attack should be a wakeup call to both military thinkers and policy makers and an opportune time to reflect on a strategic vision.

Sun Tzu one of the greatest military strategists warned his political masters “ know your enemy and know your self” Even centuries after Sun Tzu this maxim is still the primary principal for all who go to war. The combined air and ground offensive by the “black tigers” has several tactical purposes and warrants a careful study before policy makers embark on any rash moves.

This attack by the LTTE invites the GOSL to make several tactical and strategic blunders, which could be detrimental to the overall strategic military thinking that has produced significant results. This attack is essentially an attack behind enemy lines for the LTTE and is a deep penetration attack that is aimed at destabilizing the current offensive mindset of the military to readjust the current military positions and deployment. After three decades of vacillating between different conventional warfare tactics the armed forces have now adjusted to mobile Special Forces warfare tactics with close air support. This strategy produced exceptional results during the last few years for the military and the LTTE wants a reversal to semi-conventional warfare so that they have better access to information and fixed targets to take aim at. Therefore, this attack should not be a catalyst to change the way we have been conducting the war. It would be utterly irresponsible for the policy makers to change course and fight a semi conventional war based on a political agenda right now. The lesson is “ Stay the Course”

The second tactical blunder that the LTTE has invited the GOSL to make is the needless propaganda bombing raids in LTTE controlled areas. Arial bombing undoubtedly has its pros and cons. However, insight of the LTTE using human shields it becomes impossible to distinguish between civilian and military targets and civilians will be targeted. The implication of this is far reaching in terms of the current pressure that is mounting on the GOSL about humanitarian concerns in the North and the East. Last week UN issued a strongly worded confidential note to the government and warned that the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka continues to deteriorate with possible devastating consequences." Any offensive against the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka would have major humanitarian consequences, including displacement of up to 400,000 civilians," This comes in the backdrop of the US ambassador and the EU raising humanitarian concerns of the civilian population in the North and the East. GOSL does not operate in a vacuum and we cannot defy the international community this is the reality of this war for all developing countries. It is better that the GOSL realizes this now whether they like it or not and play within these constraints. The aim of a secessionist insurgency is to show that the government cannot govern and protect its people but the government has the herculean task of governing and protecting the population with internal and external constraints. This is the reality and GOSL must deal with it.

The third strategic blunder that the LTTE wants the GOSL to make is relying on statistics and figures of success that has been circulating in policy circles last week. Measuring success is important but it should not be the deciding factor in guiding policy in counterinsurgency efforts. Success in counterinsurgency efforts should not be measured by the amount of physical infrastructure destroyed but by the number of hearts and minds won. This is essentially a political effort. Moreover, it is a HUMIT effort. All military policy makers should take this seriously, in their policy planning. The attack on the Anuradhapura base was carried out with small arms and light weapons. It is impossible to destroy such weapons through offensive military action. The only way to neutralize this is to gather information through the population and through informants on the ground. GOSL’s current emphasis on territory captured and physical infrastructure destroyed should not be allowed to distract the overall strategic planning and throw away the strategic advantage that the military possess.

In war, more than anywhere else things do not turn out as we expect. In times of war when unforeseen events take place it takes courage, determination and a strategic vision to stay the course and not to succumb to the tactical ploys of the enemy.



GoldenEagle said...

I agree completely, we must stay the course. The SF and LRRP have been doing a good job.

Like the old saying goes:

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

NOLTTE=Peace said...

"Make it asymmetric as possible for them too - that means more surprises for LTTE and less opportunity to plan"

londonistan said...

Someone print this out and mail it to Gothabay ASAP!!!

SLWATCH said...

Just as important that national media editors convey the 'Strategic Vision' message to the wider public so that there is no panic outcry to 'negotiate now.'

hemantha said...

They (editors) are doing a great job. Please read the following. The editorial of the island.

A precursor to the Wanni battle?

Attack, the wounded Tigers seem to think, is the best form of defence. Within one year, ten of its arms smuggling ships or 'floating warehouses' as the Navy calls them, have been destroyed together with the Wanni-bound lethal cargo. They are faced with a severe shortage of ammunition, especially artillery shells because they have no way of replenishing their stocks due to intensified naval patrol in the Northern and Eastern seas. The Air Force keeps pounding the targets in the Wanni day in day out. The Army is poised to march on the Wanni but is acting with restraint due to international pressure. Above all, the loss of the Eastern Province has dealt a devastating blow to the Tigers.

With the fear of a massive military onslaught in the Wanni looming large, the cornered Tigers seem to have opted for, so to speak, preemptive strikes. Earlier they targeted the Katunayake airbase but in vain. Their aim was to destroy the fighter jets that wreak havoc on their bases in the North. Their desperation knows no bounds.

Thus, the LTTE raid on the Anuradhapura Airbase yesterday came as no surprise. For the first time in six months, they took out their light aircraft and managed to destroy some aircraft on the ground. But, given the fact that Prabhakaran deployed the best of his combatants for the offensive, his objective may have been to overrun the camp and hold it at least for a few hours so as to gain the maximum possible publicity. If the number of the Tiger combatants who posed for a picture, which the LTTE released to the media within a few hours of the offensive is any indication, then almost all of them perished in the attack on the ground. The military said it had recovered twenty bodies of LTTE combatants by yesterday morning. However, whether those pictures were a red herring to cover up the true identities of the combatants who took part in the attack remains to be seen. If those pictures are genuine, then a logical conclusion will be that the LTTE released them after it was confirmed that all its fighters had been killed.

Although the LTTE may flaunt the destruction of the SLAF aircraft as a success, it has all the trappings of a pyrrhic victory. Flying machines are something that can be replaced without much difficulty albeit at a cost. True, the lives of security forces personnel including those of pilots are precious and their loss is a big blow to the military. But, the military is not faced with a manpower shortage unlike the LTTE, which is heavily dependent on forcibly recruited men, women and children to sustain its war effort. The military can recruit troops and train pilots with relative ease. The loss of suicide cadres whom Prabhakaran doesn't expend so easily is irreparable to the LTTE, which is believed to have not more than 4,000 battle-hardened cadres to defend the Wanni. It cannot absorb casualties unlike in the past when it had little or no difficulty in recruiting.

But, nothing is going to stop Prabhakaran at this stage. Being encircled in the Wanni with an effective naval blockade preventing arms from coming in, the army ready to move in and the Air Force unleashing hell from heavens, is a frightening proposition for him. If his defences crumble, unable to face the military juggernaut, he knows he is done for.

The LTTE is very likely to target the military bases around the Wanni, from which attacks are launched against it. If the military gets lulled into a sense of complacency, the LTTE will find its task easier. Yesterday's attack is being blamed on unpreparedness on the part of the Anuradhapura air base. A mega motoring event on the eve of the attack in Anuradhapura, where tens of thousands of people thronged has also come in for criticism as mass gatherings facilitate the movement of LTTE cadres and smuggling of arms and explosives.

What Prabhakaran needs desperately at this juncture is a spectacular victory which is devastating enough to offset the government's military gains including the capture of Thoppigala so that the anti-government political forces will get a boost besides the morale of his cadres. He has made several attempts in the North to achieve that objective. He unsuccessfully tried to make a foray into Jaffna a few months ago. The only way he can think of turning the tables on President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to land him in the political soup by providing his enemies with propaganda fodder. The Anuradhapura attack has given an impetus to the Opposition campaign against the government but it needs much more steam to sustain its momentum.

Interestingly, the LTTE seems to be wary of 'long-haul' flights these days. Is it because of the military's newly acquired air defence capabilities in Colombo? Or, is it because the LTTE is finding it difficult to engage in 'long distance' flying due to a shortage of fuel and spares?

Now that the LTTE is in the attack mode to ward off the threats it faces in the Wanni, Prabhakaran will go the whole hog, as is his wont, to break free from pressure and put the military on the defensive. Although the government claims the LTTE is contemplating UDI early next year, Prabhakaran might even opt for talks, if he manages to score a spectacular victory in a bid to win back the much needed international sympathy. But, as it is the LTTE which stands to gain from a low intensity war, it is doubtful whether the military will allow it to relax and plan its offensives.

The fallout of the Anuradhapura attacks might even trigger the much dreaded war for the Wanni.

Sarinda Perera said...

An illuminating article. I hope the readership of this site includes those from the Defence Establishment in Colombo. Else, this would be such a waste. Keep it up guys.

Unknown said...

Gota has IT background too...probably the guys reads this blog :o)
Hell he might even be posting :o)

we shouldn't embark on wanni offensives just as a simple knee-jerk reaction. wanni ops should be properly planned out...
this attack can be aimed at either triggering us to go for wanni cos they want us to at this juncture or it can be also be that it's to stop us from doing that cos they can't face it... without proper ground intel it's impossible to judge their intentions and moves...
whatever said and done...this attack was a huge success for the ltte... probably they have an arms ship en route cos there's no beach craft to spot it now

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