Sri Lanka News and Information Portal

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

The Beginnings of the End Game of LTTE - Page 4

Article Index
The Beginnings of the End Game of LTTE
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
All Pages

The Tamil Tiger offensive to recapture lost territory is quite similar to General Võ Nguyên Giáp’s Tet Offensive in 1968 since it was conducted days before the Sri Lankan 61st Independence day celebrations. The celebratory event at Colombo had mustered many foreign media personnel and any territorial gain by the Tigers no matter how temporarily it is, would have raised serious question marks over Colombo’s military offensive against the Tigers. It is in this light one must consider General Giap’s objectives in his 1968 Tet Offensive. With his South Vietnamese Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces losing militarily due to aggressive tactics of General William Westmooreland, General Giap's only hope was to win a political rather than a military victory. In the US anti war demonstrators were already marching on the streets and Giap was aware of it. Giap hoped his new plan will deal enough of a defeat to the Americans to put pressure on President Lyndon Johnson to end the war or withdraw his troops. Up to 1968 Giap's campaign centred around small to medium sized attacks and daily small skirmishes to harass his American and South Vietnamese enemies. General Giap decided to change his tactics totally and to use his forces to attack urban targets including Saigon and 36 other provincial capitals and towns which were perceived to be safe from the VC. In Saigon his forces were to target six primary objectives; the HQ of the South Vietnamese joint chief of staff, The independence palace where South Vietnamese President has his office, Tan Son Nhat airbase, Vietnamese Navy HQ and the national broadcasting station. His sixth target had no military value whatsoever but was key in terms of his political objective - the American embassy in Saigon. Despite the VC unable to break into the embassy itself, the initial press reports suggested that the embassy compound was under siege which made immediate headlines in the US. At first light the US killed the surviving VC. General Westmooreland gave a press conference from the newly secured compound to exude confidence and explained the embassy itself was never penetrated. But what Americans saw on TV was a scene of carnage. Dead VC were broadcast on TV but within the embassy compound grounds. With this General Giap was achieving his political objective. In almost every VC attack during the offensive American forces retook the targets as easily as the VC seized them. The VC suffered a decisive military defeat with massive losses with some 45000 dead and nearly 7000 captured. Even if failed miserably to tilt the military balance, it tilted the political pressure in favour of the Giap.

Previously the Tamil Tigers conducted their counterattacks/offensives in a limited manner with the main objective of recapturing their lost strongpoints and bunkers along the earthbunds. They very well knew their limitations in such scenarios since any ambitious counterattack plans runs the risk of overstretching itself and running a long line of communications and supplies. With an overstretched supply lines they also risk a counterstrike by the Sri Lankan armed forces themselves, for during the current theatre of operations the far sighted battleplanners have made sure the forces have employed the fluid defence tactics in addition to the defence in depth factor with the swathes of territory already under armed forces control.

Fluid defence is a defence that comprises depth and reserves. Depth compels the attacker to penetrate many kilometres before achieving a breakthrough but the density of the forward defence the attacker will face at any point is light. Hence it is quite common for the attacker to gain ground initially. As attacking formations dig deeper through the defence, formations begin to break down, attacking units begin to enter unscouted terrain and begin to face obstacles unknown to pre-battle reconnaissance. Hence a further an attack travels, progressively the power of the attack erodes. This entropic effect of depth, thus sets up the SLA reserves' ability for a successful counterattack. The fluidity to the defence is added by defensive reserves positioned well to the rear which the attacker finds hard to pin down into one position hence are readily available to counterconcentrate at any point where it is needed. The increased manpower of the Sri Lankan armed forces has allowed the battleplanners to allow certain brigades and at times entire divisions to be kept on reserve such as the 571 attached to 57 Division or the entire 53 Division. The presence of the Air Mobile Brigade in this division also makes it an ideal reserve force since it allows the battleplanners to deploy the reserves on short notice. In a nutshell depth of a defence provides time for the defence to muster its defensive reserves at the rear to counterconcentrate against the attacker and counterattack. This is fluid defence or elasticity of defence.

With these factors in mind, it is highly questionable if the Tamil Tigers were indeed capable of holding the grounds of MULLATIVU/MULLIYAWALI/TANNIYUTTU upto ODDUSUDAN they recaptured if they really had succeeded. According to tactical intelligence reports it was the very reserves that was meant to conduct limited counterattacks to augment their own fluid defence manoeuvres, the Tigers had used in this failed offensive. This was clearly evident when 552/553 broke through four sand bunds along the thin isthmus of land North of CHALAI and move into the base on 5th of February. Usually once a defence line falls it was quite normal for the Tigers to conduct a limited counterattack attempting to regain the lost defensive positions. However on this occasion it was not to be. In other words the commanders were extremely clever and shrewd to exploit the already mobilised reserves. This is something the Tigers did not anticipate.

As mentioned in an earlier brief if the Tigers are to conduct a counterstrike it has to do so in a sustainable manner where it can replenish its lost cadre as well as the ammunition. If it opted for a region in the Wanni as it did recently and launches a counterstrike with all its reserves to regain a region of the Wanni it may succeed temporarily. However, whether it will be the Gordian knot for its woes is the million dollar question. MULLATIVU area holds no population base hence the Tamil Tigers will not be in a position to recruit its lost cadre. It may manage to replenish a small fraction of its supplies across the oceans barring naval interception but still it will fail to meet the requirement since annihilating 59 Division alone will not mean the Tigers have seen the back of the Sri Lankan armed forces. By having mobilised its entire reserve cadre to regain land means it would have lost whatever it had barring MULLATIVU and will be staring down the barrel of the rest of the offensive divisions.

Therefore if the Tigers are to launch a successful counterattack, it has to be a region that holds a sizeable population base for new recruits and an area that is close enough to smuggle in vital supplies. Out of the entire Northern theatre of operations only the Jaffna peninsula brings forth such rich dividends. Jaffna peninsula holds a population base of over 650000 compared to the sparsely populated Wanni which estimates are thought to hold less than 100000. And it is in close proximity to the Indian state of Tamil Nadu where many Tamil Tiger safe houses are known to exist. With the entire peninsula under its control it will have plenty of coastal belts to continue its smuggling operations with impunity. But since 53/55 Divisions have been mobilised it completely negates the Tamil Tigers' ability to launch ANY counterstrike to get a foothold on the Jaffna peninsula - the cultural centre of the Eelam ethos. This is why earlier I briefed my avid readers that any counterstrike by the Tamil Tigers after 53/55 have been mobilised may come too little too late.

The failure of this counterattack to retake MULLATIVU and its suburbs even before it began and the timing of the offensive to coincide with the 61st Independence day celebrations which was attracting national and international media attention allows it to be compared to 1968's Tet offensive which was again doomed to fail in a military perspective. Unlike Giap's VC which held towns like HUE for a month before being annihilated, the Tiger offensive was grounded to a halt in a matter of days without achieving any of its objectives. Unrealistic military objectives, cadres initiating burial of its assets and over 10000 civilians crossing over to Government territory over the last week, signals the end game for the Tigers. From here on the politicians of the Government as well as the opposition will have to shoot out of the blocks for it is not long before the baton will exchange hands from the military.

By Long Range ~ ~


Latest Articles