War on terror revisited: Part 28
August 7, 2012, 7:28 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government allowed itself to be manipulated by those who worked overtime to sanitise the LTTE in spite of its vow to take a tougher stand against terrorism. Close on the heels of the suicide attempt on Army chief, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s life in Colombo, the government gave the go ahead to ‘Initiative for Political and Conflict Transformation to arrange for Deputy Leader of Sinn Fein, Martin McGuinnees, to visit Kilinochchi.
The LTTE targeted the army chief on April 25, 2006, prompting the GoSL to launch retaliatory air strikes. On May 13, 2006 the LTTE tried to sink a ship carrying 700 security forces personnel off Mullaitivu. The government responded with air and artillery strikes. The LTTE assassinated Maj. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, the third senior most officer in the army on June 26, 2006, while INPACT was finalising McGuinnesss’s visit. The government didn’t even bother to order retaliatory strikes, following the assassination of Maj. Gen. Kulatunga.
McGuinnees, a senior member of the IRA’s Army Council, was labeled by Unionists as the ‘IRA’s godfather of godfathers’.
The SLAF flew the IRA high ranker in a Bell 412, exclusively used for VVIP travel, (President Rajapaksa, too, used this chopper) to Omanthai, where he crossed the entry/exit point overland to reach LTTE headquarters. The high profile visitor was accompanied by Aidan McAteer and Tyrol Ferdinands, Managing Trustee of INPACT. The British High Commission denied facilitating the Kilinochchi meeting.
Having met LTTE Political Wing leader S. P. Thamilselvan, the IRA man declared that like in Ireland, there couldn’t be a military victory. McGuinnees urged both parties to take tangible action to prevent what he called the downward spiral into an all-out conflict. The visitor was speaking in the wake of the GoSL liberating the Eastern Province and the army opening a new front in the Vanni. Those who arranged the visit obviously failed to realise that the GoSL was making progress on the Vanni front in spite of heavy resistance. (Controversy over ‘IRA godfather of godfathers’ visit to Kilinochchi ; VIP chopper ride to Omanthai – The Island July 5, 2006).
The visit coincided with Indian Foreign Secretary Shayam Sharan’s meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The UPFA allowed the international community and INGOs/NGOs to organise propaganda visits until the eruption of major ground battles in August, 2006.
Foreign funds for LTTE
In spite of being a proscribed organisation, the LTTE had front organisations operating in many parts of the world as well as in Sri Lanka to raise funds. A survey by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka revealed that the LTTE front, Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), had been among 30 NGOs which received a staggering 73 per cent of Rs 40.1 bn in tsunami financial aid (Tiger front among recipients of Rs. 40 b. tsunami funds – The Island March 23, 2006).
Although the Colombo based diplomatic community was aware of the relationship between the LTTE and TRO, no attempt was made to prevent the LTTE front from receiving funds. A section of the diplomatic community maintained a clandestine relationship with the LTTE, which shrewdly exploited its contacts with both local and international media to further its interests.
Some international donors went to the extent of funding the Humanitarian De-mining Unit (HDU) of the LTTE, while the group was on a killing spree. The LTTE directed a series of mine attacks at security forces on land and Fast Attack Craft (FACs) after the presidential election on Nov 17, 2005. It would be pertinent to establish the total amount of foreign funds received by the LTTE/HDU and identify those who continued to provide funds for the LTTE/HDU operation. Among the donors were the Norwegian People’s Aid, British Mine Advisory Group, Swiss Foundation for Mine Action and Danish De-mining Group. They made available both financial and technical assistance. Interestingly, HDU functioned as an implementing arm of the TRO, which openly worked for the LTTE (Funds to de-mine Tiger territory absurd-military – The Island April 12, 2006). The LTTE resumed mine attacks on Dec 4, 2005. The Jaffna blast was the first since the signing of the CFA. By April 2006, mine attacks claimed the lives of army, navy and policemen. Two suicide attacks on fast attack craft killed 25 navy officers and men also during this period. But the LTTE and its front organisations continued their operations without any hindrance.
Successive governments failed to take tangible action against clandestine LTTE operations. The Rajapaksa regime failed to be different from previous administrations. Many countries and INGOs worked openly with LTTE front organisations. Some politicians, too, had been involved in INGO funded operations. A German NGO funded a water purification project at Iyakachchi, Elephant Pass, which used one of the water wells used by the army’s 54 Division once headquartered there. The army base at Iyakachchi fell shortly before the collapse of the 54 Division in early 2000. Digmer Doering of the German NGO AGSEP accompanied by UNP MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene visited Iyakachchi to inspect the operation of the AGSEP-donated water purification plant under the purview of the TRO (Dr. J.J. inspects Iyakachchi water plant – The Island April 16, 2006).
LTTE Political Wing Leader, S. P. Thamilselvan had the audacity to declare in Geneva that angry Tamil civilians had launched attacks on security forces and even sunk an FAC off Trincomalee, to avenge atrocities committed by government forces. Those who faithfully reported Thamilselvan’s comments didn’t bother to question the LTTE delegation. The LTTE’s decision to train and deploy civilians should be examined against the backdrop of Thamilselvan’s audacious claim.
Taraki on eelam war IV
Dharmaratnam Sivaram aka Taraki persistently asserted that the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated. Sivaram, in the 1990s, claimed that the Jaffna peninsula could never be regained militarily. He predicted that an offensive in the peninsula could claim the lives of as many as 15,000 officers and men. Decision makers took Taraki seriously. He was considered the foremost expert on military affairs at that time. During President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure, the military conducted Operation Riviresa which brought the Jaffna peninsula under its control in late 1995. The army lost 600 officers and men during the offensive. (Riviresa will be discussed later)
An unidentified gang abducted Taraki on April 28, 2005. His body was found on the following day near Parliament. Taraki authored a piece captioned ‘The Tamil Perspective’, which was eventually accommodated in ‘Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons’. It dealt with the next phase of the conflict. Sivaram, who contributed to the expansion of TamilNet, claimed that the Sri Lankan military wouldn’t be able e to defeat the LTTE even with US combat support. Sivaram was confident that eelam war IV (Aug 2006 to May 2009) would end disastrously for the Sri Lankan military.
Asserting that the US would find it difficult to prove that the LTTE posed a direct threat to US interests due to the roles played by Norway, UK and Thailand in the peace process, Taraki said: "This brings to the question of the level of military assistance that the US will have to commit here to fight the LTTE. The LTTE is no Taliban. It is easily the most ferocious and resilient compact conventional fighting force in the world today. Therefore, US military assistance for the Sri Lanka army has to be more than training in manoeuvre, combat, intelligence and long range reconnaissance patrols, all of which were found to be ineffective against the LTTE. The considerable training given by US Special Forces from 1997 to 2001 did not help the army prevent the great debacles in Vanni and Elephant Pass. The same can be said about future military assistance from Pakistan to the Sri Lanka army."
Obviously, Taraki exaggerated LTTE’s fighting capability. Such a claim by a security analyst considered an expert on the subject influenced the opinion of the international community. The LTTE could withstand a sustained combined security forces offensive only for two years and 10 months!
Media boost for sinking Tigers
Even after the liberation of Kilinochchi on Jan 1, 2009, a section of the media asserted that the LTTE could still make a come back.
Some ‘expert’ commentators asserted that either the government or the LTTE could emerge victorious in the battle for Kilinochchi.
One of them even reported an abortive bid by the Army to regain Kilinochchi on December 16, two LTTE counter attacks, failure on the part of the Navy to thwart LTTE receiving military supplies by sea and most importantly, the availability of theLTTE’s ‘hardcore strength’ to defend Kilinochchi and Chilawattai, south of Mullaitivu.
The Island of December 28, 2008, in a front-page report, headlined Battle for Mullaitivu reaches final stage, pointed out that both Kilinochchci and Mullaitivu could not be defended and whatever the LTTE did, they could not alter the ground situation.
B. Raman, a former Additional Cabinet Secretary, Government of India and Director Institute for Topical Studies, in two articles titled Kilinochchi: A Stalingrad in the making? (October 26, 2008) and ‘Kilinochchi within killing distance’ (December 19, 2008) warned that hastily trained Sinhalese recruits could not match the fighting skills of well trained and highly motivated LTTE cadres.
Raman ridiculed Sri Lanka Army chief Lt. General Sarath Fonseka’s men, calling them disinformation warriors. The likes of Raman and Colonel R. Hariharan (retired), who had served in Sri Lanka and now regularly comments on Sri Lankan affairs, were way off the mark. Had anyone taken seriously what various experts said over the years, one would have thought Sri Lanka would never be able to defeat the LTTE.
Political commentator D. B. S. Jeyaraj too, asserted that the LTTE was about to direct a knockout blow to the army. He asserted that the LTTE had three broad defensive rings around and within the areas controlled by them in the north. The first ring encompassed the entire territory under LTTE control. The second was around the territory to the east of the A9 road and the third was around the strategically important areas in east Vanni, including access to beachfronts, he claimed, noting that it would be foolish for the LTTE to keep on fighting a defensive war as the army was at the gates of the last defence ring after penetrating the second line of defence.
Jeyaraj’s comments published on December 20, 2008, just four days after the debacle in the northern theatre (failed bid to capture Kilinochchi on Dec 16) raised serious concerns among the government and a section of the security forces. He estimated the total number of LTTE cadres killed up to the time on the northern front at 4,500 with 3,000 to 3,500 of them being inexperienced fighters.
Jeyaraj placed the number of well trained experienced cadres ready to go on the offensive at about 12,000 to 15,000.
But theLTTE’s international supporters knew the actual ground situation. Had they actually believed in the LTTE’s fighting skills, they would not have tried to force President Rajapaksa to call off the offensive.
The Island exclusively reported Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on January 2 as having said that the fall of Kilinochchi was imminent. Dismissing Prabhakaran’s declaration that the liberation of Kilinochchi was nothing but a daydream of President Rajapaksa, the Gajaba veteran vowed to finish off the LTTE in the northern theatre of operations within months after the seizure of Kilinochchi.
The army liberated Kilinochchi on January 2. At the end of the conflict, the Defence Secretary told this writer that he felt ashamed that the armed forces had failed to wipe them out for almost 30 years. "When the army ultimately brought the entire Northern Province under its control, it was obvious we overestimated their capabilities and their successes throughout this period depended on our failures."
The government never realised the importance of the media and how it could be used to support its war. LTTE propaganda had a demoralising impact on the army, with even some of those retired senior officers, including service commanders, acknowledging the LTTE superiority. C. A. Chandraprema discusses the defeatist attitude of a section of the defence establishment and how it affected the military efforts in Gota’s War.