The Game Plan of the SL Military
When General Sarath Fonseka recovered from the abortive attempt to assassinate him and resumed duties as the Army chief there was a general feeling that here was a commander in place who would oversee the end of the LTTE. The following interview with journalists as reported by the Hindustan Times may not please those who praised the General uncritically. It purports to give the "Game Plan" of the SL military in the ongoing separatist war.
It is unusual for the commander of an army to disclose the Game Plan so that the enemy can know what it is. So there must be a reason for General Sarath Fonseka to disclose this Plan. I think this is the Plan that he has been given by his Commander-in-Chief Mahinda Rajapakse. Perhaps he does not agree with this Plan and is now disclosing it so that people can realize what the plan is. This may be his way of expressing his dissatisfaction with this Plan. Certainly this Plan sounds very much like what is in the Chintanaya for it seems to be aimed not at destroying the LTTE but "weakening" it so that it is forced to negotiate. For whatever reason the General has disclosed the Game Plan we need to analyze it for it gives a rare insight into the military thinking of those who formulated this Plan.
There seems to be two objectives behind the Plan: (1) Drive the LTTE out of the East, and (2) Weaken the LTTE in the North. Let us consider the two parts of this Plan and then give an overall appraisement of this Plan.
We have already seen part of this section of the Plan in the clearing of Mavil Aru, Sampur and Vaharai. This cost to the army in these operations have been heavy but the benefits are dubious. These places are not vital to the LTTE, and they have since scored military, propaganda and psychological victories by other means. Moreover while these areas have been liberated the power of the rival terrorist group TVMP has been growing in the East. Even though General Fonseka had said that the Army "had little or nothing to do with ... Karuna" many people assume that that there may be a tacit alliance between the Army and the TVMP. But this will fall apart sooner or later as TVMP interests are as much racist and secessionist as those of the LTTE.
General Fonseka says that there are now only about 300 LTTE cadres in the East boxed into an area of about 10 sq. kms. around Toppigala. Yet to clear them completely could take 5 to 6 months. If so how long would it take to clear the estimated 2000-4000 cadres in the North? So replacing the LTTE with the TVMP may not be a sound strategy from the long term point of view. The General also admitted that holding the newly liberated areas in the East will see the armed forces spread out thinly affecting its operation in the Vanni. It is to the strategy in the Vanni that we must next consider.
It is in the Vanni that the main power of the LTTE resides. Unless the LTTE is defeated in the Vanni no victory can be claimed over terrorism. Yet General Fonseka frankly admitted: "We have no plan to take the North. Our plan in the North is to weaken the LTTE militarily so that we are able to maintain our positions there". So the Game Plan for the North is to preserve the status quo with attempts at weakening the LTTE perhaps by aerial bombardment. If the LTTE believes this they can perhaps breathe a little easier. It is possible that this is the intention of General Fonseka to lull the LTTE into a false sense of security. We can only hope that it is so.
However there are other indicators that a complete military solution is not contemplated for the North. There is the repeated insistence that negotiation is the way forward. This is clearly stated in the Chintanaya. Perhaps the Chintanaya statements were made to secure the support of the LTTE to prevent the Northern Tamils from voting for Ranil Wickremesinghe in the last election. Perhaps not. But they were wrong and the current Game Plan for the North is a direct consequence of the Chintanaya commitments.
General Fonseka's declared intention "to maintain our positions" in the North may not be possible without eliminating the LTTE in the Vanni. Since the capture of the Jaffna peninsula during Chandrika's time (perhaps her greatest achievement) GOSL has been able to maintain a presence there, even though the LTTE also has influence there. What has prevented a LTTE capture of Jaffna is that the bulk of Jaffna Tamils are not enchanted with Prabhakaran's tactics which is directed against Hindus and the Vellala Tamils. But this could change with if the military balance swings in favour of the LTTE. So it is vital even for the objecting of maintaining our position in Jaffna that the LTTE is decisively defeated in the Vanni.
The primarily military objective must be to eliminate the sanctuary given to the LTTE in the Vanni. It is from there that the entire LTTE strategy is co-ordinated. They are now using this area as a base for their aerial attacks too. The strategy of containing the LTTE to the Vanni also explains why the CFA has not been formally ended even though as everyone knows it is dead, abandoned first by the LTTE and then by GOSL. But so long as it exists there cannot be a real game plan.
One can only hope that the Game Plan outlined by General Fonseka is replaced by a Plan which gives priority to denying the Vanni sanctuary to the LTTE.
The Sri Lankan Army's game plan is to drive the LTTE out of the Eastern districts completely, and weaken it in the Northern districts, to pave the way for talks to find a permanent political solution to the Tamil question, says its Commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. "In five to six months we will completely mop up the LTTE in the East," the General told select foreign journalists here on Monday. But to one's surprise, he added: "We have no plan to take the North." "Our plan in the North is to weaken the LTTE militarily so that we are able to maintain our positions there," he explained.
He believed that there should be a political solution, a permanent settlement of the ethnic conflict which had been dogging the island country for more than two decades. But that could not happen so long as the LTTE was militarily strong, he argued. The LTTE Supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was not interested in peace and would have to be forced to come for a settlement, the General said. Prabhakaran dreaded peace. " He would not be able to move around freely if there was peace. He would have to be in hiding and ruling like a military dictator," the Sri Lankan Army chief said. Therefore, the Sri Lankan Army and its sister forces were on the job of militarily weakening the LTTE, he added.
Asked why there was a need for a political solution after neutralising the LTTE, which he believed did not enjoy support among the Tamil people, Gen.Fonseka said that the people in the North-East had political grievances and these needed to be addressed, if there was to be permanent peace. "We are convinced that there should be a political solution," he stressed. Even in the East, which had been cleared of the LTTE almost fully, one could not say that there had been a "victory", Gen.Fonseka argued.
"There can be real victory, only when there is a political solution under which people can lead normal lives," he said. If the political issues were not addressed, war could go on for another two decades, the General warned. The Tamil people had a choice, either to follow Prabhakaran and keep on fighting or follow moderate leaders like V.Anandasangaree and Douglas Devananda and return to peace, he said. The government was thinking of a political settlement, and President Mahinda Rajapaksa had already made an offer, the General said, referring to the devolution proposal made by Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
Gen.Fonseka said that the LTTE now held only a small part of the Toppigala jungle in the East, barely 10 square kilometres out of a total area of 50 sq.km. "It can be flushed out of this area in a couple of weeks and then the mopping up operations would have to be carried out to completely clear the area, and that may take five to six months," he said. But the LTTE is dogged. "It has not given up hopes of holding Toppigala," the General noted. And the cadres are desperadoes. "Every Tiger cadre is a suicide cadre, in as much as he is forced to fight to the last bullet." In Gen.Fonseka's estimation, there are only about 300 LTTE fighting cadres left in the East and they are holed up in the Toppigala jungle.
As for the North, comprising the districts in the Wanni region currently controlled by the LTTE and serving as its headquarters, the General said that the Army's basic objective was to secure and strengthen its current defence lines and pre-empt attacks by neutralising the LTTE's gun positions on the other side. "We want to create conditions in which we are sure that we are not under threat," the General said.
Asked specifically, if the Army was planning to march into the Wanni region as it did under Operation Jayasikurui (Victory Assured ) in 1997-1999, Gen.Fonseka said that it was an "absurd" idea. "There is no point in entering areas under LTTE's control before it is weakened militarily." Operation Jayasikurui was the longest, costliest and the most disastrous operation in Sri Lanka's military history.
The Army's units were so thinly spread out in the bid to hold a vast swathe of captured territory, that they became easy prey to marauding LTTE squads in the latter phase of the campaign. The camps, mostly small, fell like nine pins in 1999. The LTTE is expected to pitch in and fight ferociously in the Wanni. Most of its artillery and mortar pieces were now in the North, Gen. Fonseka said. "Moreover, the LTTE cannot afford to lose control over an estimated 350,000 people there," he pointed out. The LTTE has 4,000 fighting cadres in the Northern districts of Mannar, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, the militant group's heartland. "But they are not its best cadres," Gen.Fonseka said. "If they lose 2,000 cadres, they are finished."
The LTTE has also lost a large number of cadres. 565 were killed in the last four months, including a leader like "Col" Nagulan, the Number 2 in the elite "Charles Anthony Regiment. The Army, in contrast, had lost only 45. Defending the continuous aerial bombardment of the LTTE- held areas which had created 150,000 to 200,000 refugees in a few months, Gen.Fonseka said that the aerial bombardment took on only military targets and that they were "dead accurate."
He defended the controversial decision to buy MIG 29s, saying that these had 3D radars which could help locate LTTE planes. The General attributed the fall in suicide bombing incidents in Colombo and Jaffna to the army's "covert" operations, which had broken into the LTTE networks.
Gen.Fonseka maintained that the Armed Forces had little or nothing to do with the LTTE's breakaway group led by Karuna, which is accused of harrassing the people of Batticaloa. According to the General, the Tamil establishments next to the army's camps in Batticaloa, were "political" offices of the para-military groups like the EPDP and PLOTE. "I don't know if Karuna has registered his political party," the General said.
According to him, LTTE chief Prabhakaran's son, Charles Anthony, is the head of the outfit's new Air wing, the Tamileelam Air Force. Charles Anthony had apparently done a course in aeronautical engineering. Gen.Fonseka said that the Ceasefire Agreement signed in February 2002 had helped the LTTE increase its arsenal ten to 15 times. "Their firepower has increased many times."