The LTTE Attack on Anuradhapura Air Base
The LTTE attack on the SL Air Force Base in Anuradhapura on 22 October 2007 does not seem to have attracted the critical commentary, particularly from those who consider themselves as 'patriots', which this event deserves as it is likely to have far-reaching effects. The official comments from GOSL seems to downplay this incident representing it as a last gasp from a dying LTTE. While it is wrong to exaggerate the significance of this attack it would be equally wrong to minimize it. It poses many lessons to the GOSL and the SL armed forces, and unless they are learnt there could be many such costly mistakes in the future.
One problem in assessing this incident is the lack of authentic information on what happened, and in particular the dammage that was inflicted on the air assets of the SL air force. The report by B. Raman (see below) seems to be unusually well informed on what happened. Unless this report is contradicted most people will assume that it is substantially true. The significant differences between Raman's report and the view commonly reported in the SL press are as follows:
While this attack will do nothing to change the substantial superiority that GOSL armed forced enjoy over the LTTE it will tend to strengthen the international perception that the LTTE is superior to GOSL in the use of its rather limited assets in manpower and material. GOSL clearly has the advantage when it comes to recruitment to the armed forces, financial resources, and military equipment. But the tragedy of GOSL is that it has never been able to utilize this obvious superiority. This is true whatever side of politics had been in power. Hence the internatonal perception that the LTTE has been able to maintain the initiative and in fact has not been decisively defeated at least since the intervention of Rajiv Gandhi on the side of the LTTE. In a conflict like this perceptions are very important.
Raman claims that the LTTE has shown "bravery and precision" in this attack. One decisive advantage that the LTTE has is their squad of suicide cadres (the "black tigers"). This attack was carried out by them. In effect they took a one-way ticket into the battle zone. Why Prabhakaran can attract this kind of loyalty from the black tigers is something of a mystery. In the case of Islamic suicide bombers they are fooled to believe that they will be immediately rewarded by 72 virgins and the other sensual pleasures of Islamic paradise. It is knows that the LTTE cadres (including the black tigers) are mostly Christian and Hindu. As Christians the may be lulled into the belief that on their death they will resurrect in Jesus' so-called Kingdom. We know that the Christian Kingdom like the Islamic Paradise is a myth, but for those deluded by these religions they are a reality. Hindus on the other hand believe in the doctrine of karma and certainly the karmic consequences of their acts would hardly be beneficial. So for the most part the Black Tigers are likely to be Christian. It is hardly correct to describe those who go to their certain death with this kind of religious promise to be "brave". It is more delusion than bravery that impels them.
There is some truth in the claim that LTTE operations have a degree of precision not matched by GOSL. However their recent attempts to smuggle bombs to Colombo have not been successful. So it may be that their capability in this area has undergone some change. However their success is more due to treachery on the part of their Hela opponents than "precision" on their part. It is well known that they have been able to buy assistance and information from the Helas often through bribery. They have been able to exploit the "danapalist" characteristic of the neo-Sinhalas (or Helas). But the LTTE has shown greater ingenuity such as in their so-called "air force". GOSL relies on expensive jet fighters, often bought from burrowed money, and it is questionable if they give a return appropriate to their cost to the country. There has also been rumours of official corruption in the acquisition of thes expensive assets.
If we dismiss Raman's talk of bravery and precision, and with it the myth of LTTE invincibility, we are left with the hypothesis that what we see is not so much LTTE superiority but GOSL incompetence. But whatever the right reason may be it is the relative difference that matters. The most obvious fact is that GOSL has failed to eliminate the LTTE for over 20 years, which is probably unmatched in insurgencies in other parts of the world.
Another matter that must be considered is that the LTTE attack may have bolstered their dwindling support amongst the Tamil Diaspora and the non-LTTE Tamils in Sri Lanka itself. If such a thing has happened the consequences will become apparent in the near future. An immediate effect is the effect on the world media and the international community. The World Press gave much coverage to the LTTE attack. It would also have lent support to those countries who have been saying that there is no military solution and GOSL must negotiate with the Tamils. It must be remembered that this is also the official policy of the MahindaR Government. They have been repeatedly saying that their policy is to weaken the LTTE and bring them to the negotiating table. This ignores that has happened in previous negotiations with the LTTE. Thus the LTTE attack may have made matters more difficult for GOSL.Symptomatic of the changing international perception is the recent statement by Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic Persidential nomination, and the likely winner of the 2008 US Presidential election, that terrorist movements like the LTTE and the Basque separatists are of a different kind to Islamic terrorism and should not be included in the global War on Terror. In fact this is also the policy of the Bush administration as it calls for negotiations with the Tamils which it is not prepared to do with the Islamic terrorists. These are signs that GOSL cannot afford to ignore. They have only one option: to eliminate the LTTE as soon as possible as the current window of opportunity is rapidly closing.