Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009

Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009

Michael Roberts ..…The initial version of this article was actually drafted in late 2014, but I let it lie because I wished to pursue my reading of the ambassadorial despatches further. It is now the first of two essays covering the US diplomatic operations in Sri Lanka in the first five months of 2009 – the second entitled “Off the Planet” being in line with the thrust of the title deployed here (and remaining as yet in draft form). Note that this essay was completed before I was aware of The Campbell Conversations of 28th January 2011 where Blake elaborated on the Sri Lankan situation. His position then has to be compared to the pressures exerted on the Sri Lankan government in 2009 with UN and EU support and the assessments of the fast-moving war scenario presented to his superiors over the course of 2008/09. Wikileaks have done all of us a favour in revealing these backroom diplomatic activities in the raw.

The Wikileaks disclosures have revealed to the world the American mind-set towards the heightened conflict in Sri Lanka in the last phase of Eelam War IV. Yet neither the functionaries in the service of the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) nor the intelligentsia commenting on that situation have drawn on this material. The stack of data is enormous: for instance, some 90 despatches in the period January to May 2009. Working alone amidst other tasks my studies of this material are incomplete; but are adequate for preliminary assessments. BLAKE and MR BLAKE www.tbcuk.net

Insights gained from this corpus have been supplemented by reference to (1) the report submitted by Jeffrey Lunstead (former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka) to the Asia Foundation in 2007; (2) Ambassador Robert Blake’s Public Address at the University of Madras in May 2008; (3) State Department Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher’s media address in August 2008; (4) Hilary Clinton’s public warning[1] to the Government of Sri Lanka on 22nd April 2009 and (5) the details incorporated in Daya Gamage’s survey of US thinking on the basis of his employment in the US Embassy from the 1970s[2] in an article in Asian Tribune that is now available in the web site thuppahi (Gamage 2014).

My preliminary studies lead to several conclusions, some quite startling.

  1. The US Embassy in Colombo in concert with UN agencies and other Western ambassadors were an active component in the war situation — not only in vital and welcome humanitarian pursuits,[3] but also as forces in the cut-and-thrust of political manoeuvres that had a bearing on military operations.
  2. In January 2009 US Ambassador Blake made an evaluation of LTTE military capacities that mixed insight with statements that were as amateurish as idiotic (see below).
  3. Such miscalculations guided his insistence that the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) should focus on a ”political solution” to Sinhala-Tamil issues and a return to the round-table programme of the previous All-Parties Conference (APC) in Sri Lanka.
  4. In effect, what we see in 2008/09 is a story of US diplomats adhering blindly to policies devised for Sri Lanka in the 1980s and 1990s (Roberts, “Off the Planet,” 2015, in process).
  5. This programme did not attach sufficient weight to the fascist character of the LTTE.[4] Nor did it attend to the extremist position to which many Tamil nationalists all over the world — that is, in the conclaves of Colombo, the northern and eastern reaches of Sri Lanka and migrant circles worldwide — had moved and the degree to which they were in awe of the talaivar Pirapāharan and the achievements of the LTTE.
  6. In other words, USA and its allies (including some members of the Sri Lankan intelligentsia in Colombo) had not discerned that Tamil chauvinism (both Tiger and beyond Tiger) was as great a problem as Sinhala chauvinism (Roberts, “Off the Planet,” 2015, in process).

This article will concentrate on demonstrating a colossal failure on the part of a powerful player in the warring arena, US Ambassador Robert Blake. He comprehensively misread the unfolding battlefield scenario in a manner that suggests (a) an absence of briefings from his own Military Attaché at the embassy in Colombo and (b) a cloistered office-room perspective devoid of fundamental political and military sense.

Background 2008

No survey of the final stages of the war can be proceed without attention to the cartographical picture of the LTTE with its backs to the wall in a situation where they had lost their sea-lane means of munitions replenishment in the course of 2007[5] and their supply chain from India after the SL Army penetrated their defences from the south and captured a good segment of the western coast of Thamilīlam in the course of 2008 (cf. Fig. 3 with Fig. 1). At this point in March 2008 the LTTE force[6] of an estimated 10-15,000 fighting personnel faced SL Army forces that numbered perhaps 150,000 and was continuing to draw recruits every month as a result of economic conditions, the incentives of good pay and the impact of the Api Wenuwen television campaign.[7] In late 2008 General Fonseka patted himself on the back: “The strength of the Army when I took over was 116,000. Today it stands at 170,000. So we have sufficient reserves now. I created 50 new battalions” (quoted in De Silva-Ranasinghe, “Victory,” 2009: 8).

FIG 1=Thamililam in late 2007       Fig  1 = Thamililam in 2007

By mid-2008, therefore, the LTTE were fighting on three fronts: north, west and south. They were outmanned and outgunned, but remained a formidable force — having apparently stockpiled munitions,[8] guns and weapons which (we now know) lasted them through the fighting till they decided to explode their remaining munitions and guns on 14th May 2009.[9] Though they held out in remarkable fashion in the Jaffna Peninsula, the LTTE was forced to abandon territory in the south and especially in the west during the course of 2008. On the western front the SL Army gradually advanced eastwards, whittling away at Tiger bases (see Roberts, TPS- Pictorial, 2014, Figs. 72-77). An Al-Jazeera video clip assembled by Tony Birtley in October 2008 provides a useful picture of the scenario and should be mandatory viewing for the armchair pundits seated in Colombo and Western cities (Al Jazeera 2008).

FIG 2-Situ Map Oct 2008 Fig 2 = Situation Map, October 2008

FIG 3 = War fronts 23 Dec 2008Fig 3= Situation Map, 23 December 2008

Though the LTTE battled bravely in October-November to defend the lines to the west of its administrative capital Kilinochchi and the arterial road A9, the loss of Paranthan junction by 31 December 2008 meant that the Tiger command had, perforce, (1) to abandon Kilinochchi and (2) ask all its forces in the eastern corner of Jaffna Peninsula to withdraw south beyond Elephant Pass to its heartland in Mullaitivu District between the A35 and A 34 (see Figs, 2, 3 and 4). From early January 2009, therefore, the LTTE state of Thamilīlam was confined to what one can call the “Vanni Pocket” (Figs. 3, 4), where the civilian populace of some 300-320,000 had been induced[10] and/or forced to move so as to serve as a defensive formation of so many sandbags as well as a political tool for the spectre of an “impending humanitarian disaster” which the Tamil propaganda circuits wielded deftly with the support of (i) Western humanitarian agencies such as Amnesty International, ICG and HRW; (ii) Western media chains as the NY Times, Guardian, BBC, Times group; (iii) concerned agencies in Colombo (iv) some members of the intelligentsia in Colombo and, last but not least, (v) UN agencies and powerful Western governments (see Roberts, “Blackmail,” 2012 & “BBC Blind,” 2013)

FIG 4 = 06_Jan_2009_defence.lk Fig 4 = Situation Map, 6 January 2009 …Pooneryn in the north-west was captured by the SL Army on 15th November 2008, while Mankulam on the southern front was secured on the 17th November. Once Paranthan at a critical junction was threatened in December the LTTE knew it had to abandon their administrative capital of Kilinochchi. Thereafter the fighting was confined to the enclave in the northeast corner of Sri Lanka east of the A9 arterial road which can be identified as “the Vanni Pocket”

The maps in Figures 1, 2, 3 and 4, supplemented by the pictorial illustrations 5, 6, 8 and 9, serve as sensitizing tools for our consideration of the first ‘missiles’ from Ambassador Robert Blake in January 2009, at a time when the politics was further strained by the assassination of Lasantha Wickramatunga, Editor of the Sunday Leader, by a hit-team that is widely believed to be from state military agencies.[11]

Blake to his Superiors in January 2009: Where Spot On

Blake’s despatch 03 of 2nd January 2009 reported the GSL’s capture of Kilinochchi with a further note that its seizure had taken much longer than the predictions presented earlier by government sources.[12] He added: “as government forces press in on the Tigers’ remaining areas of control, we expect further guerilla attacks on military and economic targets in the South.” This note can be linked in our review with his subsequent assertion that “the LTTE still retains the capability to inflict casualties at the front and throughout the country.”

In hindsight we know that this assessment was partially correct,[13] that is with reference to the battle theatre of the Vanni Pocket.[14] Serge de Silva-Ranasinghe was keeping track of the cut-and-thrust of the war in exemplary fashion in international military journals from a seat in Australia through these months January-May 2009.[15] His contemporary reportage puts to shame the vast majority of news reports from foreign reporters in Colombo and those presented by powerful western media chains such as The Times, the Guardian, CNN et cetera because the later swallowed misinformation conveyed by medical personnel, Tamil NGO functionaries, Christian priests and other personnel in Tiger territory in a remarkably gullible manner. By way of illustration, let me stress that in an astounding admission on 18th February 2009 Ravi Nessman, the Associated Press reporter in Colombo, told his CNN audience that he did not know whether the LTTE retained any conventional military capacity (Roberts, “War in Sri Lanka,” 2014).

In a subsequent summary de Silva-Ranasinghe notes that the most desperate and heaviest fighting occurred “in the months of February, March and April in that steadily shrinking area I have identified as the Vanni Pocket. During this period the LTTE launched four major counterattacks, [seeking to] breakthrough the Army’s frontline and force it to retreat. In one such attack, the LTTE pushed back the 59th Division’s 593 Brigade more than 4 km from its original positions, and forced the 59th Division to fall back several kilometres on its flanks” (de Silva-Ranasinghe, “Downfall,” 2010: 12). The LTTE was able to generate this sort of setback even though its combat cadre may have been reduced to anything between 5000-12,000 troops by December 2008 (de Silva-Ranasinghe, “Victory at Kilinochchi,” 2009)

From the SL Army’s point of view the most disastrous of these Tiger offensives occurred after the GSL tried to play to the international gallery by declaring a “ceasefire” at the end of January 2009.[16] This resulted in the 4-kilometre withdrawal referred to above by de Silva-Ranasinghe — an event that indicated how futile such ceasefires were for the warring side with a winning edge and how the strident and repeated pressure from the USA and its partners for declarations of ceasefire from the GSL side was of material advantage to the LTTE. While this impact was obvious to an outside observer such as Simon Jenkins in 2009 (2011), it does not seem to have entered the heads of those speaking for the “international community.” Since Blake was the point-man for this concerted international pressure, his standpoint suggests partisanship, undeclared US policy objectives or vacuous thinking — or a combination thereof.

Blake to his Superiors in January 2009: Where Dim and Dumb

In the same despatch of 2nd January 2009 Blake used an alleged statement by General Fonseka in mid-2008 to assert that “even if the government was able to secure the entire Vanni the LTTE could easily go underground with a residual force of 1000 and conduct hit and run attacks on the military for several years as it attempted to secure the Vanni. The Tigers’ ability to transform themselves into an underground insurgent movement in the areas they formerly controlled is a central reason we will continue to press the government to engage on a political track.”

He returned to this refrain in the secret dispatch no 33 of 9th January 2009. In telling Washington that it would take two months for the SL Army to gain control of the Tiger military HQ town of Mullaitivu,[17] Blake added: “it could be months longer before the GSL is able to occupy all of the north if the Tigers are able to maintain their hold over the civilian population under their control.” Once again, but now citing General Fonseka as his authority,[18] Blake affirmed that “the LTTE will likely go underground, with cadres attempting to blend in with the civilian population in other parts of Sri Lanka. Some, especially the leadership, could try to leave by boat while they still hold Mullaitivu. However, it is not clear where they could go. India might tolerate a few disarmed ex-cadres washing up on its shores, but has made clear that it seeks to prosecute the Tiger leadership for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. In any case, we expect a new even more lethal phase of LTTE terrorism to begin.

This was armchair assessment at its most crass, amateurish in the extreme. A guerrilla insurgency requires a settled population aligned to its cause to hide within and amongst. In January 2009 the Tamil populace of the northern Vanni was hemmed in within the Vanni Pocket with swelling numbers growing disenchanted with their displacement and the draconian regime that the LTTE was enforcing.[19] The areas west of the arterial A9 was a desolate war-torn arena replete with unexploded ordinance, mines and debris. It was simply unimaginable that a body of escaping Tigers could find a haven amongst the Tamil majority in Vavuniya north, the Jaffna Peninsula or the Tamil areas of the Eastern Province. In the first place they had to get there.

Blake seems to have attributed magical capacities to the LTTE and totally — as well as grossly — underestimated the capacity of the GSL forces: Army, Navy and Air Force. It was elementary military strategy for the advancing SL Army to ring the declining LTTE arena with a cordon sanitaire of several layers of troops — with advancing frontline backed by rear-guard contingents and yet another layer in contingent reserve. As Thamililam contracted to about 24 square kilometres in mid-April this multi-layered encirclement became easier. That is why Prabhakaran’s desperate effort to save himself on the 17-19th May 2009 came to nought.

Here, then, we see Blake the Orientalist: namely, an epitome of Edward Said’s picture of the European intellectuals of the 18th and 19th centuries who saw the peoples and states of “the East” as incapable and moribund. He does not seem to have had any inkling of the capacities of the GSL forces[20] working in combination with each other, spearheaded by SIOT units of the highest calibre. One wonders if Blake ever consulted his military attaché or absorbed the content of the Al Jazeera video presentations (2008 and 2009a & 2009b).

It was a momentous miscalculation. Its ripples were quite serious in consequence. It informed Blake’s incessant demand for GSL to initiate a ceasefire and his equally persistent focus on a political solution. Behind these lines of policy, moreover, was a more sinister dimension revealed during the course of a media briefing on 6th May 2009 by his very own Political Attache, Michael Owen: USA wished to have the LTTE in place in the local arena as a political player that did not carry arms (Gamage 2014). That is another book.

But how military-dumb can a major political player be!

     ***

FIG 5 = displacementFig 5. Displaced Tamil people on the movepic from TamilNet … From early 2009 the Tamil populace found themselves in a cramped space and in increasing danger from shellfire and aerial bombardment (Reddy 2009a, b; UTHR Let Them Speak, 2009, sec. 2/2-2/6). One Rasamalar, a lady aged 48, remarked that “the organization said we were going to die anyway if we crossed to the army-controlled area and told us to die with them” (de Silva-Ranasinghe 2010b: 4).
FIG 6=UNITED-NATIONS-SRI-LANKA-facebook+ Fig 6. From en.wikipedia.org …As the LTTE was forced into strategic retreat, mostly from west to east, their directorate encouraged the people in the Vanni to move into the remaining portions of Thāmilīlam. The LTTE’s central objective in this cynical exercise was to deploy the people as prospective “humanitarian disaster” and to blackmail powerful forces beyond the borders to provide the LTTE with an escape hatch. For the most part this was readily acquiesced in by the majority because they perceived the SL state forces as a demonic enemy. But the increase in discomfort and the increased scale of LTTE conscription began to alienate some segments of the displaced population (see UTHR nos. 31, 32 & 34 & de-Silva-Ranasinghe 2010b). When precisely this disenchantment with the LTTE’s iron fist began is difficult to determine, though Muralidhar Reddy and a Tamil activist who was part of the trapped population till late April both suggest (personal communications to author) that it was by January 2009. However, even in April-May 2009 there was a hardcore of popular faith/support for the LTTE among those remaining (see Reddy 2009a). How many of the roughly 135-146,000 people left at that point were still hard core faithful?  Yet another tough question.
 FIG 7 = Situ Map=SergeFig 7. Situation Map, 2 February 2009 — Pic from Ministry of Defense

FIG 8 =Tent City-daru 27Fig. 8 From the UNPoE Report. From an item presented by DBS Jeyaraj it apears that people in the Mullaittivu locality were persuaded to move into the coastal stripas early as December 2008, but it is appears that most of the civilians had been assembled there by late February 2009. This was a strategic move meant to forestall a  possible amphibious operation by the Government forces that could box the Tiger fighters in. the tent cities and the congestion in the “last redoubt” were an outcome of this strategy. The demographic estimates on the numbers in the area, inclusive of Tiger personnel, involve some guesswork, but constitute a crucial aspect for evaluations of the likely death toll. Some shoddy work by journalists posing as “neutral” has enabled the Tamil propaganda lobby to perpetuate fantastic claims of “genocide.” A think tank in India recently remarked that there was a “vicious, motivated and one-sided campaign of disinformation on the question of human rights violations during the terminal phases of the conflict with the LTTE” (SATP 2013).

FIG 9=Pokkanai_area_seaside_01--29 MARCHFig 9. Congestion along the main road at Ampalavanpokkanai in the northern sector of the Last Redoubt — from TamilNet, 29 March 2009….This scene is as striking as significant. The Tamil populace was jam-packed in certain localities. If extensive shelling of such areas had taken place the death toll would have been enormous. Citizen Silva reckons that 246,000 was the approximate figure for those remaining within the LTTE corral on 17 April 2009 – just before the SL Army penetrated the Redoubt and split it into two, leaving roughly one-third of the strip at its southern end in LTTE hands (IDAG 2013). See Figures 10-14 below cartographic depictions of the SL Army operation and the ensuing exodus of Tamil civilians and Tiger personnel who had discarded their weapons.

             SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

Al-Jazeera 2008 “Sri Lankan Army closes in on Tamil Tigers,” 7 October 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6GATY8y4gs

Al-Jazeera 2009a “Sri Lankan Army claims control of Rebel Territory,” 26 January 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brMeGyyt8ow

Al-Jazeera 2009b “Sri Lankan army closes in on Tamil Tigers,” 1 February 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZc_Am5HUSs

Aneez, Shihar 2009 “ Die with us’ rebels tell Sri Lanka’s refugees,” 25 February 2009, Httpe://www.reuters.com./article/homepageCrisis/idUSCOL395120._CH_.2400

Bavinck, Ben 2014 Of Tamils and Tigers. A Journey through Sri Lanka’s War Years, Part II,     Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications & Rajani Thiranagama Committee.

Chandradasa, Malaka n.d. “Learning from our enemies: Sri Lankan naval special warfare against sea Tigers,” https://globalecco.org/learning-from-our-enemies-sri-lankan-naval-special-warfare-against-the-sea-tigers.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2008 “Victory at the Battle of Kilinochchi,” Defence Review Asia, Dec 2008–Jan 2009, Vol. 2/9, pp. 7-8.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009a “Battle for Mullaitivu enters Final Stage,” Defence Review Asia, Vol. 3/1, pp. 10-12.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009b “Political and Security Implications of Sri Lanka’s Armed Conflict,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, Feb. 2009, Vol. 35/1, pp. 20, 22-24.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009c“The Last Stand of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” Future Directions International, Weekly Global Report, 3 March 2009, pp. 7-10.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009d “The Battle for the Vanni Pocket,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, March 2009, Vol. 35/2, pp. 17-19 — http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/aulimp/citations/gsa/2009_157395/ 156554.html

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009e “Tiger Trail. Strategic Defeat of the LTTE and its Implications,” Force, April 2009, pp. 50-54.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009f “Sri Lanka’s Experience in Counter-Insurgency Warfare,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, October 2009, pp. 40-46.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009e “Good education. Sri Lankan military learns insurgency lessons,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, December 2009, pp. 2-7.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009f “Maritime Counter-Terrorism and the Sri Lanka Navy,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, November 2009, 35: 32-33.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009g “Lessons in Maritime Counter-Insurgency,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, January 2010, 36: 50-53.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010a “Information Warfare and the Endgame of the Civil War,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, May 2010, 30/4: 35-37, http://wwwasiapacificdefencereporter. com/articles/40/Sri-Lanka.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010b “Downfall of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” 6 June 2010, http://www.defstrat.com/exec/frmArticleDetails.aspx?DID=243

Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-american-agenda-for-sri-lankas-national-issues-1970s-2014/

Gamage, Daya 2015 “U.S. clears Sri Lanka of Civilian Deaths: Faults Tiger Human Shield,” 14 August 2015, http://www.asiantribune.com/node/87659.

Gaspar,Raj, Fr. N. 2010 “Mullivaikal Last Stages. Facts unknown to the Tamil speaking world,” 23 June 2010, http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/06/mullivaikal-last-stages.html

Gaspar Raj, Fr. N. 2013 “Saving Talaivar Prabhākaran, 2009: Fr. Gaspar Raj’s Revelations in 2010,”  23 October 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/saving-talaivar-prabhakaran-fr-gaspar-rajs-revelations-in-2010/#more-14288

Gunasekera, Tisaranee 2014, “Lasantha Wickrematunge Assassination and the Rajapaksa Reality,” 9 January 2014, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/lasantha-wickrematunge-assassination-and-the-rajapaksa-reality/

Harrison, Frances 2012 Still Counting the Dead, 2012

Hoole, Rajan et al 2001 The Arrogance of Power: Myths, Decadence& Murder, Jaffna: UTHR.

IDAG [Citizen Silva] 2013 “Numbers Game. The Politics of Retributive Justice,” http://www.scribd.com/doc/132499266/The-Numbers-Game-Politics-of-Retributive-Justice

Perera, Amantha 2007 “Sri Krishna guides Navy to Big Kill,” 16 September 2007 http://www.thesundayleader.lk/archive/20070916/defence.htm.

Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009a “An Escape from Hellhole,” http://www.hindu.com/ 2009/04/25/stories/2009042558390100.html.

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009b “Multiple Displacements, Total Loss of Identity.”The Hindu, 27 May 2009, http://www.hindu.com/2009/05/27/stories/2009052755811500.htm

Roberts, Michael 2009 “Realities of War,” Frontline, 26/10, 9-22 May 2009.

Roberts, Michael 2014a “The War in Sri Lanka: Ravi Nessman’s Slanted Story for USA on the Tavis Smiley Show, 18 February 2009,” 31 January 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/the-war-in-sri-lanka-ravi-nessmans-slanted-story-for-usa-on-the-tavis-smiley-show-18-february-200/

Roberts, Michael 2014b “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 27 August 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/ball-by-ball-through-wikileaks-us-embassy-despatches-from-colombo-2009-one/

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Wcinning the War: Evaluating the Impact of API WENUWEN API,” 1 September 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/winning-the-war-evaluating-the-impact-of-api-wenuwen-ap/

Roberts, Michael 2015a “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wpadmin/post.php?post=17127&action=edit&postpost=v2

Roberts, Michael 2015 “On Another Planet: American Liberals and Their Programmatic Readings of Sri Lanka.” Draft article in process.

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2009 “Sri Lanka: The Last Phase in Eelam War IV. From Chundikulam to Pudukulam,” New Delhi: Centre for Land Warfare, Manekshaw Paper No. 13, http://www.claws.in/administrator/uploaded_files/1274263403MP%2022.pdf

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2014 “Reading between the Lines in April 2009: Tammita Delgoda takes apart Marie Colvin’s jaundiced Propaganda Article in British Newspaper, 6 September 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/rading-between-the-lines-in-april-2009-tammita-delgoda-takes-apart-marie-colvins-jaundiced-propanda-article-in-british-newspaper/

SATP 2013 “Sri Lanka Terror Assessment, 2013 –Analysis,” 3 January 2013, http://www.eurasiareview.com/129012013-sri-lanka-terror-assessment2013-analysis

Seneviratne. Malinda 2008 “The Man of the Moment: Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka,” Business Today, December 2008, http://businesstoday.lk/cover_page.php?issue=202.

UTHR 1995 “The Exodus from Jaffna,” 6 December 1995, Special Report No. 6, http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/spreport6.htm.

UTHR 2009 Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri Lanka’s Victims of War. Special Report No. 34, http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/Special%20rep34/Uthr-sp.rp34.htm.

FIG 10=Analytic MAP--24_April_2009_dailymirror.lkFig. 10. Analytic graphic map revealing how SL Army brigades penetrated the Last Redoubt, 19-22 April 2009 …. This is a critical tool that illustrates an intricate operation that should enter the annals of international military history (see Tammita-Delgoda 2009). “The defences around and within the LTTE pocket consisted of a series of earth bunds, which were reinforced by bunkers every 30-50 metres and linked to a series of subsidiary trench systems and strong points. The bunds were mined and booby-trapped…. The Army launched its final offensive at 2am on April 19 and after hours of heavy fighting penetrated and bisected the northern LTTE defences. …. rescue points were established and loud speakers used to direct the movement of civilians towards Army lines” (de Silva-Ranasinghe, “Downfall,” 2010b). The LTTE shot at civilians and even deployed suicide bombers to deter escape: on 20th April, for instance, three “suicide bombers merged with fleeing civilians and detonated their suicide jackets killing 17 and injuring 200” (de Silva-Ranasinghe 2010).

FIG 11=WAR ZONE- late April ICG Fig. 11. The SL Army Operation of 19-2 April analysed by the International Crisis Group … This is another excellent depiction of the battlefield scenario

102 revd-IDPs across N-lagoonFig. 12. The Exodus – A View … .  — Jeyaraj’s news item in the Daily Mirror, 24 April 2009, entitled “Wretched of the Earth break Free of Bondage,” should be mandatory reading for all those analyzing or reporting on the war. When I reached Sri Lanka in mid-April 2009 I feared that a bloodbath would occur in the Last Redoubt. However, in a remarkable operation on the 19-22nd April the SL Army breached the Last Redoubt (Tammita-Delgoda 2009). Referring to the escape process of January to May 2009 February to May 2009 Rajan Hoole has said that the “overwhelming reports from IDPs indicate that more people attempting to flee have been killed by the LTTE than by army snipers” (quoted in de Silva-Ranasinghe 2010: 37). Be that as it may,  thousands of those trapped were pictured struggling across lagoon or sand dune to safety those few days. Such a result was a miracle – a miracle in part rendered possible by the extent to which some Tiger combatants ditched their weapons and joined the flight. Among this mass were such important personages as Dayā Master and George Master as well as the hard-core TamilNet journalist, Lokeesan, whose fanciful tales are swallowed hook, line and sinker by Frances Harrison (Harrison 2012: 33-52).

102a-out of NKL Fig. 13.. The Exodus – Another View Pic in Daylife and several sources

103a revd -exodus+Fig. 14. The Exodus – Yet Another View

CITATIONS & FOOTNOTES

[1] See Roberts “Realities of War,” Frontline, 26/10, 9 May 2009.

[2] Daya Gamage is a Peradeniya graduate who was recruited to the US Information Agency in December 1970 and served there till March 1980 when he was made the “Political Specialist” at the American Embassy’s Political division. He retired in August 1994 and moved to USA with a family (who are now dual citizens). Gamage is now a US Federal pensioner (information by email, 12 August 2015).

[3] Both constraints of space and the tangential weight of any lengthy elaboration of these commitments on the part of USA and associated UN agencies should not allow on to underestimate the importance of the monies and efforts poured into the alleviating the rigours of war faced by the trapped and corralled Tamil population in rump Thamililam.

[4] Over the years the assiduous work of the UTHR collective spearheaded by Rajan Hoole has revealed this dimension of the LTTE — see Hoole 2001 and UTHR 1995.. More recently Ben Bavinck’s regular diary entries from the Jaffna Peninsula in the year 1995 lays bare this reading in riveting detail –see Bavinck 2015: 64-65, 70, 72, 106, 109. Also see Roberts, “Hero Figures,” 2012.

[5] See Perera 2007; Jane’s Naval Intelligence 2009; Chandradasa 2009; De Silva-Ranasinghe 2009e and 2009f and Roberts, TPS Pictorial, 2014, Figs. 68 & 69.

[6] See Fonseka’s guestimate in late 2008 in Seneviratne 2008.

[7] See Roberts, “Winning the War,” 2014 & Tammita-Delgoda 2009. For instance, during 2007 and 2008 the SL Army recruited 36,021 soldiers and 37,957 respectively.

[8] Referring to the battle for Kilinochchi in the months September to December 2008, Serge de Silva-Ranasinghe writes: “Reports coming from frontline commanders suggest that the LTTE appear to have no shortage of mortar and artillery ammunition, and as stated by one military official, ‘They didn’t fire mortars, they rained them’.” (“Victory,” 2009: 8). Also see General Fonseka’s reference to the LTTE stockpile (Seneviratne 2008).

[9] When the SL Army distributed photographs of the smoke-filled battle arena taken after this work of demolition. the images were re-deployed by Tamil and pro-Tamil web sites to indicate heavy bombardment by the GSL forces — thereby supporting charges of “genocide.”

[10] As I have noted elsewhere on the authority of chats with Muralidhar Reddy, “the three lakhs or so of people who were citizens of Thamilīlam had been ready to adhere to the LTTE’s enforced movement eastwards because they had little faith in the government of Sri Lanka” (see Roberts, TPS. Pictorial, p. 121). Also see fn. 19.

[11] Information from Lal Wickramatunga as we chatted inn his car after meeting at the Australian embassy during a World Cup function in 2011. Also see Tisaranee Gunasekera “Rajapaksa Reality,” 20i4 and http://www.srilankaguardian.org/ 2012/01/was-lasantha-killed-because-of-this.html. Note that six US ambassadors who had served in Sri Lanka teamed up to send a letter of concern to President Rajapaksa about this assassination operation as a symptom of a wider malaise of extra-judicial violence (see http://www.island.lk/2009/01/28/opinion1.html).

[12] See de Silva Ranasinghe, “Victory,” 2008/09, for a map of the LTTE ditch and bund (i. e. “berm”) defence and a brief analysis of the battle. “The fighting around Kilinochchi was characterised by near constant close combat and heavy fighting over water-logged and submerged terrain, where gains were measured in metres and accompanied by very heavy casualties.” His detailed description of the battle for Kilinochchi is essential reading for observers who wish to comprehend the fighting capacities of both sets of forces.

[13] In hindsight one can say that Blake as well as Malinda Seneviratne erred in their expectation that the LTTE could launch destabilization incidents in the rest of the country, including the Eastern Province, during the forthcoming months. Very few bombing incidents or guerrilla attacks occurred. General Fonseka was on the mark in telling Seneviratne that the remaining pockets of Tiger guerrillas in the Eastern Province would be stilled (Seneviratne 2008).

[14] There were no deep penetration attacks or suicide bombings of consequence in any other part of the island.

[15] De Silva-Ranasinghe’s series of articles from January through to May 2009 (and also subsequent essays) are essential reading for any study of the war.

[16] Note that the DMK in India castigated the LTTE for not respecting this ceasefire (http://www.island.lk/2009/01/31/news4.html).

[17] Blake was wrong. Mullaitivu was re-captured by the end of January. This error of judgement, however, is excusable.

[18] Unfortunately I do not have any idea what public statement by General Fonseka encouraged Blake to move to such a conclusion. If it was the media item used by de Silva Ranasinghe in his article in Defence Review Asia, Dec 2008-Jan 2009, it is a misreading of a casual remark that never quite went so far.

[19] An assessment conveyed in conversation by Muralidhar Reddy, correspondent for The Hindu, who interviewed Tamil escapees during regular visits to the front from October 2008 through to May 2009. This evaluation was confirmed quite independently by Nillanthan, a Tamil activist and writer, who, together with his family, was among the Tamil civilians who escaped by boat in April 2009.

[20] “[We see here] an army full of determination, an army in high morale and full of confidence” (Tony Birtley in October 2008). In fact several of the military officers had been trained in USA or by US Special Forces; though others had received training in Pakistan, India and China.

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24 Comments

Filed under american imperialism, governance, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, landscape wondrous, law of armed conflict, life stories, LTTE, news fabrication, NGOs, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, UN reports, war reportage, wikileaks, world events & processes, zealotry

24 responses to “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009

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