Introduction: Having read and digested afresh, the article entitled ” How Sri Lanka won the unwinnable war” written by Serge de Silva Ranasinghe and then the lucid thoughts penned by Michael Roberts on this article, I got thinking on what were the issues other than those pertaining to Sri Lanka, which contributed to the defeat of the LTTE and a win for the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Some of my reflections cover the International Environment prevailing during E War 4; the role played by India, Pakistan and China; the internal environment which dictated success; and the Strategic Blunders of LTTE leading to its defeat. These issues surely and certainly contributed to the winning of the so called unwinnable war’, notwithstanding the kudos heaped on the Sri Lankan Government and Armed Forces by both authors.
The International Environment: It is unthinkable that Sri Lanka would have won the E War 4 had the international community especially India not made soft bleating sounds asking for the hostilities to stop. This is so because 32 countries had banned the LTTE and declared it a terrorist group inhibiting a more potent reaction from the Western Countries and the EU. This coupled with a very lukewarm reaction from Asian countries, enabled Sri Lanka to withstand pressure and carry the offensive to its logical conclusion.
Senior SLA commanders view dead Tiger personnel– http://white-flags.org/
Furthermore, Chinese and Russian support ensured that no resolution was passed in the UN Security Council. Efforts to raise the human rights issue at the human rights council in Geneva, were thwarted by the help of friendly countries.
India, Pakistan and China: India has never been given the kudos it deserves for its contribution to this war, simply because it never wanted publicity. The strategic pinpoint intelligence provided by India especially its navy was instrumental in Sri Lanka destroying LTTE’s floating arms and ammunition warehouses. In fact, the Indian High Commission had a Signals Detachment receiving and transmitting real time intelligence to Sri Lanka.
The India Federal Government also deserves mention for not allowing a resolution being tabled in Parliament by the then ruling Party of Tamilnadu calling for a ceasefire. India’s refusal, on the other hand, to supply arms and ammunition other than helicopter gunships, was more than compensated for by Pakistan and China who provided everything asked for and also were responsible for training the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. There were reports that Pakistan provided advisors throughout the war and some of its pilots even flew combat missions. One also needs to remember how these countries were instrumental in keeping UN out of the war.
Sri Lanka’s Internal Environment: President Rajapaksa demonstrated an iron political will and determination in ensuring the war ran to its end rather than being interrupted by foreign intervention. He stonewalled Western and UN attempts to force a ceasefire. Sinhalese nationalists called it “defiance” and “showing the West its place”. There was a virtual media gag imposed in the combat zone and the foreign media was kept out. The domination of information space ensured operations were conducted in a blanket of secrecy, except for government handouts. All international Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) except the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – which was also asked to leave before the last battle – were expelled from the north. Compare the operational environment existing in this war to what the IPKF faced during its sojourn in Sri Lanka. There were no restrictions on what weapons and tactics were to be utilised. Air and Naval bombardment, all types and lethality of Artillery was used. The IPKF was permitted only direct fire weapons and were sans air support and artillery. No heed was paid to civil casualties and indeed to anything which shackled operations. It can be said that never before was the internal environment like what it was when compared to any country tackling Insurgency.
Elimination of LTTE was to be achieved at any cost. To substantiate my view, look at the fact that between 2006 and 2009, 32 encounters took place at sea, in which 11 LTTE warehouse ships containing over 10,000 tonnes of war related material were captured/destroyed. Also, the SLAF launched 3,000 missions with an estimated 15,000 sorties, with three fighter squadrons. Any professional soldier will call this all-out war NOT CI Operations.
Strategic Blunders of LTTE Ironically, the chief liability of the LTTE became its leader, Prabhakaran, who, despite creating the world’s deadliest guerilla force, became obsessed with a military solution. He also developed a king sized ego exemplified by his ordering the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and that too in the State of Tamilnadu, a mistake which lost him all Indian and International support. His ego also came in the way of patching up with Karuna and lost him the Eastern Province and his main recruiting area. He also wrongly believed that Eelam War 4 would end in an internationally brokered ceasefire as had the previous ones. The LTTE repeatedly made the error of fighting a conventional battle instead of employing superior guerrilla tactics, the same error THEY made in 1987 when fighting the IPKF for Jaffna. They waged fixed defensive battles without any recourse to offensive action and followed the ditch-cum-bund strategy of the IndoPak Border. This Strategy was disastrous against a well-equipped and excellently trained Sri Lankan Army. On the political side, LTTE committed a strategic blunder of not improving relations with India especially with the State of Tamilnadu. The outcome of Eelam War 4 would have been different if Tamilnadu would have done what it did in earlier times.
Conclusion The aim of this article is not to play down what the Sri Lankan Armed Forces achieved a total victory. One cannot underestimate the leadership provided, right down to brilliant junior officers and especially the charisma and dash of General Sarath Fonseka. Couple this with good training and equipment and a clear aim, the consequence was a clear victor.
** Retd Major General Ranjit Nadkarni resides in Melbourne now. I think he did not visit Sri Lanka during the war years 2006-09 and that his comments a re based on his Indian and other contacts.
Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe 2016 “How Sri Lanka defeated the “Invincible’ LTTE: A Concise Summary from 2009,” 11 September 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/?p=22291&preview=true
Michael Roberts 2016 2016 “Thoughts on de Silva Ranasinghe’s concise Delineation of the LTTE defeat in Eelam War IV,” 15 September 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/thoughts-on-de-silva-ranasinghes-concise-delineation-of-the-ltte-defeat-in-eelam-war-iv/
General Ranjit Nadkarni 2014 “The Terrorist Attack on Mumbai in November 2008 and Its Broader Lessons,” and its 20 June 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/the-terrorist-attack-on-mumbai-in-november-2008-and-its-broader-lessons/