Stephen Long’s ‘Revenge Politics’: Questionings

Michael Roberts

In a riveting article in Asian Tribune entitled “Sri Lanka: A Tragic Lesson in Revenge Politics,” Stephen Long has assessed Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s contribution to Sri Lanka’ victory during Eelam War IV in this style: “With the precision of a skilled strategist, Gotabhaya decisively defeated the LTTE. With limited resources, the military intelligence network he put together to keep track of the terrorists was second to none; he literally had the country “wired” for real-time information-collecting and feedback to authorities.”

This is an overblown statement – apparently driven by Long’s longstanding and confidential relationship with Gotabaya.[1] The outcomes of complex wars are not decided by one factor. In Eelam War IV many elements, with some commencing prior to 2006 and thus prior to Gotabaya’s inputs, came together in enabling Sri Lanka to overcome a formidable enemy in the LTTE.

Not least among these factors was the hard-earned experience of soldiers, seamen and airmen in the three fighting forces during the disastrous campaigns under poor generals at the helm in Eelam Wars II and III. However, the Sri Lanka Army began to transform its infantry divisions from around 2001 with the development of the SIOT concept which encouraged operational planning from the frontline-upwards and sharpened soldier skills.[2] General Sarath Fonseka is one to whom this course of development can be attributed, but I speculate that there were others involved.

This development reached its fruition via the SL Army’s strategic policy of seeking to maximize Tamil Tiger deaths over the course of Eelam War IV rather than seeking to gain LTTE territory — which became a secondary objective [sharpening over time].  By 2008/09 the SL Army had such outstanding officers as Jagath Jayasuriya, Prasanna de Silva, Kamal Gunaratne, Shavendra Silva, Jagath Dias and Chagi Gallage and senior-level commando officers such as Ralph Nugara and Athula Kodippilly. It may not be stretch to say that the breach of the LTTE’s bunds at Nandhikadal[3] commencing on the 19th April 2009 and the operations within their “Last Redoubt” which administered the coup de grace to the LTTE between the 19th April and 19th May could be assessed as equivalent to General Giap’s victory over the French Army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 in the annals of world military history.[4]

As vital in these successes was the quality of the elite troops. I stumbled on one illustration accidentally in 2016 when Ranjan Dias Jayasinghe put me in touch with a hire-car driver he calls on to drive me back from Galle to Colombo. This was Chaminda Piyaratne. ex-special forces. I immediately interviewed him and also chatted casually as he drove me to Colombo. Let me note some of the key points that I garnered from this interaction.

(a)   His training included one operation where he (and others in the course) was taken on his own blindfolded to some spot in the jungle and then asked to make his way back.

(b)   When at the commando camp in the Maduru Oya region, they had been introduced to some of the sedentary Vadda villagers and received instructions on plants that could serve as fodder as well.as other jungle lore.

(c)   He had also received paratroop training in north India.

(d)   He had been severely wounded on two occasions – returning to battlefield duties after his first injury healed.Piyaratne in my reading was “one tough hombre.” He was (is) also intelligent. As we drove along the expressway, I referred to his long experience fighting the Tamil Tigers and presented him with this question: “what was the most incisive and dangerous feature in their warring capacity.” His answer stunned me. “The LTTE,” he said, “had a single leader over those 30-or-so years” Wham! I had anticipated a soldier’s answer; not that of an acute political analyst.

Chaminda Piyaratne

Piyaratne was spot on. So, he is smart, not merely tough and resilient.

His answer is also illuminating. Democratic governments with changing administrations are ill-equipped for wars of the long-haul. One is reminded of the importance of Churchill and cross-bench unity for Britain during their prolonged life-and-death struggle from 1939 to 1945.

So much for the SL Army. But one should one forget the critical role played by the SLAF and SL Navy during Eelam War IV. The Air Force provided crucial real time aerial footage on the battle arenas via its Beechcraft and its UAVs; while its helicopters were a godsend in evacuating injured troops.

The SL Navy’s main contribution to the final victory was monumental and occurred in 2007. This was when they embarked on three long-distance operations of some magnitude and with great risk to destroy the LTTE’s warehouse ships in February, March and October.[5] Contrary to a tale that has been swallowed by some media personnel, satellite information from USA only came into use on the third occasion. The first operations in this regard in early 2007 were a giant leap into the unknown and demanded skill and fortitude.

Reuters/Buddhika Weerasinghe

Nor should one forget the way in which the Navy command proceeded in the early 2000s to tap local marine engineers and developed fighting speedboats – known as “Arrow Boats” and “Waveriders” – for a Rapid Boat Action Squadron that could match the LTTE’s highly-developed brown water fighting capacities.[6] These boats and the SL Navy’s flotilla of ships also served as a crucial ring along the north-eastern coastal arena in the last months of Eelam War IV.

So, Gotabaya was not the single decisive hand in shaping the outcome of Eelam War IV. But in support of some lines in the Stephen Long essay, I shall dwell on several of his special contributions within a separate essay. Moreover, the  recent Easter Sunday attacks and subsequent tensions in Sri Lanka encourage me to endorse Stephen Long’s caustic account of the glaring shortcomings in the intelligence operations of the Yahapaalana government. That, oF course, is a conclusion that is widely shared.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010a “Strategic Analysis of Sri Lankan Military’s Counter-Insurgency Operations,” Future Directions, 12 January 2010, http://futuredirections.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/1266992558-FDIStrategicAnalysisPaper-12February2010.pdf

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010b “Downfall of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” South Asia Defence and Strategic Review, May-June 2010, pp. 10-15.

Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009a “Sri Lankan War in Endgame, 100,000 escape rebel zone,” 23 April 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-srilanka-war-idUSTRE53J0IZ20090422

Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009b “Sri Lanka’s long war in bloody final climax,” 17 May 2009, http://mg.co.za/article/2009-05-17-sri-lankas-long-war-in-bloody-final-climax

IDAG [i.e. Citizen Silva] 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice,” http://www.scribd.com/doc/132499266/The-Numbers-Game-Politics-of-Retributive-Justice OR  http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/TheNG.pdf.

Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person & State. Essays, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014

Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person & State. Pictorial, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Reuters in Word and Image: Depicting the Penetration of the LTTE’s Last Redoubt, 19-22 April 2009,” 19 March 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/reuters-in-word-and-image-depicting-the-penetration-of-the-lttes-last-redoubt-19-22-april-2009/#more-20190

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Thoughts on de Silva-Ranasinghe’s Concise Delineation of the LTTE’s 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/

END NOTES

[1] Stephen Long’s association with Gotabaya seem to have arisen from his (Long’s) deep commitment to Buddhism and his brahmacharya path. For biographical data kindly presented yesterday by a friend in USA, see https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/vengeance-how-personal-vendettas-blinded-sri-lankas-security-bulwarks/#more-35676

[2] See De-Silva Ranasinghe 2010a & 2010b and IDAG 2013

[3] See Hull & Sirilal 2009 and Roberts, “Reuters,” 2019.

[4] Alas, a tiny nation will never be accorded such an accolade in the international circuit.

[5] See Roberts, TPS Pictorial, 2014, Figs. 68 & 69.

[6] See Roberts, TPS Pictorial, 2014, Figs. 70. Here I have been aided by info from Commodore Travis Sinniah, (in Colombo, 12 December 2011 and subsequently in tel-chats in Australia. Thiruni Sinniah nee Ramanaden is the daughter of old friend and even shared a house with my daughter Maya when Thiruni was studying in Adelaide.

3 Comments

Filed under accountability, Eelam, historical interpretation, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, Rajapaksa regime, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil Tiger fighters, truth as casualty of war, war reportage, world events & processes

3 responses to “Stephen Long’s ‘Revenge Politics’: Questionings

  1. Pingback: Gota’s Role in Eelam War Victory: Peiris challenges Roberts | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. Pingback: The Commanding Roles in the Last Phases of the Eelam War: A Few Thoughts | Thuppahi's Blog

  3. Pingback: Fine-grained Understandings of Warfare: Comprehending the SIOT Concept | Thuppahi's Blog

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