Monday’s pre-dawn raid by LTTE guerrillas and aircraft on the Sri Lankan airbase at Anuradhapura highlights inadequacies in the Sri Lankan ground security measures. But it also points to growing frustration in the Tamil Tiger ranks. For the first time, the LTTE seems to have used its single-engined propeller-driven aircraft in tandem with ground forces to launch the attack on the airbase, killing 13 soldiers and 20 Tigers. While the attack probably doesn’t offer the embattled LTTE any strategic advantage over the security forces — other than the destruction of a few air force aircraft — air operations even on such a limited scale usually draw disproportionately high publicity. In that sense, the LTTE must be counting on the audacious nature of the raid to boost the morale of its cadres that are now literally fighting with their backs to the wall.
Ever since the truce brokered by Norway in 2002 began to unravel in December 2005, thousands of people were killed and many more displaced in nearly two years of the undeclared Tamil Eelam War. Mounting territorial losses and human casualties have obviously weakened the LTTE so much that it is now fighting a desperate battle to stave off the threat of a full scale northern offensive by the security forces. To make matters worse, recent efforts by the Tigers to carry out terrorist attacks in Colombo and elsewhere have evidently failed, compounding their failure to gain international sympathy on humanitarian issues in Sri Lanka.
Earlier this year, government troops managed to eject the Tigers from their last stronghold in the east of the island, and the Sri Lankan Navy claimed it had sunk the Tigers’ last gun-running ship. At this point, however, it is very important for the Rajapakse government to resist the temptation of trying to force a military solution to the conflict. A better approach would be to capitalise on its recent victories against the LTTE to hammer out a political solution.