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Shortage of manpower in LTTE may halt war: Expert

The crippling of the SL airbase and the shortage of manpower in LTTE may bring about a temporary halt to the war, writes PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2006 17:49 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran

The crippling of the Sri Lankan Air Force's airbase in Palaly in Jaffna, and the shortage of manpower in the LTTE's ranks, may combine to bring about a temporary halt to the war in Sri Lanka, says Col (Rtd) R Hariharan, a former Indian Army intelligence officer, who served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s.

Writing in the journal of the South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG Note: 325 dated August 15, 2006) Col Hariharan says: "Due to limited availability of troops, LTTE's conventional operations would be only in spurts. This is going to be its basic limitation."

"However, as the LTTE has posed a threat to deny the use of Palali airbase, when the operation intensifies, further SLAF (Sri Lankan Security Forces) operations would come under greater pressure."

If Palaly were neutralised by LTTE shelling, the SLSF would have to look for alternative ways of keeping troops in Jaffna supplied.

It is estimated that there are about 40,000 Sri Lankan troops there.

The SLSF would then have two options, the Indian military analyst says:

a) Capture LTTE locations in the Mutur bulge in the East, to improve the use of Trincomalee for sustaining supplies. That would mean providing close naval escorts for the convoys.

b) Consider opening an offensive from the South in the Vavuniya sector to weaken the LTTE's northern offensive.

Strong points of LTTE

On the strong points of the two sides, Col Hariharan says that in the case of the LTTE, it had been able to make inroads into the SLSF's defences on the A9 Main Supply Route in South Jaffna.

"The LTTE has shown its ability to coordinate operations on multiple axes," he observes.

"The accurate use of long-range artillery shows its trained artillery observers were perhaps infiltrated well in advance in preparation for the operations," he notes.

Infiltration has been a time tested technique perfected by the LTTE

If the LTTE had used 130 mm mortars to hit Palaly, as the SLAF spokesman said, it would mean that the LTTE was close to Palaly, Col Hariharan said.

The 130 mm mortar, after all, is a non-standard weapon with a shorter range than artillery.

If indeed it had been used, it would mean that the area around Palaly had been infiltrated.

Col Hariharan believes that in all likelihood the LTTE had used the long range 130 mm artillery from Pooneryn across the Jaffna lagoon.

Strong points of SL forces

On the strong points of the Sri Lankan Security Forces, Col. Hariharan says that it has acquitted itself well by regaining lost Forward Defense Lines (FDL) in South Jaffna.

"SLSF has shown that it can sustain defensive operations," he notes.

Adverse consequences of civilian casualties and displacement

Col.Hariharan observes that the Sri Lankan government and the Security Forces had shown disregard for civilian casualties and displacements, which could have an adverse military and political impact in the coming days.

"Both the Sri Lankan government and the SLSF have shown a studied disregard for the mounting human cost of their operations."

"This shows a distinct hardening of their stand on the current peace process and its lack of credibility in handling critical situations."

"Even from a military point of view in the short run, this could become a burden on furthering military operations; it is also likely to increase international pressure to call off SLSF operations," he warns.

Col Hariharan feels out that the decision of the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donors conference, expected in the coming week, and the withdrawal of the monitors from the European Union countries before September 1, will shape the future of peace and determine the continuance of the military operations.

First Published: Aug 17, 2006 17:39 IST