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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
On Cutting off Supply Lines
1 November 1991
The cheapest way to makes one's enemy weak is to cut off his supply lines and limit his mobility. This way a war can be won with a few crucial battles that exhaust the enemy's resources.
Now the Jaffna peninsula, it is claimed, has been cut off from the mainland. Jaffna had three entry points: the Sangupiddy - Kerthiru causeway and ferry, Elephant Pass, and the Chundikulam Pass. The Sangupiddy to Kertivu causeway was nearing completion when armed Tamil groups became active after 1983.
There was an Army camp near the 4th mile post of the Mannar-Mulangavil-Pooneryn-Sangupiddy road, which could not effectively interdict the movement of the Tamil groups through the causeway. While all movement towards Killinochi to the West of Vavuniya-Jaffna trunk road and to Mullaithivu was through the Chundikkulam area, the access to Mannar and Eastern Killinochi was through Sangupiddy.
Now all these entry points are believed to be sealed off. It has been assumed therefore that the Tigers cannot transport men and material out of Jaffna to Killinochi, Mullaithivu, Mannar and Vavuniya or into Jaffna from these districts, the larger part of which they now control.
The resources of the army are limited. They cannot commit a large number of troops, like the IPKF to holding operations, and they cannot expend extraordinary large stocks of ammunition in massive frontal thrusts.
The army has to cope with these limitations in the face of the most critical feature of Eelam War II - the ability of the Tigers to engage battalion size or larger infantry in the North. Hence the main objective of all operations there had to have as their ultimate objective, the effective negation of LTTE's nascent conventional military strength, to reduce the Tigers into a guerilla organisation with a politicall manageable nuisance value.
How could this be achieved with minimum of available resources?
The answer to this has lured generals through the ages because it sounds so perfect in theory, and military histories give many an account of its success in practice. The practice is commonsense and standard. Cut off critical lines of supply and engage in a series of intense battles that inevitably sap the enemy's resources faster than what he can afford to expend.
The Jaffna peninsula was fast losing its rear base in Tamil Nadu, after the assasination of Rajiv Gandhi. Therefore it was cut off from the mainland as well. The LTTE would find it difficult to sustain its nacent conventional military potential for long while having to engage the army in a series of intense and inevitable battles - Elephant Pass, Weli Oya etc.
With the capture of Sangupiddy, the army it would appear is almost on the verge of negating the conventional military strength of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; of delivering a fatal blow to Prbhakaran's dream of building up the Tamil national army. And once this happens, the army would be able to move into LTTE terrian without fighting intense high cost battles and hold territory, with a smaller number of troops which will have to tackle small bands of Tigers roaming the country side.
To the eager politician, untutored in matters military, all this would augur victory. One cannot blame him if he were to rush to procliam the imminent decline and fall of the enemy. However one has to examine three assumptions underlying this strategy. The first one is that Jaffna is the critical heartland and nerve centre that is indispensable for sustaining the LTTE's current strength.
The second assumption is that Sangudupiddy, elephant Pass and Chundikulam are the only vital and feasible entry points to Jaffna. The third one is that Tamil Nadu is a crucial rear base, both for supplies and for the treatment of the injured.
After its experience with the IPKF, the LTTE was keen to transfer part of its resources Mullaithivu and Mannar.
It is also not certain whether they have to depend on reinforcements from Jaffna because a great part of their man power comes from the East. When there is pressure on them in a battlefront they get down people from the East. Only when large and regular military supplies have to be moved to and from the Peninsula, it becomes relevant to talk about tactical interdiction. It remains to be seen whether the LTTE can fight with and without the Peninsula, without having to depend on moving troops in and out of Jaffna. There can be a serious problem in trying to move into the Peninsula if the LTTE decentralises its command structure, when it could be in a position to face an army thrust depending on the advantages of built up areas rather than supplies from the East and the Wanni. There one has to take into account the fact that as long as the LTTE can control the flow of civilians out of Jaffna with their visa system, and maintain the current level of their intense propaganda, they will be able to raise the required minimum of members to train and throw into battles in the Peninsula.
Assumption Two: Sangudupiddy, Elephant Pass and Chundikulam are not the only entry points to Jaffna for the LTTE. These are no doubt points that are indispensable for civilain supplies and transport. The Sangudupiddy region and the Chundikulam region, offer many entry points which have been used regularly from 1985. These are open expanses with shrub jungle which cannot be supervised effectively with a camp or two.
The Vettilakerny camp which intended to interdict on ground supplies through Chundikulam Pass to Mullathivu and the camp that may be put up at Pooneryn or Sangudupiddy may become ineffective if they are surrounded by LTTE bunkers.
Assumption Three: Tamil Nadu certainly was a vital rear base but after the IPKF left, the LTTE has been systematically reducing its traditional dependence on Tamil Nadu and was actively promoting military and economic self sufficiency. Whether the level of self sufficiency it achieved in the last three years to sustain the conventional strength it has now, can be known in the next six or seven months, if the army carries on with its intense and critical battles, meant to draw out and exhaust the resources of the LTTE.
Therefore the capture of Sangudupiddy which is the most important feature of operation Velampari has to be seen first, as a political victory for the army in that it can now control the regular flow of civilians and civilian supplies in the Norther heartland of the Tiger.
On the other hand politicians should exercise caution in taking for granted the theory that seems to underly the Sangudupiddy operation, to presage the onset of a glorious, and hence politically useful victory over the Liberation Tigers.