War is far from over - Whats behind LTTE"s
recent recruitment drive?
18 November 1998
The LTTE's recent recruitment drive provided another opportunity
for predictions about the organisation and its intentions. Those who
nurture an inveterate hatred for the Tigers on either side of the
Palk Strait, saw in the recruitment campaign a desperate bid for
survival, a pathetic attempt to replenish the ranks depleted by Op.
Unceasing Waves II.
The Hindustan Times which seems to have developed a penchant for
gleefully insisting that the Tamil cause has run out of steam,
described the Kilinochchi attack as "a flash in the pan" for the
LTTE struggling as it were on it"s last legs.
The recruitment drive, if we are to go by the most enjoyable
analyses of the HT's learned correspondent, should therefore be seen
as the last flicker of the Tiger candle.
Nevertheless the army has decided to beef up security in Jaffna and
has unofficially banned all fishing around the peninsula since
Sunday. Fishing in the Jaffna lagoon was officially banned from
November 5 - quite obviously a pre-emptive measure against an
amphibious attack on the peninsula by the Tigers.
Meanwhile, ex-Tamil militants working with the army in Batticaloa
have been alarmed by reports from the LTTE dominated western
hinterland that the Tigers have brought more than a hundred coffins
in preparation for a major attack and that two artillery pieces have
been sent from the Wanni which are currently stationed in the
We, unfortunately, have no means of vouching for these alarmist
reports and views. In my view, the LTTE"s recruitment drive does not
seem to be connected to a hurried preparation for another offensive.
It is, rather, linked to a new phase in the structural development
that has been going on in the organisation for some time.
This is very much on the lines of the expansion of the army since
1983, not on a similar scale and phase though.
The LTTE had a very centralised organisation right from its
inception. However, for many years it had no formal military
structure as such. The LTTE, during the early years, was a very
coherent network of central, regional and special attack groups that
had no uniform structure. The current military organisation of the
Tigers had its beginnings in the formation of the Charles Anthony
unit (called Padaippirivu in Tamil) in 1993. The unit was under
Prabhaharan"s personal supervision and was commanded by Sornam, the
chief of his bodyguards. Much has been written in Colombo since then
about the "Charles Anthony brigade". This description was wrong. The
unit was not a brigade. Its Tamil term "padaippirivu" meant army
unit and hence, gave no indication as to its size. The Charles
Anthony unit was actually a full strength infantry battalion,
comprising 1200 troops, constituted by regular sections, platoons,
companies and Headquarters (HQ).
At this time Prabhaharan reorganised and divided all his attack
groups into sections, platoons and companies with an appropriate
system of command at the head of which was the military headquarters
under Balraj. Hence, some areas outside the Wanni came under a
section commander and his group of ten, and some under a platoon.
A conventional military force is structured in the following order:
section>platoon>company>battalion or regiment>brigade>division>army.
The size of an infantry battalion in a peacetime establishment is
600-650 and in wartime 1200. (However, a training regiment of a
peacetime army might have 1200 troops).
In the second phase five full strength (150) companies of the female
wing of the LTTE were pulled together along with the headquarters
unit to form a battalion in 1996.
The strength of this was 750 at the time. Now it has grown into a
full strength battalion of 1200. This battalion is known as the
"Vithusha Padaippirivu. It played a key role in Op. Unceasing Waves
II. The third, the Jayanthan Padaippirivu, was formed as a full
strength battalion soon after the Charles Anthony was raised.
It comprises exclusively of Batticaloa cadres and is commanded by
Ram. This battalion has gained a reputation for its ferocity among
the other units of the LTTE. The Leopards were originally set up in
late 1996 as a full strength company of special commandos. Cadres
who were drawn from other units went to make the Leopards a full
strength commando battalion this year. Cadres selected for the
Leopards were retrained before being constituted into sections,
platoons and companies since Jan.1997.
The Charles Anthony battalion was reconstituted after its special
commander Sornam was sent to Trincomalee in 1996 at the head of two
companies. He also had under his command some sections and platoons
that operated semi-independently in remote areas.
The year also saw the dismantling of the LTTE"s old supply system
and the formation of a two-tiered logistical apparatus. At one
level, the regular battalions had their quartermasters directly
under the LTTE"s military headquarters, supervised, curiously, by
Thamilenthi, chief of the organisation"s financial division.
The second level logistical system was specially designed to work at
the section and platoon levels- very much decentralised though
finally accountable to the LTTE"s HQ unit that deals with overall
supply related matters of the organisation. (This second level
logistical system is unique, and merits careful examination by
students of military affairs from a purely technical point of view
as it were.)
The LTTE has also established the core of an artillery regiment with
six batteries and a training school.
All these conventional military formations of the LTTE are
concentrated in the Wanni.
So what the army faces in the north today is a force comprising
three full strength enemy battalions, a commando regiment (somewhat
on the lines of the independent brigade that was later absorbed into
the 53rd division) supported by an expanding artillery formation.
The current recruitment drive is aimed at training enough cadres for
a major reconstitution of the four battalions and the formation of
two new ones with elements that will be drawn from them for the
Informed sources from the Wanni said that reconstitution of
Jayanthan, Charles Anthony and Vidusha battalions will begin as soon
as the current training for the new recruits is over. This will be
followed by the formation of the new battalions they said.
Therefore I submit that the LTTE"s current recruitment drive in the
east and the Wanni is aimed at bringing about a gradual change in
the strategic balance in the northern theatre and secondarily in the
east. The war is far from over