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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Tigers short of manpower ?

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)


Tigers short of manpower ?

9 May 1999

It is more than seven months since the LTTE attacked and overran the Kilinochchi base. There is speculation in many quarters as to why the Tigers have not done anything big so far. The establishment thinking is that they are quite short of manpower. Even the most exaggerated accounts of the losses suffered by LTTE in the Kilinochchi attack do not exceed 2000- killed and permanently wounded.

The organisation has been engaged in an aggressive recruitment drive since October 1998. The LTTE would normally draw at least hundred boys and girls a month from each of the high recruitment districts of Batticaloa, Mullaithivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar. Not less than another hundred a month join from the districts of Ampara, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Jaffna and the hill country. (The LTTE recruits more in those parts of Mutur and the southeastern coast of Jaffna, both which are not under the direct control of the army).

The rate at which boys, girls and children attach themselves to a guerrilla organisation without propaganda, persuasion or coercion can be called 'accretion' (as in the usage of the term in geology and astronomy). Here we are talking of a minimum accretion of three thousand new recruits, drawn since the Kilinochchi attack, if we deduct the number that got killed in confrontations, army ambush etc., in the seven months that followed.

But the LTTE insists that this is not enough and it is obviously not willing to commit any of its battalion sized combat groups to defend territory in the north.

An editorial comment in the Feb-March issue of the Viduthalaipuligal, the LTTE's official paper published in the Wanni, was mainly the basis of recent military intelligence reports that the Tigers want to train all able bodied adults and youth in the areas which they control now.

The editorial of the Viduthalaipuligal acknowledges, rather uniquely, that the shortage of manpower was the main reason that the LTTE was unable to stop the army from capturing new territory in the Wanni. There is an urgent need for more people to prevent the army from further expanding its area of control says the Viduthalaipulihal.

Firstly the shortage that the LTTE is talking about is not merely a problem of sustaining force levels. As we pointed out at the outset, the monthly rate of 'accretion' in the high recruitment districts alone is enough for the Tigers to sustain the optimum force levels for the conventional military power that they had when they attacked Kilinochchi and to carry out guerrilla and infiltration attacks in army held areas in the north and east.

This is enough to keep the army spread and pinned down all over the Wanni, Jaffna and the east until such time the economy of the country is in tatters. Therefore, quite obviously, the LTTE's call for new recruits is not just a call for its survival as a semi-conventional fighting force.

A brief common sense perusal of the strategic trajectory of Eelam War II and III would reveal (as we have underscored in these columns often) that Prabhaharan is intent on inexorably escalating the intensity of conflict. The size and military strength of each target the LTTE has been able to take on since 1990 have increased steadily.

From Mankulam to Kilinochchi this growth has been unaffected by the loss of territory. In other words, the degree of damage the LTTE is able to inflict on the army's military assets goes up in every major attack (if it is a success of course). If this reasoning is valid then the next attack by the Tigers will be aimed at wreaking greater destruction than what Op. Unceasing Waves II did to the Kilinochchi military base complex.

So the LTTE's current recruitment drive is not merely for the purpose of replenishing the strength of the conventional units it had at the time of Op. Unceasing Waves II but to raise new units and formations to match the hardware that's coming in.

Hence what the Tigers mean when they currently talk about their manpower shortage is apparently this: they do not have enough troops to stop the army from taking strategically unimportant areas while being able to deploy adequate forces to defend their heartland from any major thrust by the army, to maintain strategic reserves (the core units with Prabhaharan), to escalate hit and run attacks in Jaffna and to train for another conventional operation against army positions.

The LTTE assumes that the army wants to disperse its still unimpaired potential to achieve a formidable concentration of forces against a logistically practicable military target by capturing "strategically peripheral territory" and then launch a final multi-pronged strike into the 'heartland'.

This, according to the Tigers, is the army's current strategy to decisively break their conventional power in the Wanni. The Viduthalaipulihal says that the government abandoned Op. Jaya Sikurui when it failed to achieve this by attacking right into the heartland for opening the A9.

Now, according to the official organ, the army wants to extend the theatre of operations by identifying areas where the LTTE would offer least or no resistance and, thereby, diffuse the conventional formations of the organisation over a wider front.

The expanded theatre of operations gives the army the tactical advantage of more and shorter internal lines than what the LTTE has in the territory under its control in the Wanni currently. The Tigers say that this would create the 'objective conditions' for the army to launch a decisive conventional thrust with its strategic strike force into the Wanni heartland.

From what they say, it seems that the Tigers are looking at two possibilities. One is that they would wait until the army sends in its strategic strike force to encounter it and damage it decisively.

They seem to think that the army's normal units are spread so thin on the ground that any degree of damage suffered by the strategic strike force would be to their long-term advantage. Hitting such a unique concentration of the army's core fighting units in the heartland with the strength that he has been building up since Kilinochchi was overrun appears to be a prospect that Prabhaharan is carefully considering with his planners.

But then, as I said, it might be just one of his options.


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