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Home > Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom > Tamil Armed Resistance & the Law > Reports on Armed Conflict in Tamil Eelam > Govt's war costing more lives than ever in Lanka's history
REPORTS ON ARMED CONFLICT IN TAMIL EELAM
Govt's war costing more lives than ever in Lanka's history
in Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Leader, 14 December 2008
AS the government's war against the LTTE enters the bloodiest phase in the country's history, our research has found that the costly war of attrition is irreparably scarring an entire generation of Sri Lanka's youth.
The Sunday Leader has obtained a draft copy of a study circulated for peer review by Dr. Rohan M. Jayatunge and army psychiatrists that provides some insights into the trauma that soldiers faced after combat before 2008, a year in which over 1,200 soldiers have been killed from just six divisions.
According to the scientific study, there is a severe spread of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst soldiers who have served in combat in the north and east and survived to tell the tale.
The paper, titled Psychological Management Of Combat Stress - A Study Based On Sri Lankan Combatants, reveals that over 17,000 soldiers were killed in combat up to 2001, and interestingly enough, it also claims a similar number of LTTE cadres killed in the same period, indicating a 1:1 kill ratio.
Further, the army claims to have killed over 9,000 Tigers in 2008 to date. Coupled with media reports of over 350 civilians killed in combat this year, Eelam War IV has cost Sri Lanka over 10,500 lives in 2008, the highest number of people killed in any one year during the conflict's 25 year history.
It must be remembered that even these figures are only accurate up until the end of October, when the military officially stopped giving out casualty figures for its own losses or those of the LTTE for "security reasons."
In the last month however, it is well known that gruelling battles have taken place with heavy casualties on both sides as the army pushes harder to surround and capture Killinochchi, and bridge the gap between its forces in Muhamalai and those on the northern tip of the country's mainland.
In one particularly fierce three day bout of fighting, Defence Watch Spokesman and SLFP (M) Parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera told journalists that over 200 soldiers had been killed in fighting, between November 15 and 18 alone.
Never in any one month this year has the government ever admitted that it lost more than 200 soldiers, thus the increase in intensity of the combat action in the month of November, with the budget debate looming, and many deadlines having been missed for the capture of Killinochchi, is alarming.
The Sunday Leader's journalists researched the available data on conflict related deaths in Sri Lanka since 1994 and the data confirms that the country has just endured the bloodiest year in its 25 year history of waging and surviving war.
The second bloodiest year in the conflict was 1995, when Jaffna was recaptured by the army, with the deaths of approximately 5,000 soldiers and LTTE cadres in total. This is less than half as many as had been killed by November 2008, when the army's casualty count began to skyrocket as losses peaked by coincidence on President Rajapakse's birthday, just days after he awarded a one year extension to Army Commander Sarath Fonseka.
We have no choice but to await with baited breath the final tally of men, women and children who would have been laid to rest this year by the war. What is remarkable is that the government has managed to hide the human cost of the battle by maintaining tight control of what is published in the media.
However, several excerpts from the yet-unpublished military trauma report show that this war is not as glamorous as the government makes it out to be in its glitzy recruitment and propaganda campaign. Rarely enough do we stop to think of the trauma undergone by the families of soldiers who lost loved ones in this campaign, and never at all does the level of stress undergone by war survivors occur to anyone.
The report highlights the experience of a 32 year old lance corporal who witnessed a fellow soldier die in a landmine explosion. "Even though he managed to escape without a single injury, he saw how his friend died in the blast. His depressive features appeared as survival guilt, self blame, hopelessness, grief and bereavement."
There is also another account of a private who witnessed his best friend, another soldier in his unit, being killed in a sniper attack. "After the confirmation" of the death, the private "was ordered to bury the body," but felt that the body was warm to the touch, possibly due to hot weather.
"After some years he had an irrational feeling that he buried the man alive," the report said, before spiralling into depression. The report is jam-packed with similar instances of surviving soldiers having their lives wrecked for good by what they experienced in the 'glorious' liberation crusade.
A lieutenant who witnessed seven soldiers explode due to an incoming enemy mortar and became schizophrenic, a sergeant who lost a leg and became violent and addicted to cannabis, and a captain who served for 20 years being "exposed to heavy combat" who felt a "misfit to civil society" and found it "uneasy to work with civilians," are the stories scattered throughout the study.
All of these examples are from soldiers who were in combat prior to 2008, which has now turned out to be the most deadly year in the history of the war by the government's own statistical killing claims.
Most importantly, this was before the armed forces were committed to a war of attrition over a year-long campaign in which over 1,200 of their own were slain and over 7,000 permanently maimed and scarred. At least some senior officers will recall and recant the fact that several hundred soldiers did not have to die to capture Pooneryn in 1992, and also that the capture was inconsequential as the base was recaptured by the LTTE but one year later. They will also remember that Killinochchi was captured by the army in 1996 without 1,000 soldiers dying trying, and that Madhu - and its now infamous shrine - was also captured in 1999.
In that campaign as in this one, the army held Jaffna and attempted to corner the LTTE into the Mullaitivu jungles, before they sprang out of nowhere and wreaked havoc across the island, seizing both Madhu and Killinochchi - and everything in between - in a blitzkrieg of Nazi proportions.
Although the Tigers may not have such a capability any longer, they need not strike so hard in order to cripple the country, a fact that has now been lost on every major political party in the country including the UNP, which just announced its tacit support for the war in its bloodiest ever phase.
The Tigers need do little more than let the country drag itself further into debt with the cost of its war, while believing they are closer to success, and inflict maximum casualties upon the army and terrorise Colombo with suicide bombs, to bring Sri Lanka to a position where barely a country will turn to help.
With every nation in the world reeling from the shockwaves of the global economic crisis it is unlikely that there will be any country willing to come to the aid of an island that is pursuing an internationally condemned war of attrition and territory as its first priority.
The recent accusations that the air force has been using cluster bombs against civilian targets in the Wanni, would also prove devastating if it can be proven. To its credit, the government has denied the allegation, and the LTTE and its proxies have been unable to find any evidence of actual unexploded cluster 'bomblets' that such weapons always leave behind.
Alongside the revelation made by Mangala Samaraweera in parliament that the air force has dropped over 14 kilotonnes of explosives in the Wanni this year, if cluster bombs were to be used, Sri Lanka's air force would set a second world record.
The SLAF already holds the unenviable record of being the first, only and thus most frequent dropper of bombs on its own citizens, and the government would gain little from being seen in the eyes of the world as having used cluster munitions on a refugee camp as alleged by some NGOs and the LTTE.
Factors such as this are what bring memories of how the United States lost the war in Vietnam not in the Viet Cong jungles but in the living rooms of Americans at home who witnessed the brutality that the war inflicted to all sides, and pressured that government to abandon Vietnam.
The lines that the army is now holding are stretched across several hundred kilometres and with every advance the terrain becomes more favourable to the LTTE due to their familiarity with the combat environment.
As the campaign gets longer, the troops on the frontline will become wearier and a lot of them must already be under immense psychological stress from prolonged exposure to combat conditions. The study of military combat stress says as much.
"The percentage of study subjects whose responses met the screening criteria for major depression, generalised anxiety, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was significantly higher after serving" in the north and east.
"There was a strong reported relation between combat experiences such as being shot at, handling dead bodies, knowing someone who was killed or killing the enemy, and the prevalence of PTSD," the study concluded, adding finally that there was "a significant risk of mental health problems especially regarding combat related PTSD."
These are exactly the kind of poor conditions that the late Major General Janaka Perera warned would imperil the military campaign should it drag on for months through the monsoon and beyond.
In order to maintain its popularity and war fever in the south, the government would have to prevent the LTTE from repeating their Eelam War III performance of materialising out of the Mullaitivu jungles and smashing through army lines like so many dominoes.
For the sake of the next thousand soldiers who are now on the front line, we can only hope that the military leadership is as competent at protecting its own as it is at marketing and fighting wars of words and propaganda.