Sri Lanka: Dead Man Walking


January 17, 2008: Military operations against the LTTE in the north are increasing. The hundreds of kilometers of "front line" separating LTTE controlled terrain along the coast in the north, and the rest of the island, is defended by groups of bunkers. Here, a few dozen, to over a hundred LTTE fighters live and, if attacked, fight. The army is taking advantage of low LTTE morale, and the recent infusion of more teenagers, and conscripted adults, into the ranks. This has lowered the combat capabilities of the LTTE, because the new "troops" make mistakes, freeze, or try to run away. The army is finding that it can attack these bunker complexes, and after a few hours, or few days, of firing bullets and shells at the defenders, the bunkers can be captured. The defenders surrender, run away or get killed to the point where there are so few defenders that soldiers can get close, and finish the defenders off, or force them to give up. The LTTE has to fall back, surrendering control of a kilometer or so of territory. The army is nibbling the LTTE to death.

Some 10-20 fighters and soldiers are dying each day, most of them LTTE. Total casualties are over a thousand a month, and the LTTE is losing over 500 fighters a month to death, capture, serious wounds, disease and desertion. Army tactics stress keeping friendly casualties down, and this appears to be working. This approach improves soldier morale, and builds confidence with each LTTE bunker captured.

The army believes that the LTTE will be defeated by the end of the year. Cut off from ammo and weapons supplies, and suffering low morale, has made the enemy incapable of making large scale offensives that crippled army operations before the 2002 ceasefire. The LTTE still has thousand or so highly effective fighters, but these are largely in the elite terrorist units, or actually leading LTTE fighters at all levels (acting as NCOs and lower-grade officers). Total LTTE armed strength is believed to be less than 5,000. In the last two years, the LTTE have lost nearly 4,000 fighters. The Tamil population has turned against the LTTE, so recruiting is very difficult.

The air force is getting better at ferreting out where the LTTE is on the ground. Years of studying aerial photos and electronic intercepts have paid off, with experienced air force analysts finding more and more camouflaged LTTE bases, and bombing them. This recently led to the bombing of an LTTE leadership meeting, which killed or injured several of their military leaders. Meanwhile, India has admitted an open secret; that the Indian and Sri Lankan navies have been cooperating more to catch LTTE arms smugglers.

January 16, 2008: In eastern Sri Lanka, a roadside bomb hit a bus full of school children, killing nearly 30 passengers. While the LTTE lost control of the east coast last year, several hundred LTTE followers are still hiding out there, and some of them are committing violent acts. This was one of them, and it backfired on the rebels. Killing kids is bad for the image.

January 12, 2008: The government rejected an LTTE offer to revive the 2002 ceasefire deal. The government believes the LTTE is doing this only because they are losing. The LTTE broke the ceasefire two years ago, when it was apparent that the government would not allow partition of the island. Then the LTTE had its own civil war, that led to the loss of east coast areas long controlled by the LTTE.

January 10, 2008: In southern India, police have broken up more LTTE weapons smuggling gangs. While most guns and ammo come from gunrunners in third countries, India has long been a source of explosives and detonators for bombs. These can be bought or stolen from construction companies, and smuggled into Sri Lanka. But now the navy makes the boat ride very risky, and Indian police are arresting most of the men bringing the bomb making material to the boats. The LTTE forces are suffering an ammo shortage in Sri Lanka, and it's not going to get better any time soon.

January 9, 2008: An the road to the air port outside the capital, a roadside bomb killed the Minister for Nation Building. Another bomb exploded near a major hotel in the capital, but no one was injured.


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