Sri Lanka: Recruiting Easier When You Are Winning

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February 20, 2008: The army offensive continues, with nearly 400 LTTE fighters claimed killed in the last two weeks. The government claims a 16:1 combat ratio (16 dead enemy for each deal soldier). Given the reports, from late last year, of the LTTE forcibly recruiting anyone, especially teenagers, and low morale in LTTE territory, this ratio is possible. The army is advancing, and the soldiers are better trained, and more experienced than in the past. Five years ago, an outnumbered force of LTTE gunmen could rout the army, sending soldiers fleeing, and often deserting. None of that now. In response, the LTTE has increased its terror attacks, contributing to the heavy toll of civilian casualties (nearly 500 dead and wounded so far this year.) Some civilians are killed in LTTE territory as well, as the LTTE sometimes puts military facilities in residential area, to try and gain some protection from artillery or bombing attacks (or at least some useful propaganda images of civilians killed by the government). Most of the fighting takes place in the bush, as troops pound, and then rush, LTTE bunkers, killing or chasing away the LTTE defenders. Now bunkers are built a kilometers or so away, but each bunker complex taken reduces the territory the LTTE controls.

The government has taken several measures to combat LTTE terrorist attacks. The public will no longer be allowed at school ceremonies, as the LTTE has found such ceremonies an attractive terror target. Nothing terrorizes better than attacks on children.

The LTTE have been forced to become less blatant in their smuggling efforts. Indian fishing boats are still moving smaller quantities of ammo and other military equipment, in order to evade Indian and Sri Lankan naval patrols, and frequent inspections. Meanwhile, southern India (especially Tamil Nadu, the origin of the Sri Lankan Tamils) has become less hospitable to the LTTE, with police arresting LTTE operatives and officials. Well, some of them. And it does appear that more LTTE officials and their families are fleeing to Tamil Nadu.

The army is having an easier time recruiting, having attracted 34,000 new men last year. Army strength now stands at about 150,000, with the navy and air force adding another 50,000. The LTTE is believed have only a few thousand full time gunmen left, with two or three times as many "reserves" that could be called on (but might not show up). The victory over the LTTE in eastern Sri Lanka last year was a big boost for recruiters. Soldiers coming home on leave, and telling of better training and leadership, and more battlefield victories, has helped as well. The troops are confident, even though their commanders still fear a few battalions of hard core, old school, LTTE fighters that can attack like commandos, and slice through army defenses. These LTTE reserves are believed to exist, although their size is shrinking as experienced LTTE men are used to train and hold together the many less experienced fighters.

The LTTE has been using some of their remaining artillery ammunition of late, but had the misfortune to hit a Catholic church with one of the shells they fired at an army camp. There were few army casualties, and a major propaganda loss as pictures of the damaged church got into circulation.

 

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