Sri Lanka: Setting Up The Last Stand

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August 29,2008:  The LTTE "capital" is the town of Kilinochchi, 330 kilometers north of the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. Kilinochchi was captured in 1999, during a major LTTE offensive that drove the army from the northern tip of the island. But now, after 19 months of fighting, and nearly 7,000 dead, the army is closing in on Kilinochchi. With that town captured, the LTTE will be operating more like guerillas than an army. That would bring an end to a 25 year long rebellion that has killed over 70,000.

In the last week the fighting has created nearly 500 casualties, most of them poorly trained LTTE fighters. The LTTE has lost about three-quarters of its northern territory in the last year or so. The LTTE still has over a thousand veteran fighters and troop leaders, who could inflict high casualties on advancing army troops. But if the LTTE losses these key personnel, they lose their ability to wage a terror campaign, after they have lost control of all their remaining northern territory. While the LTTE is now dominated by radical factions, some of the rebel leaders are still willing to make some kind of deal. The question is, with the LTTE so close to defeat, are enough people in the government interested in a deal.

August 27, 2008: Police arrested more than three dozen LTTE terrorist suspects in the city of Kandy (in the hill country in the center of the island), after tips led to bomb making materials, and some of those arrested.

August 26, 2008: Two LTTE aircraft (single engine commercial types) bombed a naval base in the north. One of the improvised bombs did not go off, while the other one wounded four sailors. New government radar systems spotted the aircraft, as they approached at about 9 PM. Gunfire caused the two aircraft to turn back before they reached their intended target. The last LTTE air raid was four months ago.

August 23, 2008: Acting on a tip, police discovered suicide bomber belts hidden in a Catholic church in the capital, while in the city of Kandy, police discovered LTTE bomb making materials. As alert as the public is to LTTE terrorism efforts, the LTTE persists in planning and carrying out attacks.

August 22, 2008: Troops advanced to within artillery range (about 12 kilometers) of the town of Kilinochchi, the  "capital" of the LTTE.

August 19, 2008: For the first time, the LTTE has admitted to heavy losses of fighters and territory in the north. The rebels also warned the government to beware of bombing civilians. The LTTE has long used civilians as human shields, usually by putting military facilities (supplies, headquarters, barracks) in civilian residential areas, and forced the civilians to stick around. If the government bombed anyway, there was some propaganda value for the rebels. But civilians are increasingly risking the wrath of the LTTE, and fleeing to government controlled territory.

 

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