Travel advisories come thick and fast after
PM to announce military casualties in
Basil says west supporting LTTE
Govt. war strategy primitive by
By Ranjith Jayasundera
In an obscure page on the Defence Ministry
website, the Ministry explains its
'strategy' for defeating the LTTE, tightly
defining it as a war of attrition.
Specifically, the Ministry says their
"strategy in achieving the mission is to
defeat terrorists through attrition
warfare." They were also kind enough to
define attrition warfare. "It is to reduce
the effectiveness of a force by causing
losses to personnel and materiel. The
strategy is a radical departure from earlier
strategy of expanding land domination or
engaged in 'land grabbing' operations."
It should not take The Sunday Leader to
point out to the government that waging wars
of attrition is unheard of in this day and
age, especially when fighting against a
guerrilla organisation such as the LTTE.
Before this document was made public,
counter-terrorism expert Dr. Rohan Gunaratna,
in a telephone interview with this newspaper
last year, pointed out the folly of racking
up the kills as a primary strategy.
The military's current 'attrition warfare'
strategy is one of three recognised forms of
waging war. It involves a raw assault of one
side's manpower and gunfire against that of
the other, with the straightforward equation
that the side with more "men and materiel"
will eventually triumph.
The other common type of military campaign
is manoeuvre warfare: avoiding the enemy's
main battle formations, sneaking past them
to take out strategic targets behind enemy
lines. The idea here is to effectively
cripple the enemy's willingness to fight.
Such strategies tend to reduce the
casualties of the belligerent side-in this
case, the Sri Lankan Army.
Military Analyst William S. Frisbee Junior
has written extensively about the various
types of warfare, and he has little praise
for those engaging in wars of attrition in
this day and age. He says it doesn't require
"brilliant commanders to execute, just a lot
of firepower and cooperation between the
units. Very simple and straightforward, you
don't need smart troops, just troops that
will follow orders."
The third type of warfare is the one
familiar to all of us used to LTTE
barbarism, revolutionary warfare. "Attrition
war does not work against someone practicing
revolutionary war," Frisbee wrote. "The
enemy," in this case accurately the LTTE,
"is not interested in staying and fighting,
they thrive on ambushes. If the enemy cannot
stand up and fight, it fades away,
disappearing into the local population."
See separate box on this page for Frisbee's
very relevant observations on using
attrition strategies to fight a
revolutionary group. But the officer did
allow that victory in such a situation is
possible. "A practitioner of Attrition War
can win against a revolutionary if the
Attritionist is willing to completely
depopulate a country. It will make for a
very bitter and bloody war but in theory an
Attritionist could win."
With 300,000 IDPs and counting from the
northern battlefields, foreign aid cut off
to the war theatre, and daily aerial
bombings of populated areas, it is clear
that the Rajapakse defence establishment has
no bones about following such a strategy to
take on the Tigers, and the Tamil population
of the north with them.
After all, Cabinet Defence Spokesman
Minister Keheliya Rambukwella is on record
saying that northern Tamil civilians will
have to make "sacrifices" in the form of
their lives and limbs, towards the
liberation of their homelands. This followed
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse's
Orwellian observation that "not all Tamils
are Tigers" but "nearly all Tigers are
Tamil," thus his callous attitude about
bussing them to Boossa, detaining them for
months without charge and harassing them at
every checkpoint around the country.
Traumatised and terrorised
The army commander too chipped in recalling
how he could "never" forget how he was
traumatised and terrorised by those evil
Tamils when he was a young boy. With so many
axes to grind against the Tamils as a
'race,' it is little wonder that the
government is not pursuing a wiser strategy
to destroy the LTTE.
The British and the Brazilians have both
defeated revolutionary wars. In Burma,
British forces, while targeting insurgents,
went the extra mile to win the hearts and
minds of possible insurgent recruits, just
as the Brazilian government did when they
were faced with a guerrilla insurgency.
"Instead of trying to fight a war of
attrition, the government forces sought to
isolate the guerrillas by offering the
locals more than the guerrillas, and
protecting the locals from guerrilla terror
tactics," says Frisbee.
Ultimately, these governments turned the
locals against the terrorists, and without
local support, the revolutionary movements
naturally collapsed. But for as long as the
war against the LTTE is perceived locally,
in the eyes of everyone from the
international community, down to the
policeman or army soldier inspecting
National Identity Cards on the streets of
Colombo, as a war between Sinhalese and
Tamils, such coups of brilliance against the
LTTE are next to impossible.
Interestingly enough, whenever any foreign
country other than India raises concerns
about the humanitarian plight of the
northern civilians, the government turns its
guns on that country. Most recently when
Senior Presidential Adviser Basil Rajapakse
was asked by the BBC whether "western
countries have been helping the LTTE," the
president's brother answered with a point
"The west has been supporting the stronger
side whenever it suits them. It is witnessed
in our history that the west has supported
the LTTE," Rajapakse said, raising the
question of whether the LTTE was in fact the
stronger side in his eyes.
The signs that the tide may be turning in
the LTTE's favour have been mounting in
recent days. Defence Secretary Gotabaya
Rajapakse in a October 19 interview with the
Sunday Observer fired another salvo at media
freedom. "It is good to talk about media
freedom, but media freedom comes after the
freedom of the country... Without
jeopardising the thing media should help the
Security Forces to defeat the LTTE,"
Just days later, the government took what
MCNS Chairman Lakshman Hullugalle termed as
a "collective decision" to stop reporting
casualty figures of both the military and
the LTTE until further notice, due to the
"need for operational security" and to
prevent such reportage from "imped(ing) the
successful accomplishment of the mission."
Both Hullugalle and Military Spokesman,
Brigadier General Udaya Nannayakara refused
to elaborate on the reasons for the blackout
on even LTTE casualty figures. The
government has previously reported several
hundred LTTE cadres killed per week, a
figure that has reduced to just the odd
incident where two LTTE bodies are reported
found during "clearing operations" every
other day or so.
In the 37 days since Army Commander Sarath
Fonseka announced that there were only 4,000
Tigers remaining, the Defence Ministry has
only claimed that 1,190 have been killed,
despite the heavy fighting raging in the
north. In the last two weeks the military
has only claimed 21 LTTE cadres killed,
remarkably lower than any other week this
year. In no week this year has the army
claimed less than 100 Tigers killed.
Brigadier Nannayakara however confirmed that
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake will
provide details of military casualties
during this week's emergency debate in
Parliament although he was unsure of whether
government statistics of LTTE casualties
will also be made available.
The LTTE for its part has placed its tail
between its legs and assumed a rather
un-feline 'puppy-dog-faced' front to the
outside world. Apart from bombastic comments
by Velupillai Pirapaharan pledging that the
army would never take Kilinochchi, the Tiger
propaganda machine has focused on reporting
not of the military's or their own
casualties, but on the plight of civilians
under siege from the government in their
Even last week when the army reported that
over 30 soldiers were killed over the
weekend, there was not a hum about these
unusually large battles from the usually
ferocious pro-LTTE TamilNet news website.
What the LTTE have done to their merit is,
left the military red-faced once again with
twin deep penetration airstrikes into the
heart of Colombo and a main military base.
Although the attacks did barely any damage,
the psychological impact is undeniable.
Several commercial aircraft in flight on
Tuesday night en route to Colombo were
diverted to Chennai as the Air Force took
control of the skies to try to find the LTTE
aircraft, which under all accounts, returned
The Katunayake Airport was sealed off for
several hours as police officers and
military-men went into panic firing into the
sky, lighting up searchlights and barking
orders, causing far more terror and hype
than the LTTE's paltry little 'air force' is
In the wake of the latest air attack several
countries updated their travel advisories
warning their citizens not to travel to the
country at all unless it was "absolutely
necessary." What effect such negative
publicity will have on the tourism industry
with the Christmas peak season just weeks
away, remains to be seen.
The government, however, seems content with
following the advice of a former German
government official, who described how to
drive a country to war. The statesman was
quoted by U.S. Army Captain Gustave Gillbert
as saying that people don't usually take
well to war.
"Why, of course, the people don't want war.
Why would some poor slob on a farm want to
risk his life in a war when the best that he
can get out of it is to come back to his
farm in one piece? Naturally, the common
people don't want war. That is understood.
But, after all, it is the leaders of the
country who determine the policy and it is
always a simple matter to drag the people
along," the official said.
Voice of the people
To this Captain Gillbert replied that in the
U.S. Congress alone has the authority to
declare war, and therefore it is not easy to
arbitrarily engage in hostilities
articulating the voice of the people.
"Voice or no voice, the people can always be
brought to the bidding of the leaders. That
is easy. All you have to do is tell them
they are being attacked, and denounce the
pacifists for lack of patriotism and
exposing the country to danger. It works the
same in any country," scoffed Senior Nazi
Herman G”ring, before being sentenced to
death for war crimes at the Nuremberg
Given the pro-war hysteria that has engulfed
the south in three years of Rajapakse
government, and the many elections it has
won them since November 2005, and the terror
campaign on all those persons, groups or
media outlets perceived to be anti-war, it
appears that this government has been able
to put the words of one of Hitler's most
trusted deputies to good use.
Frisbee on war strategies
Attrition war does not work against someone
practicing Revolutionary War. The enemy is
not interested in staying and fighting, the
enemy thrives on ambushes. If the enemy
cannot stand up and fight, it fades away,
disappearing into the local population.
Guerrillas attack the government and kill
its leaders. They seek to turn the people
against the government and the government
against the people. In this way the
Guerrilla movement grows and the government
Revolutionary war is one of the most
difficult types of wars to deal with because
the Guerrilla is usually willing to keep the
war going for 10 or more years. If not dealt
with effectively this long term war will
slowly weaken the national resolve and
strengthen the enemy.
Wars are expensive, the cost in dead and
wounded alone can be staggering. In Vietnam
the insurgents were more than willing to
bleed the US dry, pint by pint. They knew
they couldn't defeat the US in a stand up
fight but they knew they could destroy
America's will to fight.
The same thing happened in Afghanistan to
the Soviets. The Soviets had the raw
firepower to deal with any rebels that
opposed them, but the rebels were not
willing to stay around long enough so the
Soviets could focus their firepower.
They killed the Soviets a soldier at a time
and in fear and frustration, the Soviets
massacred innocent women and children. Those
massacres only made the rebels fight more
viciously and it caused the rebel's numbers
to grow. Eventually the cost - psychological
as well as financial - forced the Soviets to
There have been several Revolutionary Wars
that failed. In Burma, the British prevailed
by killing insurgents and going out of their
way to make peace with possible insurgent
the government did the same thing. Instead
of trying to fight a war of attrition the
government forces sought to isolate the
guerrillas by offering the locals more than
the guerrillas. The government forces also
sought to protect the locals from the
guerrilla terror tactics. In effect, the
government turned the locals against the
guerrillas. Without support from local
people the guerrillas became nothing more
than a unit cut off behind enemy lines.
In a way, revolutionary war is about not
killing more than anything else.
Revolutionary war is about intangibles,
about emotions and beliefs rather than
killing enemy troops. Killing the enemy is a
means to an end, not an end in itself.
A practitioner of Attrition War can win
against a revolutionary if the Attritionist
is willing to completely depopulate a
country. It will make for a very bitter and
bloody war but in theory an Attritionist
One thing to note is that there are many
different arguments about which is better,
Attrition War or Manoeuvre War. It should be
noted that Attrition War is best for a
government that wants a great deal of
control over their troops. For example, the
Soviet Army was an attrition army to the
full. Operations were carefully planned,
personal initiative was discouraged. Perhaps
the Soviet Army feared to teach its soldiers
to think for themselves because they might
rebel. Who knows.
A Manoeuvre Warfare military is a true asset
to a nation. Generally Manoeuvre Warfare
style armies are smaller, more professional
and able to defeat a larger more 'powerful'
foe. Manoeuvre Warfare militaries also make
a point to ensure wars are as brief and
bloodless (for them at any rate!) as