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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2426

The Tigers shocking counterattack: A worst case scenario

The Tigers shocking counterattack: A worst case scenario

By Ravindra Wickremasinghe

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. - Sun Tzu (544—496 BC), Chinese military strategist and author of The Art of War

At an unlikely hour between 23:00 and 03:00 in the coming days the LTTE launches a massive counterattack on six fronts thereby taking the rapidly advancing Sri Lankan forces by surprise. The Tigers crash six bomb-laden aircrafts onto the troops and several other suicide planes into high-level military and political targets in Colombo and its suburbs. Large bombers continue the assault.

A first wave of over 2,000 Black Tigers dressed in Army uniforms, blast their way through the troops and destroys tanks and other heavy equipment. They sabotage all communication links and then a second wave continues the surprise attack. This well coordinated counterattack results in the death of over 4,000 soldiers and serious casualties. Crude yet highly lethal chemical and biological weapons are also unleashed during this massacre which benefits from the prevailing weather conditions.

Tiger sleepers in all parts of the country launch suicide attacks killing and wounding hundreds of civilians and damaging critical infrastructure thereby bringing the war to the whole island as never before. Sri Lanka comes to a standstill.

This massive death toll, the resulting international pressure and arm twisting painfully reminds the President that there is no military solution and that the Tigers are still very much a force to be reckoned with. Dissenting voices in the south demoralize the troops and forces the government to halt operations and return to peace negotiations. The status quo continues and Sri Lanka is forever cursed with terrorism and it is once more a no win situation.

The above is one of many exaggerated worst case scenarios military planners may be considering especially since past experience demonstrates that the LTTE is much more creative in launching attacks and counterattacks. Many experts believe that the Tigers have staged a tactical retreat and are patiently waiting for the Sri Lankan forces to fall into its trap. According to a Tamil proverb “The tiger crouches only to pounce”. In dealing with the Tigers, think the unthinkable and always expect the unexpected.

LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran who is an internationally wanted fugitive and a master of deception and disguise may be currently pouring over similar or more devastating plans in his well fortified underground city which is connected by tens of kilometres of tunnels to escape routes. It is possible that as depicted in the 1967 James Bond movie `You Only Live Twice` the villain’s headquarters is hidden in a hollow volcano in an island? Is it in someplace where we are not searching? Is it is such an obvious place that we cannot see it?

The LTTE which was chased out of Jaffna in 1995, had thirteen years to re-establish itself in its current headquarters in Kilinochchi and this may not be so easily overrun. Will LTTE fighter’s surface from tunnels from behind the Sri Lankan Army? Prabakaran is well aware that in conflict, straightforward actions generally lead to engagement while surprising actions generally lead to victory. Beware of the wounded Tiger. In this final existential battle beware of 15,000 wounded Tiger cubs.

A recent BBC analysis states that “However, despite recent losses the Tamil Tigers still hold considerable fighting ability to launch surprise counter attacks. Contrary to some military claims, their core fighting formations are said to be still intact and they can easily adapt themselves to protracted guerrilla warfare”.

More that one and a half years after the first deadly demonstration by the Air Tigers (Vaan Puligal) and five attacks later including the very damaging one on the Airbase in Anuradhapura using Czech-built Zlin Z143's, the Sri Lanka authorities have neither been able to successfully engage nor locate and destroy the LTTE’s air capability and therefore finds itself at a distinct disadvantage. Unless the Vaan Puligal is neutralized very soon the advancing ground troops will be as grave risk. Only if this objective is achieved will the LTTE return to the ranks of a “normal” terrorist group.

Regrettably there is no discussion in the Sri Lankan media nor statements by political and military leaders about the Air Tigers and once again while we are blissfully oblivious it may strike again and this time with unprecedented ferocity. The LTTE has not lost its ability to mystify, mislead, and surprise its adversaries, on the contrary it may have do just this to boost its morale and delay further advances by the forces into its bastion.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has stated that the forces are engaged in “humanitarian operations” to free the Tamils from the clutches of the Tigers who control and area of about 5,000 square kilometres. In order to do so they will need the support and good will of the war affected people. In order to obtain this the forces and the government administrators at every level will have to win their hearts and minds.

How can this objective be achieved? According to a soon to be published U.S. counterinsurgency manual “…The principles of counterinsurgency are diverse, but they could be summed up as methods of warfare used to draw a civilian population's political and personal allegiance away from a guerrilla force. A counterinsurgent force seeks to coordinate military and civilian methods to offer both material and ideological incentives to a population so it will support a government and reject that government's enemies…”.

This will be an uphill battle given the more that two decade old experience of the local Tamil population with the forces. How well equipped are the forces to communicate with the Tamil civilians caught up in the crossfire? Are they being persuaded that this is a war for peace and without the severe weakening or elimination of the LTTE there can be no peace? Are they confident that once the LTTE is gone their grievances will be addressed, their rights and property, and livelihoods rebuilt?

Are the Tamils of the North convinced that the newly liberated East is on the path to democracy and prosperity, with dignity and human rights respected? Are incentives being given to LTTE cadres to surrender? If Prabakaran is captured alive will he be tried in Sri Lanka or extradited to India where he may be freed after a few years to wage war on Sri Lanka once again? Will he live to fight another day and what about his notorious son, Charles Anthony? Will he continue the carnage?

While there is no victory for Prabhakaran unless he becomes the undisputed sovereign of the state of Eelam and this is no longer a realistic objective, however, since terrorism is also about perceived reality, he may wish to pull off one final surprising and shocking attack. At this late stage of his life and career he would be concerned about his legacy and of how to leave a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of the Tamils and all others concerned.

If the above mentioned Tiger counterattack were to play out will the military and political leadership take responsibility as this would be a stark failure of their imagination. Since we have to always expect the unexpected from the Tigers, are steps being taken to prevent if not mitigate such a catastrophe?

Reports emanating from Colombo-based international news agencies include a paragraph of this nature: “Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and underreport their own. Independent verification of the fighting is not possible because journalists are barred from the war zone”.

As the noted linguist, philosopher and political activist Professor Noam Chomsky famously said prior to the first Gulf War in 1991“In a democratic society, the theory is that if the political leadership is committed to war, they present reasons. The role of the media at that point is to present the relevant background, ...and to offer a forum of debate. That never happened. 99.9% of the discussion excluded the option of a peaceful settlement”.

We owe it to our valiant soldiers-the selfless sons of Mother Lanka, their families as well as the past and present victims of LTTE terrorism, that all has been done to avert the above-mentioned disaster as this writer worries that since the government has taken total control of the news flow from the battlefront and muzzled and intimidated the press, the main casualty has been the truth. The government has created expectations of a swift and clean victory in the hearts and minds of the war weary public. Are we sleepwalking into a nightmare?

The government has be very cautious and pay heed to the stark warning by international terrorism expert Professor Paul Wilkinson who reminded the world in the early 1990s that “Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you”. May a dignified peace dawn on Sri Lanka shortly.

- Asian Tribune -

Related links:


The Art of War - by Sun Tzu

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.


Desperate plight of Tamil civilians

… However, despite recent losses the Tamil Tigers still hold considerable fighting ability to launch surprise counter attacks.

Contrary to some military claims, their core fighting formations are said to be still intact and they can easily adapt themselves to protracted guerrilla warfare. …


Aid groups: Sri Lanka fighting displaces thousands

Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and underreport their own. Independent verification of the fighting is not possible because most journalists are barred from the war zone.

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media

…In a democratic society, the theory is that if the political leadership is committed to war, they present reasons. The role of the media at that point is to present the relevant background, ...and to offer a forum of debate. That never happened. 99.9% of the discussion excluded the option of a peaceful settlement. — Noam Chomsky, on the media during the period of time leading up to the Persian Gulf War...


Remarks by Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation Executives’ Club of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

… As British terrorism scholar Paul Wilkinson put it, “Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot people remember is the one that gets past you.”…

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