Tuesday, January 8, 2008




The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) lost anotherr important field operative on January,5,2008, when Col. Charles, Head of its Military Intelligence organisation, was killed in what was described by it as a random Claymore attack by Sri Lanka Army's Deep Penetration Unit in Pa'l'lamadu in Mannaar. The vehicle in which he was travelling hit a mine, killing all the three occupants of it.

2. The LTTE's description of the incident as a random attack was meant to convey the impression that the mine, which struck his vehicle, was among those planted by the Sri Lankan Army's Deep Penetration Unit in the area and was not specifically directed at Charles.

3.The Sri Lankan Army was initially not aware of the death of Charles. On coming to know of it from the LTTE's announcement, the Army went to town in order to convey an impression that it had inside information about the likely travel of Charles in the area and had specifically targeted him.

4. This claim of the Army,meant to create nervousness among the members and supporters of the LTTE, has not been independently corroborated.

5.The Deep Penetration Unit of the Army has been planting Claymore mines in the areas under the control of the LTTE for many years now. Some of these mines proved effective in achieving the Army's objective. Shankar, Nizam and Mano of the LTTE were killed by Claymore mines in 2001. Shankar was the founder of the Sea Tigers and the Procurement Division of the LTTE and was in charge of setting up an air wing for the LTTE when he was killed. Mano was in charge of the LTTE's communications division in the Batticaloa area. Nizam was an important clandestine operative in the Batticaloa area. In all these cases, the Army had claimed that its successes were due to inside information of their travel plans and route. In 2001, Thamilselvan, the head of the LTTE's political division, who died in an air strike by the Sri Lankan Air Force last year, escaped being killed by a mine while travelling.

6. The death of Shankar was a particularly severe loss for the LTTE, but it recovered from it. His death did not come in the way of preventing it from acquiring an air wing. By using the South African contacts of Shankar, the LTTE was able to procure the aircraft and get its pilots trained in South Africa.

7. However, Shankar's death caused difficulties in replenishing the LTTE's stock of anti-aircraft ammunition and missiles. Shankar had reliable sources in South Africa through him he was able to procure anti-aircraft ammunition and missiles. After his death, these sources dried up. This is one of the reasons why the LTTE finds itself defenceless against the repeated attacks by the Sri Lankan Air Force.

8. The death of Charles could create major difficulties for the LTTE in the short-term, but it might be able to fill up the void in the medium and long term. He was very knowledgeable on the Katunayake airport and had planned and co-ordinated the LTTE's attack on the airport in 2001 along with Shankar. He was reportedly in charge of planning and co-ordinating another attack to destroy the fighter planes of the Sri Lankan Air Force on the ground.

9. The Sri Lankan Minister for Nation Building, Mr. D. M. Dassanayaka, was seriously injured in a Claymore blast near Ja-Ela junction, 18 km northeast of Colombo city, on January 8,2008, when he was proceeding to the Parliament. He died in hospital later. The incident took place near the Katunayake airport.

10. The initial speculation was that the attack was in retaliation for the death of Charles, but it appears doubtful whether the LTTE would have been able to plan and carry out a retaliatory strike within 72 hours of the death of Charles. A greater possibility is that this had been planned and got executed as the LTTE's riposte to the Government's action in abrogating the cease-fire agreement concluded with the LTTE in 2002. It was expected that the LTTE would retaliate against the Government's action by stepping up its operations in Colombo.

11. The LTTE, which had faced a number of set-backs in 2007, has started the New Year with another major set-back. The death of Charles is likely to have a negative impact on the morale of the LTTE's supporters in Sri Lanka and abroad, but not yet on the morale of the operatives of the LTTE's fighting wings.

12. Since the beginning of 2007, the LTTE has suffered four major attritions--- the attrition of the area under its control in the Eastern Province, the attrition of its capability for the clandestine procurement and transport of arms and ammunition from abroad, an attrition of its dwindling cadre of experienced operatives and an attrition of the international support and understanding for its cause.

13. Determined and well-motivated insurgent and terrrorist organisations often manage to get over the first three attritions. These attritions need not be irreparable for the LTTE. But the attrition in international support and understanding may turn out to be irreparable. This was evident when the international community confined its reaction to the abrogation of the cease-fire agreement by the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government to the expression of some pro forma criticism alone.

14. The LTTE still has a strong, but slowly diminishing reservoir of operational capability, which can still turn the present tide against it, but without a reservoir of international support and understanding, its operational capability alone will serve little purpose.

15. While Prabakaran, the LTTE leader, still has at his disposal the services of some excellent and experienced operatives, he faces an acute shortage of political operatives, with lucidity and sound political judgement. Guns alone, however expertly handled, cannot prove decisive, unless there is a wise political mind behind the gun. (9-1-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )