The SL Army’s Land Warfare Campaign in 2006-09: Debating the Lines of Strategic Emphasis ONE: Retd Brig. Sri Mudannayake’s Clarification
In a telephone conversation in June 2020 relating to the Sri Lankan armed forces successful military campaign on land against the formidable LTTE forces during Eelam War IV, issues arose regarding the lines of strategic emphasis. As I was not au fait with one of the summary terms mentioned in this chat, I formulated a ‘QUESTION’ which I sent to several personnel with a military background. In a deliberate presentational ‘tactic,’ I am placing the Memoranda I received in reply from Red Brig. Sri Mudannayake ahead of the Question I presented to him.
Answer from Retd Brig Sri Mudannayake, 18 June 2020
Dear Dr. Roberts, By the time EW IV began, the LTTE had moved from an insurgent group to a powerful conventional fighting force with a strong naval component that confronted SLN Fast Attack Craft Flotilla and other war ships head-on, and a nascent air element that penetrated air defences and bombed mil camps in JFN, VNA, MNR, BCO and TCO Eastern Naval Command. LTTE planes bombed Colombo with impunity and returned to their hideouts in Vanni jungles. LTTE army had developed into organised Brigades (Eg: Malathy Brigade, Charles Anthony Brigade etc;) and possessed artillery, armoured vehicles, heavy mortars, anti-aircraft guns and other mil hardware usually found in national armies.
By the time EW IV commenced in the EP, consequent to closing of Mavil Aru anicut, LTTE was a formidable force. It overran SLA Brigade Bases, and the EPS Garrison which was an Army Division size base and continued the juggernaut towards Chavakachcheri and JFN center which they called ‘ Unceasing Waves’. The SLA was on the backfoot and was on the verge of a total route in the JFN Peninsula. LTTE asked nearly 30,000 SLA troops to surrender. India even offered to air lift surrendered SLA troops out of JFN. With MBRLs provided by a friendly nation, SLA was able to stop the advancing LTTE army in Chavakachcheri.
That was the backdrop to the commencement to EW IV which started in the EP as mentioned earlier. With the defeat of the LTTE in the EP, GOSL under the leadership of FM Fonseka simultaneously opened the Northern Operation. In military jargon this is known as ‘ Exploitation of Success’.
Additionally, one cannot overlook the political change that took place in Nov 2005.
The successful defeat of the LTTE was due to a combination of joint POL-MIL action.
In essence it was the total decimation of a well organised and well-funded, standing separatist – insurgent armed force that controlled 2/3 of the coast line, and 1/3 of the land mass of SL.
In sum, it was ‘relentless attrition’ and a successful counter terrorist/counter insurgency strategy adopted by the Rajapakse Administration that defeated the LTTE.
Now I will try to address your A, B, and C, and X, Y queries.
- Agree. FM Sarath Fonseka shed the defensive territory holding strategy and adopted a strategy of reducing LTTE numbers through offensive ops. More, importantly, his strategy of selectively taking out key LTTE leaders through Spl Forces LRRP ops put LTTE on the backfoot. FM SF thus placed the LTTE on the defensive, and turned the initiative in favour of the state.
- Re-tooled (as you call it), SIOT gave the desired confidence to Infantry to fight aggressively. Inf troops would not have been able to fight without artillery, armour and air support. Sec Def ensured that the military got necessary hardware.
The role of the Navy in interdicting LTTE manpower and arms supply chain was an additional war winning factor.
- Bottom-up planning and execution of offensive ops worked successfully. Yes, I agree.
That said, FM SF’s hard driving, demanding and no-nonsense approach, and at times being ruthless on his field commanders was a driving factor in the mil success. He monitored every move of the army formations 24/7 during the final battles.
Well, my personal view is, that the country needed a man with a Prabahkaran mind-set to defeat Velupillai Prabhakaran. FM Sarath Fonseak was that man.
Finally, Counter Insurgency Strategy (CIS) encompasses many aspects. In CIS there is no ‘ One Size Fits All’ solution. The strategy ought to vary depending on the root cause of the insurgency eg; political, religious, or ethnic persecution, separatism, extreme economic hardships and poverty, ideology etc;
If the insurgents have external support, or if the insurgency is due to geo-political interests of regional or extra-regional powers, CIS adopted may differ, where diplomacy becomes an imp factor. Insurgencies in Central America, Africa, Mid – East, Central & South Asia, prevail due to different causes. Chechnya, Xinjiang, Southern Philippines, North Eastern Indian States, Burma are a few examples.
Lastly, most experts argue that CIS revolves primarily around ‘ Hearts & Minds’. Not always – ” Force Works at Times” – Sri Lanka is a case in point.
A U.S. Navy Post Graduate School researcher termed it the ‘ Rajapakse Model’. He was very critical of the disproportionate application of force.
Indian Diplomat, Shiv Shankar Menon in his book “Choices-The Making of Indian Foreign Policy” has dedicated one chapter to the SL ethnic conflict. The chapter is entitled: Force Works.
I agree with Shivsankar Menon.
Thank you for your patience.
Brig (ret) Sri Mudannayake
The Issues raised by Michael Roberts, 17 June 2020
Dear Brig, Mudann,
In conversation with an acquaintance with some military know-how about the GoSL’s successful campaign [on LAND] against the LTTE in E-War IV, he spoke of the programme as
- One of Attrition ….. contrasting it with
- A strategy of counter-insurgency.
Now, in my amateur fashion I had previously come to the conclusion that Sarath Fonseka and his command had intelligently
A = concentrated on reducing the fighting numbers of the LTTE rather than the capture of territory ….and
B= re-tooled the infantry regiments via the gradual expansion of the SIOT concept from 2002(?) onwards and
C = encouraging bottom-up planning for forward movements and assaults [a revolutionary move in our hierarchical society]
So: please enlighten me
X = what does the so-called “counter insurgency strategy’ entail?
Y = and comment, correct and elaborate on my three points A, B and C
My apologies for error directed by Google whereby a misleading set of photographs were placed at the start.
 As most people will know, the LTTE was considerably weakened by the defection of Karuna Amman and many Eastern Province cadre in 2004. This was a major factor. But note that Pirapharan remained confident of winning the war when he activated the process at Mavil Aru in late 2006. So, the focus here is on the land battles thereafter. This is not to discount the importance of the services provided by (A) the SL Navy; (B) the SL Air Force; and (C) the SL police, STF and the forces in the east placed under Sarath Weerasekera during the period 2006-09. Note, too, that the region around Colombo city remained a war front.
The SLN Navy’s initiative in locating and destroying several of the LTTE’s warehouse ships in the year 2007 was a major factor in the GoSL’s eventual success (see Roberts, Tamil Person and State, Pictorial (2014: pics …. and …………….). However, to reiterate, the focus in this Thuppahi item is the military strategy on land.
 Though I had met them earlier during some of my inquiries, I have not approached General Shavendra Silva or General Kamal Gunaratne because they are on active duty at present.
 Retd Brig Mudnnayake was attached to the SL army from 1971-96 and moved to the position of “Defence Cooperation Specialist” at the US embassy from December 1997 to June 2011, During his sL army service he had spells of learning/training/cooperation at the Federal Language School Cologne Germany, the Defence Services Command & Staff College Bangladesh and Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies Hawaii USA during the years 1980 to 1982.
 The thesis is entitled ” Lessons in Legitimacy: The LTTE End Game 2007-2009 and was written by Maj Stephen L. Battle of the US Army as his Masters in Defense Analysis and published by the Naval Postgraduate School. Monterey , Califormia in June 2010.