Feature Article

SLA commander predicts easy victory - again

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 11 November 1997, 23:59 GMT]
Recently the Sri Lankan army commander, Major General Rohan Daluwatte said that victory was imminent in Eelam War III. However, General Daluwatte's assessment of the war has not always been entirely accurate.

daluwatte_rohan.gifSpeaking during the SLA's 48th anniversary celebrations recently, General Daluwatte said that the day the Liberation Tigers would be 'wiped out'' was not far away and that he was confident that victory would be achieved 'in the near future'.

However, events on the ground were not in keeping with the General's sanguine view. In 5 days of combat preceding his speech, the Liberation Tigers had inflicted heavy losses in men and material on the SLA.

Over 500 Sri Lankan soldiers had been killed and several million dollars worth of arms, ammunition and vehicles had been captured by Tiger commandos operating in the Mankulum jungles.

General Daluwatte assumed command of the SLA in April 1996. In an interview with the military journal, the Jane's Defence Weekly shortly afterwards, Gen. Daluwatte was in a bullish mood.

The General stated quite confidently that the LTTE no longer had the military capability to concentrate forces for massed attacks like overrunning a big army base.

However, within weeks, the LTTE launched their biggest assault ever, smashing the SLA's Muillaitivu base. Over 1400 SLA troops were killed and the Tigers beat off several Sri Lankan rescue operations, killing another 200 SLA troops. The LTTE lost 332 fighters in the week long battle.

Prior to taking command of the army, General Daluwatte was in charge of the Riviresa operations which brought most parts of the Jaffna peninsula under the SLA's control. He confidently asserted later that the area was 'stable', except for 'a couple of hundred infiltrators'.

Curiously, at the same time, the General said that despite the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the east of the island, the army was not going to divert any of its 40,000 troops which were deployed in Jaffna following the conclusion of the Riviresa operations.

The LTTE has mounted a guerrilla campaign in Jaffna since then. The scale and frequency of LTTE attacks in Jaffna is patently on the rise in recent months. The SLA is no longer present in some parts of the peninsula. Reluctantly, the SLA is removing troops from Jaffna to counter the mounting military pressure in the Vanni.

In the light of all this some military analysts who are keen observers of the Sri Lankan conflict were generally inclined to take the General's prediction of an early victory with a pinch of salt. They were proved right when General Daluwatte, in his customary style, once again revised his estimate for the time needed to 'finish' the war to three years from now.

May 96
"Lusty cheers and loud cries of delight by prancing exuberant crowds greeted the troops on the march," [Gen. Daluwatte's description of Tamil civilians' reaction to the SLA onslaught in Jaffna. Refugees said tens of thousands of desperate civilians were clogging the roads to evacuation points. News agencies reported SLA gunship and artillery attacks on the refugee boats.]

May 96
"I cannot disclose that kind of information"

[Gen Daluwatte's response to being asked if Operation Riviresa (to capture Jaffna) had ended. A few weeks prior to that he Sri Lankan MoD had stated confidently that Jaffna had been 'completely' captured.]

May 96
"The East is not a big deal. I don't foresee many problems in bringing the area under control."

[Gen Daluwatte on the LTTE securing over 80% of the east. However, western defence analysts say that recapturing the East would be much harder than to have held it. The SLA was forced to close more than forty four bases in the East to mass enough troops to capture the Jaffna peninsula.]

May 96
Gen. Daluwatte says that the people of Jaffna were treating the troops as friends, and there had been no complaints of human rights violations

[International human rights bodies say that widespread violations have taken place in Jaffna since the SLA captured it. Jaffna is still out of bounds to the international press and human rights organisations, unless closely escorted by Sri Lankan troops.]

May 96
Gen. Daluwatte says LTTE troop numbers are at 8,000 down from 16,000.

[However, at the same time, the General said he wanted 'more troops' to defeat the LTTE, and offered an amnesty to 20,000 SLA deserters and launched a recruitment drive. Both produced lacklustre results.]

June 96
"(The Tigers) are no longer capable of massed attacks like overrunning a big army base."

[Gen. Daluwatte speaking a few weeks before the LTTE launched their biggest assault ever, overrunning the SLA complex at Mullaitivu, killing 1400 SLA troops.]

June 96
"Most populated (Tamil) areas are under our (SLA) control."

[Gen. Daluwatte ignores the 600,000 Tamil civilians in the Vanni region and the 80% of the east of the island, both areas being controlled by the LTTE.]

October 96
"If our soldiers could have recaptured the Jaffna peninsula and Kilinochchi from the Tigers, I do not think it would be difficult to recapture the Vanni"

[Currently, the SLA's biggest offensive, intended to open a road through the Vanni has been slowed by LTTE resistance. Though the operation, launched in May 97, was planned to be completed in 4 months, less than a third of the A9 has been secured, and the army is getting bogged down in jungle warfare.]

October 96
Gen. Daluwatte says that LTTE strength is down to about three to four thousand troops.

[Western analysts put LTTE strength at over 10,000. In July 1997, Sri Lankan military intelligence put it at 15,000 - and growing.]

November 96
Gen. Daluwatte says a drive to recruit new soldiers, meets with 'massive' response, mainly from rural youth.

[The total number of applicants were less than 10% of the number hoped for. Desertion continues to plague the SLA at the rate of 10,000 each year. Those who apply are indeed rural youths, desperate for employment.]

March 97
"I feel they were completely surprised and were not prepared to take us on."

[Gen. Ratwatte on being asked why the LTTE had not opposed the SLA operation to open the road linking Vavuniya to Mannar (in the west). Sri Lankan military analysts say the LTTE has little interest in the west of the island (at the moment), and the LTTE had simply ignored the operation.]

March 97
"They were meticulously planned operations that were executed well. We achieved the elements of both surprise and speed."

[Gen. Daluwatte on the SLA assaults on Jaffna and Kilinochchi. Both attacks were anticipated, (and were written about in local newspapers months before being launched). The SLA took over 50 days to capture Jaffna city (- travelling a distance of nine miles) and two months to capture Kilinochchi (- travelling a distance of 15 miles). Western analysts say the latter operation was a hastily planned knee-jerk reaction to the SLA's debacle at Mullaitivu. The SLA sustained thousands of casualties in the attacks.]

March 97
"(The LTTE) tried to attack the Paranthan defences. It was beaten back. It had to abandon that operation."

[Gen. Daluwatte speaking on the LTTE assault on the Paranthan and Elephant pass SLA bases in which the Tigers penetrated the complexes and destroyed 11 artillery pieces and killed hundreds of SLA troops. Local newspapers printed photos of Tiger commandos blasting the big guns, and video footage was recorded and distributed by the Tigers.]

March 97
"You can very clearly say it is weakened. According to intelligence reports, it is only 8,000 strong. "

[Gen. Daluwatte on being asked if the LTTE was being weakened. Curiously, by his own figures, the LTTE had doubled its numbers in six months. Meanwhile, in July 1997, Sri Lankan intelligence put LTTE numbers at 15,000]

March 97
"Most of the battle with the LTTE is over. That was the most difficult part. Only a little more has to be completed."

[Since Gen. Daluwatte made this statement, heavy fighting has raged in the Vanni region where the SLA's biggest operation has become bogged down. 500 SLA troops were lost in a single week.]

October 1997
"Yes, definitely we have weakened them."

[Gen. Daluwatte on the LTTE's fighting capabilities. Paradoxically, at the same time, the SLA is struggling to raise another division to throw into the Vanni in a bid to overcome bitter LTTE resistance to the other two SLA divisions deployed there.]


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