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THE REALITIES OF
THE MILITARY SITUATION IN SRI LANKA
(
Written in 1997 - still relevant.)

The Theatre of Engagement...
1. The theatre of engagement is the Northeast Province of Sri Lanka which is about 7,300 sq. miles in extent. It is 32% larger than Northern Ireland which is 5,500 sq. miles.

2. In the Northeast province the long littoral is flat and populated. South of the Jaffna peninsula, the area to the rear of the littoral is heavily wooded, undulating, ill roaded and thinly populated. The latter area which comprises roughly two-thirds of the total area is ideal for guerrilla forces and presents serious difficulties for the motorized forces of a conventional army.

3. The occupation of the urban centres of the littoral by the state’s troops drives the guerrillas into the interior which affords safe havens from which surprise incursions could be, and are being, mounted with relative ease. The expulsion of the guerrillas from the interior and the physical occupation of the interior by the state’s troops to prevent the return of the guerrillas thereto would require very large forces of government troops, amounting to many multiples of their present total.

4. In the flatter and more open terrain of Northern Ireland it has not been possible in 28 years of fighting for the British forces to eliminate or subdue the 300 guerrillas of the IRA.

5. The size and physical topography of the theatre of engagement in Sri Lanka excludes the possibility of the elimination of the guerrilla forces of the LTTE. The President has said as much in her interviews.

The ratio of troops to guerrillas...
6. Unlike wars between conventional forces, wars between a conventional force and a guerrilla force require very high ratios of troops to guerrillas. This is because of the widespread deployment and lack of concentration of guerrilla forces as well as because of their mobility.

7. A ratio of 100 highly-trained, well-supplied and well-supported conventional troops to 1 guerrilla in Northern Ireland has proved unavailing in defeating or even weakening the guerrillas of the IRA. The conflict there is now well into its 29th year.

8. In Sri Lanka the ratio of troops to guerrillas is, at best, 10 to 1 - a ratio hopelessly inadequate for this type of capability of occasional bursts of conventional warfare and a naval capability, the ratio of troops to guerrillas needs to be considerably greater than 100 to 1 for adequate performance.

The size and capability of the guerrilla force...
9. The Provisional IRA (its proper title) is known to comprise no more than 300 men and women, all highly trained explosives experts. In addition to explosives it is capable of sporadic guerilla attacks in conjunction with the use of explosives. It does not possess a conventional warfare capability nor a naval capability. It does not occupy any land in Northern Ireland in defiance of the state.

10. The LTTE is estimated to be over 30-times the size of the IRA. In addition to its original guerrilla warfare capability, it is now also capable of occasional bouts of conventional warfare and it has a substantial naval capability. It currently occupies 65% of the land area of the north-east province. As a military adversary the LTTE is an incomparably more formidable foe than the IRA.

The nature of the guerrilla forces...
11. Guerrilla forces are unpaid volunteers. They are self-motivated to a high degree of sacrifice and effort. After enrollment they are readily motivated to high operational standards and requirements. Tamil society has generated thousands of such volunteers for nearly 20 years now.

In the same period Sinhala society has not generated a single man or woman willing to fight without pay as a volunteer prepared to sacrifice his/her life for his/her cause.

War Expenditure...
12. Modern conventional warfare is an extremely expensive activity - by far the most expensive activity a modern state can undertake. When a conventional force fields high ratios of conventional (paid) troops against guerrilla forces, the expense is exponentially increased.

13. In Northern Ireland, the British forces outnumber the IRA 100 to 1 and the British government spends on that effort alone 3.25 billion per year. The Sri Lanka Rupee equivalent of this sum is Rs.308 billion per year. That high expenditure is on a conflict force of 300 men and women.

14. In Sri Lanka the LTTE is over 30-times the numerical strength of the IRA and the theatre of engagement is both larger and far more difficult than in Northern Ireland. For a comparable performance against the LTTE, with the needed higher ratio of troops to guerrillas, the financial commitment should be 30 times that in Northern Ireland plus half as much again to compensate for the larger and more difficult terrain i.e. 308 x 30 = 9,240 + 4,620 = 13,860 billion rupees per year.

15. It is reliably estimated that the cost of this type of warfare in Northern Ireland is six times that in the northeast province of Sri Lanka. When this cost differential is applied to the above-mentioned figure the sum needed in Sri Lanka would be Rs. 13,860 billion divided by 6 = Rs. 2,310 billion per year.

16. The current provision is Rs. 48 billion per year for a 10 to 1 ratio of troops to guerrillas. Even for this low ratio of troops to guerrillas a barely adequate provision must be Rs. 2,310 billion divided by10 = Rs. 231 billion per year not Rs. 48 billion.

17. At this point it ought to be mentioned that the comparison with Northern Ireland is a comparison with an effort that has not yielded success - an effort that is still on-going after 28 years.

18. The cost of waging war with a conventional army against a guerrilla force on its home ground is hopelessly beyond the financial capability of a very poor country such as Sri Lanka.

The guerilla's resilience...
19. The financial requirements of guerrilla forces are much less than those of the state because their numbers are a small fraction of the conventional forces ranged against them.

20. Their military needs are supplied largely by the state - not directly but indirectly by way of losses during ambushes and the occasional set-piece conventional encounter in which the guerrillas benefit by the element of surprise.

21. The 30-year long war of Eritrean Independence was fought by the Eritrean guerrillas almost entirely with weapons and ammunition captured from the Ethiopian state’s forces. In Sri Lanka the LTTE’s principal source of weapons is the Sri Lanka army with its numerous camps dotted throughout the littoral of the north-east province.

22. The LTTE also receives external financial resources generated by the Tamil diaspora. Most of it goes into its naval and missile systems and the rest for conventional arms.

23. The empirical evidence from all other theatres of similar conflict is clear and it is that as wars of this type drag on interminably the Guerrillas get stronger despite military setbacks. They can replenish both their troops and their weaponry at relatively little expense and they gain in confidence and capability with the passage of time. The assumption that a long war weakens guerrilla forces is the opposite of reality. It is the reverse that takes place especially against so weak an adversary as the Sri Lanka forces. Events have demonstrated this vividly in Sri Lanka.

The 'forced to compromise' syndrome...
24. In an ever-widening circle of concerned observers of the military situation the unhappy awareness is beginning to be dawn that it is beyond the capability of the Sri Lankan State to exterminate the LTTE militarily. They then go on to draw the facile conclusion that the LTTE can be so weakened by the state’s military pressure that it will be forced to compromise on its demand for a separate state and to accept a settlement within the single all-island state. Recent statements of some LTTE spokesmen, but not Mr. Prabhakaran, have lent some credence to this view.

25. A state, regardless of its constitutional form, must by definition possess the monopoly of armed force within it. There can be no compromise on that single factor, whatever other compromises there may be. If the LTTE is to accept a settlement within the single all-island state, its forces must disappear as an independent entity, either by being disbanded or by being absorbed into the Sri Lankan state forces. That one or other of these two scenarios is realistically feasible is what proponents of the "Forced to Compromise" syndrome imagine.

26. That the LTTE which has been un-vanquished by the state’s forces despite their best efforts, will obligingly disappear and live under its armed adversary is a flight of fancy which can take place only when one is un-moored from reason. It shows the desperate straits to which rational thinking has been reduced among those who hold this view.

27. The absurdity of such a chimera is demonstrated by the universal experience that as guerrilla wars of national secession drag on and the guerrillas suffer one military reverse after another, they rebound stronger than ever before - not weaker. That is the paradoxical reality with which those who entertain the "Forced to Compromise" hallucination need to come to terms.

So, where do we go from here?
27. The answer to this question is clear. We must go where others much more powerful than ourselves have gone before us in the quest for peace. And that is a peace treaty with an armed and undefeated adversary who continues in possession of his arms and territory. There is no gainsaying that this amounts to secession from the state under attack. That was the way to peace in Palestine, Ethiopia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Philippines and in the Russian Federation in respect of Chechnya.

29. It means long and patient negotiations, with international help, to devise the strategies and institutions that will ensure peace and good-neighborly relations between the two new, adjacent, states of the comity of nations - two new states that accept and implement the emerging international standards of conduct within and between their states.

30. The horror story of everlasting war on the island is not a divinely ordained curse on both Sinhala and Tamil nations living thereon. It is a self-inflicted disaster from which we must escape once and for all time.

Adrian Wijemanne
WISBECH
Cambridgeshire
U.K.

22nd January ’97