Desperate Tigers target civilians
The threat of a terror attack in the South has long been a concern.
The State Intelligence Service (SIS) issued several intelligence
warnings of the increasing danger of Tiger attacks on soft targets. The
specifics of those warnings can not be discussed in detail due to their
classified nature. However, it is suffice to say, the warnings
highlighted the threat of attacks on the places of public congestion and
several economic installations in particular.
One such warning highlighted the danger of a commando style suicide
attack on some of these installations of dual use - both economic and
military - These were apart from increased threat on several VVIPs, upon
which the security had been stepped up.
The understanding in the intelligence circles was that as the
conventional military capacity of the Tigers was out flanked by the
security forces, the LTTE would opt to attack soft targets.
Military nerve centres
The beef up of security in the recent months, indeed, acted as an
deterrent to the LTTE, mainly in its plans to attack economic and
military nerve centres. This, further highlighted the increasing danger
of soft targets, such as public transport and areas of public
The question however was that other than routine roadside checking,
there was little deterrent against such terror attacks.
Earlier, as the threat of impending terror attack loomed large, a
formation of a National Contingency Plan was acted upon in the face of a
possible attack. Indeed, a team of security forces top brass, including
Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara, Brigadier Milinda Peiris and several
others were assigned to formulate a Contingency Plan in the aftermath of
a terror attack, which was to cover, among other things, rescue
missions, sending reinforcement, communication, emergency treatment and
hospital facilities, etc.
All these measures could only act as an deterrent, but still the
Tigers could strike whenever the opportunity is available.
Open societies make themselves vulnerable to intrusion due to the
very freedom it allows to the citizenry. Terrorists and insurgents could
utilise these very freedoms to plan and execute attacks against the very
institutions of the open societies.
Despite the recent curb on civil liberties by the anti-terror
legislation, Sri Lanka deserves - still- to be called an open society.
It is naive to expect the security forces to catch every LTTE sleeper
and attacker and to raid every Tiger cell in the town. Very liberties
they enjoy in the city of Colombo, a multi-cultural city itself provide
greater room for terror cells to conduct their covert missions.
Indeed, in recent times, there were notable success in
counter-espionage activities on the terror cells of the LTTE in Colombo.
Intelligence operatives succeeded busting some important networks of the
LTTE cadres in the town.
This along with the stepped up security in the city deterred the
Tigers from attacking economic or military nerve centres. This forced
the Tigers to go for civilian targets as the ultimate resort.
It is in this context that successive terror attacks on the two
passenger buses last week were not a cause for surprise.
If there was any reason which discouraged the Tigers from attacking
civilians, it was the international opinion.
It is notable that even after taking on each and every civilian
target during the ceasefire - the Kebithigollawa bombing, alleged
killing of Muslims in Potuvil for instance, the Tigers routinely denied
Same protocol was followed last week as the LTTE military spokesman
Rasaiah Ilanthirayan alias Marshal denied the LTTE involvement in the
two blasts, describing the charge as "baseless allegations".
But, interestingly enough, the bus attacks took place after the LTTE
peace secretariat chief Pulithevan warned of "repercussions" against the
air strikes in Mannar, of which the LTTE alleged 13 civilians were
In this sense, the two bus bombs were a means of retaliation. The
threat of attacks on soft targets in the South has been part of LTTE's
strategy through out the last twenty years of its insurgency.
LTTE political commissar S. P. Thamilselvan earlier warned to bring
the war to Colombo. Thamilselvan also insisted that the LTTE would use
all possible means available in a future war with the Government - a not
so subtle reference to the use of suicide cadres, the Black Tigers who
are the ultimate weapon of the Tiger arsenal.
In the face of increasingly assertive military posture by the
government, the overall strategy of the LTTE, at present, is to break
the political will of the government to carry on its military drive
against the LTTE. This is a complete reversal from the Tiger strategy a
year ago, when the Tigers launched a mini intifada in the Jaffna
peninsula, using its sleepers and civilian militia and advanced it to an
undeclared Eelam War IV. The LTTE strategy, at that point was to
intimidate the newly elected Rajapaksa Administration in to submission.
The strategy backfired and instead of forcing the government in to
submission, it provoked the government which gave the green light to the
security forces to adopt some tough counter-insurgency measures. The
then emerging intifada in the Jaffna peninsula was subdued with these
The recent military operations in Sampur and Vakarai are an extension
of the government's military drive to subdue the military capacity of
The LTTE strategy is to force the government to abandon its military
drive. This comes in the wake of heavy casualties inflicted on the LTTE
by the revamped military. This deterred the LTTE from any kind of
decisive military offensive in the North-East. In the absence of a
military might to take on the security forces in the battle front, the
Tigers opted to attack the targets in the South.
Two successive bus bombs last week were part of the strategy to
challenge the government will to carry on the military drive against the
Given the nature of the attack, one in rush hour office transport, it
is obvious that launching such a attack requires little planning. It is
as simple as some unassuming passenger getting off the bus, leaving his
backpack, which happened to contain two kilos of explosives.
Though it looks simple compared to complex manoeuvering of an attack
on the VVIPs, bus bombs have a greater potency to evoke fear psychosis
in the public.
That is exactly the aim of the LTTE, which through, two successive
blasts, has attempted to shutter the sense of perceived security in the
Southern populace. The Tigers' intended political message of the attack
is that the South is not secure as long as the LTTE is confronted
militarily in the North-East.
The strategy of the LTTE is to terrorise the general public and force
them to influence the government to shift its approach towards the LTTE
, from the present assertive military posture to a level of submission.
The venue of the two attacks itself are both of symbolic as well as
tactical value. Nittambuwa in the perimeters of Colombo and Godagama in
the down South, which voted Mahinda Rajapaksa in en masse to the
However, according to some senior Police Officials, the two
successive terror attacks on the public transport were also a pointer to
the failure in risk assessment of the terror threat.
Had the National Intelligence correctly figured the threat
immediately after the first blast in Nittambuwa and had the public been
alerted to exercise extra vigilance, the second attack could have been
averted. The nearly twenty hour gap between the first attack and the
second could have been enough to brace the public of the impending
The response by the relevant authorities in this regard is too little
and too late.
Surveillance and security
The Government later announced plans to install high tech
surveillance and security equipment at the main Rail Stations. Bus
Conductors were asked to check the baggage of passengers and civil
vigilant forces were mobilised to help them. Public were asked to limit
the size baggage. The stepped up security procedures were bound to cause
further inconvenience to the passengers, who already have enough of
their trauma the country's ramshackled bus and train service. However
that seems to be the only deterrent to avoid an impending terror attack.
STF operation in Ampara
Special Task Force, the elite counter - insurgency wing of the Police
last week overran two main LTTE camps and several satellite camps in the
jungles of Kanchidudichcharu in Amparai with minimum resistance from the
Tigers. The LTTE cadres retreated in to jungles as the Police commandos
approached the Stanley Base, the main jungle camp of the LTTE and,
later, the Janak Base, another main jungle camp. The Stanley Base is
named after the local Tiger military leader, Stanley, who was believed
to have fled the camp along with the rest of his fighters. The LTTE
initially fired several rounds of mortars from the direction of the
Janak Base as police commandos advanced towards the Stanley Base. Other
than that the Tigers gave no notable resistance. Three police commandos
were hit by anti-personnel mines. Four LTTE cadres were reported killed
in the fight for the Janak Base. Two bodies of the LTTE were also found
in an abandoned camp.
Police Commandos also recovered one H.K.LMG gun, a sniper gun, two
night vision goggle and a Generator, three motorbikes and two boats with
the logo of the International NGO, Save the Children.
The Save the Children Authorities responded that it believed the two
boats were stolen in Nasivanthivu in Feb, 2006. The INGO further stated
the AGA of the area was informed of the theft and an inquiry was lodged
at the Valachchenai Police.
There were also allegations that the INGO ZOA ran an hospital in the
Stanley Base. ZOA had not officially responded to the allegations. The
LTTE retreat in the face of advancing troops is a pointer to the growing
disarray and lowering moral in the ranks of the LTTE. But, this is also
a tactic to avoid heavier casualties at a time the LTTE manpower, as
well as fire power - in the East is in decline. Several month ago, when
the Police commandos in an earlier operation overran three jungle bases
in Kanchikudichcharu, the Tigers followed the same tactic, abandoning
the camps and regrouping later.
Police commandoes have been mobilised in the jungle crossing points
to prevent the LTTE cadres fleeing further down towards Maha Oya.
The STF operations last week is, understandably, part of the greater
plan of clearing the East of the LTTE. Though the Tigers would flee,
rather than fight the security forces, the primary objective of the STF
raid is to deny the Tigers an opportunity settle down and to regroup,
thus lowering the organisational capacity of the Tigers.