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Kilinochchi: The Kiss Of Death

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"Kilinochchi within kissing distance".


So said the disinformation warriors of Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka, the Sri Lankan Army Commander, more than a week ago.

It has been a long and fatal kiss--more for the Army than for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It has been a long kiss of death for the young hastily-trained Sinhalese recruits to the Sri Lankan Army who were rushed to the battle front by the General in his keenness to keep his promise of  “In Kilinochchi before the New Year”.

Similar to the promise which Gen.Douglas McArthur, commanding the allied troops in South Korea during the Korean war, repeatedly made to the US troops fighting against the North Korean and Chinese Armies.

"To home before Christmas", he used to promise.

Christmas came and Christmas went, but the North Koreans and the Chinese fought fiercely. McArthur's promises were repeatedly belied.'Which Christmas?" people started asking sarcastically.

Ultimately, there were neither victors nor losers in the war. It ended in a stalemate after the loss of thousands of lives on both sides.

In bitter fighting on the outskirts of Kilinochchi since the beginning of this week, the SL Army and the LTTE have sustained heavy casualties. As normally happens in military conflicts, both sides are playing down their own casualties and exaggerating those of the adversary. However, the claims of the LTTE seem to be nearer the truth than those of the Army.

The LTTE claims to have killed 170 soldiers of the SL Army, but the Army insists that only 25 of its soldiers have been killed. However, the LTTE has been able to release the photographs of at least 36 soldiers killed, thereby proving that the fatalities sustained by the Army are many more than the 25 admitted by it.

Reliable accounts show that both sides have been fighting fiercely and losing many young people. The Army has lost many more arms and ammunition and other equipment than the LTTE. The fighting has been a bonanza for the LTTE, which has been able to replenish its dwindling stocks of arms and ammunition.

The odds are still against the LTTE. It has well-trained and well-motivated cadres, who have been fighting with great determination, but it is running short of arms and ammunition despite the seizures from the Army. It has no air cover against the repeated air strikes by the Sri Lankan Air Force.

The SL Army has the advantage of numbers and arms and ammunition procured with funds from China and Iran, but its soldiers are not as well-motivated and as well-trained as those of the LTTE.

The LTTE had shifted its offices from Kilinochchi many weeks ago in anticipation of the battle. Kilinochchi has now nothing but the death traps for the SL Army laid by the LTTE. The LTTE knows where those death-traps are, but not the Army. This gives an advantage to the LTTE.

The battle being fought for Kilinochchi is a combined miniature version of the battles of Stalingrad in the erstwhile USSR and El Alamein in North Africa. At Stalingrad, the Soviet Army beat back the Nazis after inflicting repeated heavy casualties on them. At El Alamein, the allied troops commanded by Gen. Bernard Montgomery (later a Field Marshal) beat back the advancing Nazi Army commanded by Gen.Rommel with heavy casualties. These two battles marked the turning points in the Second World War.

Making a statement on the defeat of Rommel's army at El Alamein, Sir Winston Churchill, the then British Prime Minister, told the House of Commons: " There was no victory before Al Alamein. There will be no defeat after El Alamein." He was proved right.

Will Kilinochchi prove a similar turning point in the battle being fought between the SL Army and the LTTE? If the LTTE loses the battle, it could mark the beginning of its end as an insurgent force, but not as a terrorist organisation. If the SL Army wins, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. 

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai

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