The land-and-air Tiger attack on the Anuradhapura air base has had the desired effect: it has hit the headlines more than hitting the military capability of the Security Forces. It has also shown the weaknesses of the defences of key strategic bases.
After the heavy losses incurred by the Tigers in land, air and sea the latest attack is seen as a military stunt of Prabhakaran to boost the morale of the Tamil diaspora for fund raising. He was desperately in need of a spectacular show to counter the successes of the Security Forces and he got it in Anuradhapura. It is also meant to send a signal to the international community that he can hit selected targets though at the cost of losing more cadres in a dwindling force. Ministry of Defence (MoD) claimed that 22 cadres were killed in the operation.
Pro-Tiger media outlets went to town displaying pictures of Velupillai Prabhakaran posing with the suicide squad that said to have attacked the Anuradhapura air base. MoD website displayed pictures of the dead bodies of the well armed and well trained Tigers cadres sprawled in the area. The contrasting pictures reveal that the state of play in the theatre of war. To Prabhakaran it`s a show of bravado, implying that he is alive and kicking. To the MoD it`s a demonstration of their capacity to be in control, despite a temporary set back.
The latest attack comes against a background where the Security Forces are gaining the upper hand in the battles raging in the periphery of Vanni. Reports claim that despite stiff resistance coming from accurate artillery and mortar fire from the Tigers the army had inflicted sizeable damage and has taken the upper hand in areas west of Omanthai.
Media quoted military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara as saying that their objective was not to take over territory but inflict maximum possible losses on the enemy.
`The army has committed a sizeable force to achieve what a senior Defence Ministry official called a critical `battle-field` breakthrough in the Vanni,` said a media report.
Analysts also note that the Tigers are targeting military camps and bases leaving out civilian centres. This is partly to minimize accusations of human rights violations and partly a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from their weakening position. It has not changed the military balance or given the Tigers any strategic leverage. According to military analysts, it was a daring display of Tiger fireworks for public consumption and nothing more.
The latest attack is also likely to provoke heavy attacks on the Tiger targets. The Security Forces are not likely to be stalled by this Anuradhapura incident. They are determined to close in on Killinochci. A nervous Tiger leadership is reported to be working on an exit strategy for its leaders, in case Sri Lanka Government forces succeed in overrunning the two districts ? Mullathievu and Kilinochchi. While the middle order leaders are to be slipped into India, the earlier plans for Prabhakaran and his top aides to go to South Africa has been dropped. Reliable sources state Prabhakaran will be shipped Eritrea, as Norway has done the necessary spade work.
The future scenario, according analysts, is for the Tigers to strengthen their defences in the Vanni and to go out on daring missions targeting key military centres. Their objective will be to weaken the air force and naval bases. The Tigers are expected stage another big stunt, perhaps on the Palaly military complex by air.
One of the puzzling issues in the latest attack is how the Tigers managed to break through the high security zones and reach the air force base without being noticed. There is speculation that the pre-dawn ground attack was carried out by the Tiger hardcore that fled into Wilpattu National Park after they were driven out of Silavathurai in Mannar district on September 2. There is suspicion that `Sinhala Tigers` may have helped them to get through the checkpoints.