Why Prabhakaran became so concerned about SAARC all of a sudden and declared a unilateral ceasefire must now be clear to one and all, given the damage the LTTE has suffered during the past few days. That he could have avoided that, had the government agreed to his truce, is clear. In the past, he had managed to lure governments into truce traps and make them fight war according to his timetable. When he wanted war, he waged it and when he wanted time to regroup and rearm, he sued for peace. Thus, the conflict came to be punctuated by ceasefires at almost regular intervals, as we argued the other day.
By 2006, Prabhakaran had taken delivery of nearly a dozen shiploads of arms under the cover of a ceasefire, according to his erstwhile commander Karuna. Confident that he had enough firepower and cadres, a ceasefire-weary Prabhakaran threw down the gauntlet at Mavil Aru.
Prabhakaran may have expected the government to stop at fighting for Mavil Aru, as had been the case earlier on, so that he could drive the army away. But, that move proved to be a huge military miscalculation on his part. He let the genie out of the bottle.
Today, the LTTE is doing exactly what the army did in 1999 and 2000 in the North-running for dear life. In 1999, a series of LTTE offensives launched with the help of newly acquired small MBRLs, among other things, were so intense that the army vacated places like Oddusudan, Nedunkerni etc. in no time. Camps were crumbling like a pack of cards and the PA government did not know how to put the brakes on the LTTE`s military onslaught. The biggest debacle came in 2000, when the army lost its sprawling military complex at Elephant Pass with its big guns. The march of the LTTE had all the trappings of a cakewalk. Prabhakaran`s boys and girls reached the outskirts of Jaffna, where the army was trapped. The government did frantic shopping for arms. MBRLs were rushed from Pakistan posthaste and the Tigers stopped in their tracks.
Today, the Tigers are in a far worse predicament than the army was in 1999/2000. The army had a fallback position. In Jaffna it had about 35,000 well equipped troops. What is really staring the Tigers in their face is the fate that befell the troops trapped in the Mullaitivu camp, which was first encircled and then wiped out in 1996. Twelve years after the fall of Mullativu, on Thursday, the Navy went up to one kilometre off that place to conduct a daring raid in a show of strength.
Encirclement has a devastating impact on the morale of any military outfit. Although the LTTE still has some room left for manoeuvre, its defences are being demolished and supply routes severed. The army`s offensive to regain Mullaitivu is a frightening proposition for the LTTE, which has lost its main sea supply route and many Sea Tiger bases on the North-western coast.
The LTTE is getting beaten at its own game. The army is using its deep penetration units very effectively and the Navy deploying a large number of small craft in raids like the one on Thursday. The army long rangers became such a threat to the LTTE that the Norwegian-crafted CFA signed in 2002 had a special section debarring deep penetration operations. By that time, the army had successfully targeted the LTTE leadership. It even accounted for Prabhakaran`s right hand man, `Col.` Shankar. That attack prompted the LTTE leaders to curtail their movements and confine themselves to underground bunkers! After the signing of the CFA, the UNF government had the Athurugiriya safe house of the long rangers raided, where all their operations were planned and their weapons stored. That exposure led to the decimation of the unit at the hands of the LTTE, which also hunted down all the intelligence operatives. Now, the army long rangers are working in many parts of the Wanni again, taking as they do the Tigers by surprise.
The biggest worry of the LTTE, however, is the prospect of Kilinochchi `exploding`. In 1995, when the army closed in on Jaffna, the LTTE engineered an exodus from that township so that they could flee, taking cover behind a human shield, to Kilinochchi, where people were taken at gun point. Jaffna remained a ghost town for sometime but later people began to return.
When the Tigers find it difficult to defend Kilinochchi, they are sure to try their old tactics. But, this time around, the LTTE will have to face a very hostile populace, against whom it has perpetrated many crimes-abductions, killings, extortion, forcible conscription of children, men and women, including the old. Civilians who have been trained as auxiliaries are not psychologically or physically fit to fight an advancing army. They are sure to desert, given half a chance thus compelling the LTTE to resort to violence to make them fall in line. This is likely to ignite a rebellion in the Wanni.
Karuna, who is au fait with the LTTE`s military capability, has opined that the fall of Kilinochchi is imminent and Prabhakaran is fighting a losing battle. In the past, he has said, he used to take combatants from the East to help the Wanni leadership fight the army. Prabhakaran no longer gets reinforcements from the East.
Prabhakaran has no one to blame for his woes but himself. He, blinded by hubris, caused the 2002 ceasefire to be abrogated. Like Icarus, he chose to fly too close to the sun which melted his waxen wings. He keeps flapping his bare arms, thinking he is still winged!