Thursday, September 11, 2008

Racing Against the Clock: The LTTE’s Logistical Gamble

By making no serious attempt to retain the Wanni’s Western coastline in Mannar District until Nachchikuda, which has effectively crippled even minor arms shipments into rebel territory, the LTTE is gambling that it can reverse its loses in the Wanni Campaign with the supplies they currently have stockpiled. This has given them the benefit of not having to stand and fight when they don’t want to, but the cost of failure will be catastrophic to the separatist cause. Even if the LTTE does have the military capacity to eventually turn the tide of this war back to their favor and recapture lost territory, they risk losing everything on the eve of victory when they run out of critical supplies. In short, they risk a tropical El Alamein.

In World War Two, General Erwin Rommel led Germany’s Afrika Korps to the verge of victory, only to be utterly defeated due to critical supply shortages. Despite winning a string of victories from Libya to Egypt that gave him control of most of North Africa, Rommel was fighting a campaign in which he was technically the underdog. It certainly didn’t look like that at the time, but the Commonwealth Forces enjoyed far greater numbers, more supplies, and had shorter and shorter supply lines throughout Rommel’s advance, while the opposite was true for the Germans. To boot, the Germans had no real means of cutting the Allied supply lines, while the German lines were facing constant harassment from the air and the sea.

At the first and second battles of El-Alamein, this supply shortfall first prevented Rommel from breaking the back of the Allies and capturing the Nile, and later allowed the Allies to totally break his army in a counter attack the Germans didn’t have the capacity to resist.

In the Wanni, the situation is somewhat different, but does bear a striking similarity to the German high water mark in the North Africa Campaign. If the LTTE does launch a do or die counter offensive before the end, its strategy and objectives will be along the same lines as Rommel’s were at El Alamein and will face an almost identical supply crisis. They will seek to capture strategic coastal territory and large population centers in Mannar and Kilinochchi Districts, inflict heavy casualties on the Sri Lankan Army, and capture large quantities of supplies from Sri Lankan troops. The price of failure is likewise similar. If they don't achieve every one of these objectives, they will likely collapse as a conventional fighting force very quickly after their offensive is defeated or runs out of steam.

The LTTE's gamble, like Rommel's, is a race against time to win a decisive victory before supply shortages and casualties not only force them to abandon their offensive, but make further conventional resistance impossible.

The LTTE is being compressed like a spring. It is their hope that when the time is right they will rapidly expand and push back the Sri Lankan forces in a crushing victory. To ensure the maximum probability of success, the LTTE have taken special care in how they retreat. Several factors can turn a retreat from a sign of defeat into a strategy for victory. Rommel recognized these factors and was able to take advantage of them to benefit his soldiers even after conquering North Africa was no longer possible. After his defeat at El Alamein, Rommel’s objectives changed from defeating the enemy, to ensuring the maximum number of troops escape to Europe as possible. Despite the impending fall of North Africa, he was able to save a large portion of the Afrika Korps by organizing a disciplined retreat. This was Germany’s silver lining in an otherwise total defeat.

While the LTTE have been falling back ahead of a major offensive instead of at the end of one, they too have led an orderly retreat. They have retained unit cohesion for the most part, ensuring that their veteran units will be available for a future offensive. They have also kept the Sri Lankan Army at bay with minor skirmishing and minefields, just like Rommel did on the march back to Tunisia. They have even been able to boost the morale of their troops, despite the constant advance of the Sri Lankan Army, with high profile raids that usually have little or no strategic implications. The LTTE’s Air Force, for example, has become a source of pride for the rebels, despite having almost nothing to show for their efforts.

Artillery piece captured by the LTTE at Mullativu.

There is one thing the LTTE has achieved that Rommel was unable to do. The LTTE has retained most of their heavy weapons, despite losing huge swaths of territory. This will greatly benefit any committed offensive or defensive operation by giving LTTE infantry fire support that has already proven very effective in past operations.

If and when the LTTE launches their major assault, the big guns that have mostly been captured from Sri Lankan forces in the past will be used much like the recent combined assault on a Sri Lankan radar array. There, Black Tigers, LTTE regulars, artillery support, and the Air Tigers were deployed in the hopes of blinding the Sri Lankan Air Defense Network. Superior judgment by Sri Lankan troops on the front line ensured that this operation was a failure and the destruction of a rebel bomber made this attack a costly mistake for the LTTE. However, their ability to combine infantry, suicide commandoes, artillery, and air power for a single operation gives us a taste of what the LTTE offensive will look like. It will be a coordinated effort by multiple combat elements to strike well defined targets and the casualties on both sides, at least initially, should be fairly evenly balanced, if not in the LTTE’s favor.

Despite this success in preserving their forces for a major battle that they hope will turn the tide of the war, the LTTE is facing a worst-case scenario. With supply lines largely eliminated or constricted, they have only a short time to plan, launch, and win a major offensive before supply shortfalls cripple their ability to wage war. This offensive must result in the capture of large quantities of supplies and have a favorable casualty ratio to make any gains sustainable. The LTTE requires a flawlessly executed battle that may very well be the largest of the war and if they don’t get it, they will face extinction.

Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers have been used by the SLA in the past to decimate LTTE offensives.

Opposing them, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces have never been stronger. In the air, the Air Force has a large number of planes and helicopters to provide air support to soldiers on the ground. On the ground, tens of thousands of Sri Lankan troops are deployed in front line positions, and tens of thousands more wait in reserve to contain any LTTE breakout attempt. New Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers allow Sri Lankan artillery units to sterilize large areas of the combat zone with a rain of missiles that the LTTE have never successfully countered. Sri Lankan troops also enjoy secure supply lines and do not have to count on captured war materials to continue fighting.

Despite their success in preserving key military units and heavy weapons, the deck is certainly stacked against the LTTE. While they field a capable, versatile, and innovative army, they are attempting to defeat an opponent that is well led, has superior numbers, superior technology, and superior supply lines. While they can certainly promise Sri Lanka a bloody battle, the odds of a major Sri Lankan defeat are shrinking with each passing day. What is certain is that, one way or another, this war is coming to an end and the fate of Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam will be decided before the end of the year.

P.S. For a more detailed understanding of the strategies used at El Alamein and how they are being used in Sri Lanka, visit The Long Ranger's article here.

22 comments:

indeka said...

Doesnt the weather has any effect against the sl army?

E.T. Bailey said...

Indeka,

Yes, the weather at any given time, terrain, and the general climate of a war zone plays a major role in developing strategy. Certain weather conditions can make or break a military operation, or even cripple an armed force.

The Mongol Invasions of Japan, the Spanish Armada, and the invasions of Russia by Napoleon and Hitler are worst case scenario examples. An example of how climate has dictated strategy can be seen in the Sheridan tank. The thick jungles and heavy rains forced engineers to develop a tank with aluminum armor instead of steel to make it light enough to carry into battle with a helicopter, and a smaller gun to ensure greater stability when firing on unstable, water saturated ground.

TropicalStorm said...

The tank you are referring to (Sheridan) an asset fielded by SLA?

I thought SLA ony had Chinese, former USSR and some Pakistani built armor. Pls clarify.

E.T. Bailey said...

Tropicalstorm,

The Sheridan was only used by the US in combat. I think Singapore bought a few, but I doubt that they are still in service at this point. No other countries that I know of have any Sheridan tanks, unless they are museum pieces.

I mentioned the tank and its presence in Vietnam as an example of how climate can affect how an army wages war.

An example more suited to Sri Lanka might be the Type 63 amphibious light tank. I don't know how many of these Chinese tanks Sri Lanka has, but their ability to cross bodies of water make them a very useful weapon in swamp and jungle environments. Like the Sheridan though, this is achieved by sacrificing armor and firepower.

Constantin Demiris said...

What a coincidence to find the same El-alamein by Bailey and the Ranger, but different aspects of course! Are you two working for the same organisation? Just kiddin!

And et Bailey, keep up the good work. Just added your blog to my favourites.

Mango, Ranger and Bailey,

This plagiarism is quite serious. This weerakoon fellow has basically done a cut paste job on Bailey's article. Thats just day light robbery.

I dont know how you confront such individuals, but emailing the bottomline people with the original links is a good start I guess.

We have to stop these people hijacking such good pieces of work.

What do others suggest?

Shan said...

Mr ET Bailey

read your post on Long Rangers blog re: plagiarism and your material in the bottomline - I posted the following...

i am in publishing and have dealt with some infringements not the same but what i did might help

in our case it was translations without rights and we had the copyright owner/agent write to the publisher. it worked, really did and the books were taken off the shelves.

I suggest you write to the publisher/editor of bottomline showing him the parralels. this will expose him and force him not to plagiarise or at the least will force the guy to credit the original writer.

the week before it was defencewire's material plagiarised.
so some actio is neccassary

E.T. Bailey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.T. Bailey said...

Constantin,

Thank ye kindly. I'm really happy how Long Ranger's and my articles complemented each other. I hope things like that happen again some time.

As for Weerakoon, I will be emailing his employer shortly. I hope this is resolved quickly and easily.

su said...

Mr Bailey,
Can you please give the web address of the site you are currently writting to...
(Srilanka Guardian you said but I couldnt find it)

By the way, it seems You are beginning to understand the Media Freedom in Sri lanka!!
;o)
Keep up the Good Work!

E.T. Bailey said...

Su,

Sri Lanka Guardian can be found at www.srilankaguardian.org

I've got my own little column in the top right corner that shows my latest article. If you search for "Eric Bailey" and "E.T.Bailey" it will provide a list of the articles that they have from me. I skipped this week because I've been sick, but next week I should have a new article that I'll probably post here too.

Chandhima said...

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the article which was really interesting.

My understanding is that the gains so far have been hard fought and not exactly a retreat, though the LTTE didn't put up as much concentrated resistance as I thought they would.

But with the casualties that the Tigers have taken (approx 6500 this year alone) do they still have the capability to mount a serious counter attack? Or have they passed the point where any counter offensive is possible due to lack of skilled driven troops?

Shan said...

Mr Bailey (in lighter vein maybe i'll call you ET)

any response to your mail to 'the bottomine' they ought to.

BTW, time for an update mate

E.T. Bailey said...

Chandhima,

Given the LTTE's refusal to deploy veteran units until relatively recently in the campaign, and their unwillingness to stand and fight for a great many towns and strategic locations, I see the fighting from the start of the Wanni Offensive up to the fall of Vellankulam as more of a rear guard action. The LTTE's assumed strategy is referred to as an "in depth defense." This means that they will willingly retreat from the SLA until they are prepared to engage in a major battle. Given the situation in Kilinochchi, this should be occurring very soon.

Regarding casualties, I take claims by both sides with a grain of salt. In a previous article I also talked about how most of the LTTE's recent losses have been of little consequence to them as they were drafted to counter the very attrition strategy that killed them, leaving the LTTE no worse off than before. So given all of that, I think the LTTE's forces have held up better than many seem to think. So yes, I think they have the strength left to give Sri Lanka one hell of a fight.

E.T. Bailey said...

Shan,

Many people in my family call me that so by all means join them. You are getting the idea about the movie, right?

Yes they emailed me back. I told them what had happened and they tried to blow me off with an apology and nothing more. After pressing them they said that they would delete the email, which they never did and they are now not returning my emails. I suppose I'll just have to live with the fact that unethical media sources will be stealing from me and other original writers.

I have a new article on the Sri Lanka Guardian that I will be posting here just as soon as I can get Google's code to cooperate.

Shan said...

Mr Bailey

you've tried. Living here i have more effective and unconventional but professional ways of dealing with these - which unfortunatley you cannot, it's highway robbery, whether they steal your money or your knowledge and talent.

nonetheless, this guy cannot continue plagiarising, you've exposed him to the editors and so have and will others.

good luck mate.

Shan said...

your recnt article in Sri Lanka Guardian is quite a departure from your post here. You say here that the LTTE is still capable of fighting back and their trained cadres and units are still intact, which you reconfirm in your response to chandhima on 12th.

in Sri Lanka Guradina you are now looking at post LTTE rehab. It does mean to me that you have conceded that LTTE cannot save themselves and will be totaly defaeted shortly. I do also gather wat you say about the cadres after the battle and the families but that is all post battle

E.T. Bailey said...

Shan,

I've come to terms with the fact that The Bottom Line has no ethical compass and cares nothing for a respect of intellectual property. Since there is nothing more I can do about it, I figure I'll just drop it until someone steals another article of mine. I suppose there are worse things than having a paid journalist turn to me for their material.

I plan to post that article here soon, but I've been having a God awful time getting Google's code to work right. I've got font size issues and all sorts of other problems that get in my way whenever I try to post here.

Yes it is a different topic than I'm used to, but that was at the request of the Sri Lanka Guardian editor. he wanted a social issues article and I chose the specific article.

I've always been of the opinion that the LTTE will ultimately be defeated unless there is a major intervention by an outside power like Europe, the US, or India. I do feel that the LTTE is still capable of winning a battle or two, and is certainly able to give the Sri Lankan military a bloody nose for their efforts, but the war has been lost for a couple of years now. Most wars are decided long before the last shots are fired. Nothing the LTTE can do on the battlefield can change their fate now. Only politicians can do that.

E.T. Bailey said...

I do, however, urge the military not to under estimate the LTTE's military capabilities. They are strong enough to cause some serious hurt to the SLA if they get the chance and while I don't think they can win the war, they are still a force to be reckoned with. I respect their past and current military capacity and skill and the military would be foolish not to feel the same way.

where is justice? said...

http://www.vakthaa.tv/play.php?vid=2180


et bailey, a texas redneck ku klux klan republican 16-year old fella is makin pocket money in gap year by becoming a self-proclaimed ' DEFENCE ANALYST' and got himself hired to write anti-tamil articles by sinhalas. may ur bloodmoney carry its curse of innocents,,

E.T. Bailey said...

Aww, my first hate mail, shucks folks you like me, you really like me! I wouldn't have believed six months ago that people half way around the world would be having tantrums about me.

Try again on my age, but by no means give up!

I totally am a Klan member. It's only natural for a white supremacist to have an opinion on a conflict between brown people that in no way affects his own country. How could that possibly not make sense?

If you're offering to pay me, come out and say it, otherwise, you're a tease! Nobody likes a tease, so pay up and I'll write you a story. You'd certainly be the first to offer me a paid job though.

This is adorable!

asatrash said...

What do you think about the following article. It compares our battle against LTTE with battle in Stalingrad.
Link

E.T. Bailey said...

Asatrash,

The concerns expressed in that article are not ones I share, at least not to the same extent. I feel the writer greatly underestimates the resolve of the military and the Sri Lankan people to end this war once and for all.

Militarily, there is no comparing Kilinochchi to Stalingrad, in either a tactical or strategic sense. Other than the fact that there is a significant regional city being fought for, there is nothing similar between the battles.

I am also not very impressed with the article's simplistic explanation of the Taliban, or its concentration on totally impossible scenarios as some sort of proof that the LTTE is going to be able to fight Sri Lanka to a draw. I feel like the writer is either unclear about what he's writing about, or trying to simplify the issues to such an extreme that factual accuracy becomes compromised.

Talking about how unlikely it is that the Pakistanis or Chinese will come to the aid of Sri Lanka, and then using those obvious facts as some sort of proof that the LTTE will survive this war is ridiculous. We could likewise state that the Sri lankan Army will not be defeated because the LTTE will not develop nuclear weapons, but since the very idea of the LTTE splitting the atom is fanciful, this technically correct fact remains meaningless.

In short, there isn't much I agree with in that article and I don't think the Sri Lankan people should be expecting the course of the war to reverse.