That the beleaguered Tigers are desperate is only too well known. But, yesterday's terror strike on two vessels upon which the Jaffna peninsula is dependent for the supply of essential commodities, especially food, was no act of desperation to gain a short term boost for the sagging morale of the LTTE cadres in the Vanni. It bore the marks of a well calculated move aimed at a long term politico-military impact.
Prabhakaran may have succeeded in pulling the wool over the ageing eyes of veteran Tamil Nadu politicians like Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi by treating them to an overdose of diabolical lies on the humanitarian situation in the Vanni. It has now been revealed that the LTTE distributed CDs containing a documentary with stage-managed scenes full of gory and woe to hoodwink Indian politicians and jolt them into launching anti-Sri Lankan protests. The DMK even threatened to pull out of the ruling coalition.
But, if the latest reports emanating from India are any indication, there are signs of the pugnacious DMK bigwigs getting cold feet. It is believed that Chief Minister Karunanidhi is likely to extend the deadline for his grand pullout. They seem to have realised that Sri Lanka's situation is not so bad as it has been made out to be.
The LTTE, therefore, has to give a fresh impetus to the Tamil Nadu protest campaign by doing something to bolster its claim of scarcities affecting Tamil civilians in the North. In the Vanni, it has failed to disrupt supplies. Targeting WFP convoys is the last thing it needs at this hour as it does not want to lose its underdog status which is essential to invoke international sympathy. This may explain why the outfit turned to cargo ships hired by the government.
It is being argued that the LTTE may have mistaken the two ships for troop carriers. In 2006, it made two abortive attempts to blow up vessels transporting military personnel on leave in the eastern seas. The Navy fought valiantly and managed to repulse those attacks. However, the LTTE hardly makes mistakes when it comes to costly suicide attacks. It may have received a severe battering but it still possesses sufficient intelligence to distinguish a troop carrier from a cargo ship. The LTTE made no mistake yesterday!
Had the LTTE accomplished its mission, its victory would have served more than one purpose for it. The incident would led to a protracted delay in replenishing supplies. Most of all, insurance premiums would have shot up overnight. A morale booster for the LTTE combatants trapped in the Vanni would have been an additional benefit for Prabhakaran.
Yesterday's attack harked back to the LTTE's plan to cut off the northern peninsula by taking cover behind a truce. Having failed to take Jaffna back in 2000, the LTTE used the CFA it had signed with the UNF government to create conditions necessary for laying siege to that town.
The LTTE’s strategy was clear, though the government at that time chose to ignore the threat as it was making a lot of political mileage out of the absence of war which it marketed as 'peace'. The LTTE surreptitiously moved big guns to areas south of Trincomalee so that it would be able to cripple the harbour there with artillery fire when the time was ripe. The Palaly airstrip had also been brought within the range of LTTE cannon. The Sea Tigers were well equipped and their morale was very high to wreak havoc on the sea routes. (Prabhakaran, it may be recalled, boasted that the final battle for Eelam would be fought in the sea.)
The LTTE took delivery of shiploads of arms, got a great deal of legitimacy for its cause by taking peace talks round the world and waited patiently till time was opportune for the implementation of its plan. That was to unleash hell on Trincomalee and Palaly simultaneously and cut off supplies. The Sea Tigers were tasked with targeting the vessels sailing to Jaffna on other routes. The LTTE also planned to block the KKS harbour by sinking ships inside it.
Had the LTTE managed to implement that plan, thousands of troops would have been trapped in Jaffna and the government left with no alternative but to ferry them across to Colombo. Perhaps, India, which had offered ships to evacuate troops from Jaffna in 2000, when Colombo desperately asked for MBRLs to stop the marauding Tigers, would have repeated the offer.
But, the LTTE plan went awry due to the foresight of a true statesman. The late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar not only realised the threat but also campaigned hard to ward it off. He alerted the military, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the media to a possible terror strike.
The knee jerk reaction of the UNF government was to issue not-so-veiled threats that Mr. Kadirgamar would be thrown out of his official residence and his security reduced unless he fell in line!
Luckily, the LTTE could not achieve its objective of recapturing Jaffna, due to a change of government in 2004. Accuracy of Minister Kadirgamar's prediction became clear when the LTTE successfully trained its heavy guns on the Trincomalee harbour and Palaly after war resumed in 2006 and mounted daring yet abortive attacks on troop carriers on two occasions. This country owes a big thank you to Kadir posthumously.
Today, there is no threat of supplies to the North being cut off with terror attacks, as the Navy has debilitated the Sea Tigers and is dominating the seas. But, the outfit is still capable of targeting vessels carrying troops and cargo, as manifest in its suicidal offensives. The terrorists, it is said, have to be lucky only once.
The Indian government, which has expressed grave concern over the situation in the Vanni must take up yesterday's attack with its Tamil Nadu allies and solicit their help to restrain their pet Tigers.