Collapse of LTTE

On May 18th Srilankan government announced the elimination of LTTE leadership and the end of the war. After denials and procrastination , LTTE international secretariat(KP) announced that LTTE leader Prabhaharan has been killed in combat with Srilankan troops. 

How did an organisation known for it's efficiency and capability (FBI rated LTTE as the most capable guerrilla organisation in the world) through out the world collapse like a pack of cards? In order to understand  the collapse of the LTTE we have to look at the origins of LTTE and its' development.

Over the last six decades Tamils in Srilanka has been complaining about discrimination under the majority Sinhalese government. In 1970 Srilankan government introduced language based standardisation of admission marks to the University. This was an act of blatant discrimination. This act led to mass protests by Tamil student community in North and East of the Island and led to the formation of an organisation called Thamil Manavar Peravai (TMP). TMP led the protests against standardisation and formed an armed unit which carried out attacks against pro government politicians or state targets. By 1974 TMP was suppressed and led to breakup into some armed units. Almost all of them went to India and established themselves within Tamil nadu state.  Almost all the members of units were originally from Valvettithurai which served as an exit point for the sea route from Srilanka to India. One such person was Prabhaharan. Prabaharan was inducted into armed struggle by his cousins Thangathurai  and Sothy. Sothy gave him basic training in the use of firearms. Subsequently Prabaharan left them and formed his organisation which was called Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam (LTTE). 

One of the first operations carried out by LTTE was the assassination of Pro government Mayor of Jaffna , Alfred Thuraiappa. This assassination was personally carried out by Prabhaharan. All the assassins except Prabhaharan were later arrested. 

In 1977 parliamentary elections Tamil political party Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) won all the Tamil seats in North and East. It won the elections on the platform  a separate state for Tamils in Srilanka called Thamil Eelam. It's leader Amirthalingam and some other leaders  were very close to LTTE to the extent that Tamil people in Srilanka believed that TULF was guiding LTTE. However after the 1977 elections gap widened between TULF and LTTE as the former believed totally in parliamentary politics and LTTE believed totally in armed struggle. In 1978 LTTE eliminated the most senior Srilankan intelligence agent in North East and publicly claimed it's action. It was only after this incident LTTE was known to the world . From 1977 to 1983 there were series of communal riots in Srilanka where minority tamils were persecuted. These riots created more recruits for LTTE and other Tamil militant organisations.At this juncture two other major developments impacting LTTE took place.  First development was the Indian government support to LTTE and other militant organisations. India started training and arming LTTE and other organisations. Although India controlled all the militant organisations it's control over LTTE was limited. Other development was the influx of cadres from Eastern province into LTTE after a series of communal riots in Trincomalee District.  Previously LTTE was a purely Northern (Jaffna) based organisation. However the induction of cadres from east such as Charles Antony , Sittampalam and  Aruna who were battle hardened defending tamil villages in Trincomalee district brought quality and capability. Until his death Charles Antony was the commander of LTTE in Srilanka while Prabaharan lived in Tamil nadu.  LTTE previously was limited to attacking intelligence agents and pro government politicians was now able to attack army patrols and military posts. By 1986 LTTE was able to establish semi conventional war capability while retaining it's guerrilla war fare capability. They retained impregnable rear bases in Mullaitivu and Kudumbimalai  in the Eastern Batticaloa district. 

In 1987 India government intervened in Srilanka with the so called peace keeping mission. LTTE refused to cooperate with Indian government and war ensued between LTTE and Indian forces. LTTE retreated from urban areas to it's rear bases in Mullaitivu and Kudumbimalai and carried on with guerrilla warfare against Indian forces. Indian forces suffered massive casualties and withdrew from Srilanka in 1990 . Subsequently LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi who as the prime minister  ordered the Indian intervention in Srilanka. Indian government which was previously  protector and supporter of LTTE has turned into a lethal enemy determined to destroy LTTE .

After Indian forces withdrew from Srilanka war ensued between LTTE and Srilankan forces. LTTE was forced to withdraw to it's rear bases. By now the majority of it's cadres were from Eastern province specifically Batticaloa and Trincomalee. They formed the core of LTTE's most capable conventional forces Jayanthan regiment. This regiment was loyal to Col Karuna . Karuna was also the commander of LTTE forces in East. Other major regiment was Charles Antony regiment made up of cadres from Jaffna which contributed second largest contingent. A point of note is that although eastern province tamils were much smaller in number than Jaffna tamils they constituted the majority of LTTE's conventional forces.

In 1999 LTTE launched a counter offensive from it's rear base in Mullaitivu. Offensive was led by Karuna. Srilankan armed forces collapsed rapidly. LTTE forces led by Jayanthan regiment recaptured Elephant pass and advanced into Jaffna peninsula. At this point India threatened to intervene militarily against LTTE . LTTE and Srilankan forces agreed to ceasefire mediated by Norway. Ceasefire came to effect in 2002.

At this point LTTE has transformed from a guerrilla force into semi conventional force. It had it's own navy and territory in North & east. After ceasefire LTTE established trappings of a state in the areas it controlled in North and East. It set up it's own administration and collected taxes. It had it's own police force . Western governments started paying homage to the LTTE headquarters with the constant stream of dignitaries from west. LTTE leadership started seeing themselves as heads of state. Slowly LTTE military leadership transformed from being "boys" as affectionately called by Tamils into an elitist  typical  third world conventional force. They started living a luxurious life style while the cadres were kept in camps and had to undergo major difficulties. In addition the leadership also lost touch with the people and incurred the wrath of the Tamil middle classes with taxation and forced recruitment drives. After the ceasefire Tamil people in the North and east wanted peace and wanted to build up their lives after twenty years of continuous war and destruction. LTTE leadership instead making use of peace to qualitatively build the lives of Tamil people was involved in procrastinating and posturing. Tamil people no longer saw them as their defenders but as part of the problem. In the meantime Srilankan government was steadily  rebuilding it's forces .Command and control structures were streamlined and promotions were done on merit than on pure nepotism. Srilankan forces participated in internationl peace keeping missions such as in Haiti.  In addition Srilankan army behaved professionally winning hearts and minds of the Tamil people under their control especially in Jaffna. Their relationship with ordinary people Jaffna improved. As one of the former JVP leader in 1971 put it aptly Jaffna people are not capitalist but capitalist minded. As far as people of Jaffna were concerned the war has ended and saw no need to send their children as recruits to LTTE. LTTE being purely military organisation never tried to politically educate people. It's petty bourgeoisie foundations meant that it paid very little attention to political education. By 2004 recruitment from Jaffna peninsula dried up. In addition any cadres sent by LTTE to Jaffna peninsula to carry out sabotage activities were many cases betrayed by the local population.

In the East there was another crisis brewing up for LTTE. Traditionally there has been much distrust between North and east. Northern tamils specifically Jaffna middle classes looked down on easterners as inferior to them .They occupied jobs in east and treated the local people with disdain. While the war was going on this issue was pushed under carpet and a secondary contradiction . But with peace this issue started hotting up. As Tamils thought that they were now living in separate state easterners(specifically middle classes) saw that the Northerners are dominating them. This also led to cleavage in the LTTE. Prabaharan and the top LTTE leadership never visited East after the ceasefire. Eastern commanders were managed from North . Karuna who was the most senior and brilliant LTTE commander during the war was left in east to his own devices. Learning from past experiences when Prabaharn eliminated any threats to his leadership Karuna built his own loyalists in the East. In addition both indian and srilankan intelligence agencies established contact with Karuna. Breakup came in 2005 when Karuna refused to go to North for an inquiry by Prabaharan on his conduct. He broke away from LTTE with the majority of Jeyanthan regiment. By 2005 LTTE could not recruit voluntarily any new cadres from Jaffna or East. In addition military leadership was getting older and no longer fit for any battle. 

Although LTTE looked very impressive to outside world and carried out still spectacular suicide attacks against Government politicians (in spite of ceasefire) internally it was collapsing as a military force. It has lost it's best regiment due to Karuna's defection to the government. It was not gaining any new recruits and forced to recruit at gunpoint. People were hiding their children and feared LTTE more than the government forces.

LTTE leadership was over confident about  their military prowess. Commanders were boasting that they will overrun Jaffna in a day if the war breaks out. It's leadership was confident that their new Western friends will support and protect them. This myth was further perpetuated by the Tamil Diaspora. With the death of LTTE chief ideologue Anton Balasingham, there was nobody telling them the reality especially after 9/11. U.S and western governments were secretly rearming Srilankan government. 

By 2006 Srilankan armed forces were ready for battle. Karuna has given them the all the intelligence they needed. He has given all the information about LTTE's rear bases , deployments , key second rung leadership , supply routes etc. 

LTTE in over confidence initiated the battle in August 2006. It's first attempt to overrun Jaffna ended dismally with massive losses. It's attempt to overrun eastern sri lankan army bases also failed.

After absorbing LTTE's offensive Srilankan forces started counter offensive in multiple fronts. Srilankan special forces ambushed and killed key LTTE second rung leaders who were identified by Karuna. Srilankan navy with intelligence information from India destroyed more than 7 LTTE ocean going supply ships. These supply ships were carrying anti aircraft guns and missiles which LTTE desperately needed. With logistics destroyed LTTE had not protection from air attacks. Air attacks destroyed LTTE's supply lines.  Srilankan forces started on a well planned campaign to recapture east. First they captured Trincomalee district and severed the link between North and east. Then they captured the east including LTTE's rear base in Kudumbimalai. This is the first time in LTTE's history that Kudumbimalai was lost. At this point LTTE should have realised the futility of the conventional war and reverted guerrilla warfare or gone for a ceasefire and negotiations. Instead LTTE carried on with the conventional war. In addition by moving civilians with them when they retreated civilians were made cannon fodder. LTTE leadership thought that western countries will intervene to protect them. They also placed lots of confidence on Tamil nadu politicians hoping that they will apply pressure on Indian government to intervene on their behalf. None  of these happened. When Srilankan forces started it's Northern campaign they first captured LTTE rear bases in Mullaitivu  before advancing into urban areas. As such LTTE did not have a rear base to retreat . Although Srilankan forces suffered major casualities in LTTE counter attacks it could sustain the number due to the number ratio and high morale.   LTTE leadership withdrew into narrow area with the civilian population hoping that civilian casualties will force foreign intervention. Rajapaksa government was relentless and carried on with the offensive. Not a single government intervened and LTTE leadership was wiped out.

Thus collapse of LTTE was due to multiple miscalculations by LTTE leadership primarily Prabhaharan.  Main reasons behind the collapse are as follows.

  1. LTTE lost the support of Tamil people in Srilanka . In fact Tamil people were literally happy to see the end of LTTE. This is a far cry from the times when the people affectionately called them as "boys".
  2. LTTE was isolated internationally with either countries working against it or standing neutral. For example in spite of the their own rivalry all major powers US, Russia, China and India helped Srilankan forces.
  3. LTTE was so much focused on getting the support of West and Tamil Nadu . LTTE made no attempt at all in winning the support of Sinhalese community in the South. Left movement in Srilanka was sympathetic to  and many occasions championed the Tamil's struggle. During the ceasefire LTTE could have built an alliance with Left movement in South. On the other hand LTTE's actions during and after ceasefire basically alienated the entire sinhalese community.
  4. India provided much needed intelligence and logistics support for Srilankan forces. LTTE military communication was monitored by Indian agencies and was provided to Srilankan forces.
  5. Srilankan forces were highly professional and ran a well planned and effective campaign under very capable leadership.
  6. LTTE lost it's conventional war capability after Karuna's defection and loss of eastern cadres.
  7. Without any air protection LTTE lost the conventional war in East. It should have immediately reverted to guerrilla warfare and defended it's rear base in Mullaitivu . Instead it was defending urban areas and places of symbolic value.

CPI (Maoist) gave the following analysis of LTTE defeat..

"The experience of LTTE's setback in Sri Lanka is very important to study and take lessons. The mistake of the LTTE lay in its lack of study of the changes in enemy tactics and capabilities and an underestimation of the enemy along with an overestimation of its own forces and capabilities"

In similar situations in other countries movements have acted more sensibly. For example FARC in Colombia had a ceasefire with the government. Similar to LTTE they ran a virtual state. However when ceasefire collapsed and well prepared government forces advanced FARC suffered casualties and lost part of it's leadership. However it retained it's  rear bases and withdrew to them after putting up inital resistance.

Similarly in Gaza and Lebanon both Hamas and Hezbollah are running virtual states. However they have retained the popular support and could with stand Israeli aggression.

With the entire  first tier internal LTTE leadership wiped out who will be in the collective leadership referred to by KP in the official statement. Alternatively we have to look at who has survived the disaster. First we have to look at the military structure.

There are three commanders in the east who are still surviving . They are Colonels Ram , Jeyaram  and Nagulan They are respectively commanders of Amparai and Batticaloa. Colonel Ram is the most senior of the three and has underground structures in Amparai jungles.

Karuna who is now a minister in Srilankan government has stated that  Colonel Ram has escaped to Malaysia.

 If we now look at the political structure

First person is one of the most senior and most low profile member of the central committee "Baby" Subramanium. Baby was one of the founder members of TMP and was also involved with LTTE since it's inception.  Baby always had good relations with other Tamil groups and was considered a broadminded unifier. However reports from Srilanka state that Baby is under the government custody.

Another person to note is the former political commissar "Yogi"who was sidelined after the Indian intervention. However he has been active again in the past few years and said to be still alive and in the army camp. Balakumar is another political leader in the army custody.

Internally a residual LTTE will remain and carry on with guerrilla warfare They can survive  in the East and Vanni as Sinhala colonisation issues still remain.

Abroad LTTE will focus on diplomatic efforts. Under KP's leadership LTTE will wage a diplomatic effort to win the support of western countries for the a separate tamil state. If Srilankan government take an inflexible approach it will lose the support of the west  . Already western countries are angered by Government's actions during the last days of war specifically it's refusal to accept LTTE's surrender to a third party. Furthermore facts are emerging that Government forces murdered  some of the LTTE leaders after Western countries negotiated their surrender.

First signs are that the new LTTE leadership is reaching out to other Tamil organisations who were sidelined by LTTE. This will help LTTE to build a broad coalition of Tamil parties in Diaspora. At the same time India will try to build it's own coalition of Tamil parties within Srilanka based around organisations trained by RAW (Indian intelligence service).This coalition will fight for a solution based on 13th amendment which was the result of India Srilanka pact of 1987 after indian intervention.

Recent statements from residual LTTE leadership indicate that there is a major rethink of strategy. Efforts are being made to identify the causes of the disaster and to focus on Political strategy. These statements indicate that focus will be to carry a political struggle with the support of international organisations.

However the arrest of KP and his interrogation in the hands of Srilankan security means that LTTE will not be functioning as an organisation for some period of time

As for the future of Tamil politics in Srilanka it is clear that armed politics have come to a dead end. Tamil people in North and East are fed up with Tamil political organisations armed or not. Credibility of all the political organisations is very low. Tamil people will focus very much on the economic development and the political struggle will take a back seat. Government has embarked on economic development activities. Opening of the rail link to North is one of these activities. Once the rail and road links are  open trade between North and South will increase to the benefit of the people in the North.Once the economy is revived then the political struggle will commence. For the tamils in Srilanka the first priority is economic revival and survival.

Updated 19th October 2009.

Interview with CPI(Maoist) supreme leader Mupalla Laxman Rao (Ganapathy)

Q What are the reasons for the setback suffered by the LTTE in Sri Lanka?

A There is no doubt that the movement for a separate sovereign Tamil Eelam has suffered a severe setback with the defeat and considerable decimation of the LTTE. The Tamil people and the national liberation forces are now leaderless. However, the Tamil people at large continue to cherish nationalist aspirations for a separate Tamil homeland. The conditions that gave rise to the movement for Tamil Eelam, in the first place, prevail to this day. The Sinhala-chauvinist Sri Lankan ruling classes can never change their policy of discrimination against the Tamil nation, its culture, language, etcetera. The jingoistic rallies and celebrations organised by the government and Sinhala chauvinist parties all over Sri Lanka in the wake of Prabhakaran’s death and the defeat of the LTTE show the national hatred for Tamils nurtured by Sinhala organisations and the extent to which the minds of ordinary Sinhalese are poisoned with such chauvinist frenzy.

The conspiracy of the Sinhala ruling classes in occupying Tamil territories is similar to that of the Zionist rulers of Israel. The land-starved Sinhala people will now be settled in Tamil areas. The entire demography of the region is going to change. The ground remains fertile for the resurgence of the Tamil liberation struggle.

Even if it takes time, the war for a separate Tamil Eelam is certain to revive, taking lessons from the defeat of the LTTE. By adopting a proletarian outlook and ideology, adopting new tactics and building the broadest united front of all nationalist and democratic forces, it is possible to achieve the liberation of the oppressed Tamil nation [in
Sri Lanka]. Maoist forces have to grow strong enough to provide leadership and give a correct direction and anti-imperialist orientation to this struggle to achieve a sovereign People’s Democratic Republic of Tamil Eelam. This alone can achieve the genuine liberation of the Tamil nation in Sri Lanka.

Q Is it true that you received military training from the LTTE initially?

A No. It is not a fact. We had clarified this several times in the past.

Q But, one of your senior commanders has told me that some senior cadre of the erstwhile PWG did receive arms training and other support from the LTTE.

A Let me reiterate, there is no relation at all between our party and the LTTE. We tried several times to establish relations with the LTTE but its leadership was reluctant to have a relationship with Maoists in India. Hence, there is no question of the LTTE giving training to us. In spite of it, we continued our support to the struggle for Tamil Eelam. However, a few persons who had separated from the LTTE came into our contact and we took their help in receiving initial training in the last quarter of the 1980s.


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