Attrition: The Bloody End in Sri Lanka

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August 25, 2007: After 24 years and over 70,000 dead, the Sri Lankan civil war is approaching its end. The LTTE separatist rebels still have a population of nearly 500,000 Tamils under its control in the north (out of a total Sri Lankan population of 20 million). There are about 3.5 million Tamils (whose ancestors came from southern India) on the island. Most are tired of the violence, so the LTTE has to use increasing amounts of force on the Tamil population. After three years of a ceasefire (during which 130 people died in combat anyway), and failed peace negotiations, the fighting resumed two years ago. Since then the 215,000 man Sri Lankan army has lost about a thousand dead, while the 12,000 LTTE forces lost about 3,000 dead, and another 5,000 men who surrendered, were captured or deserted. The army suffered even more desertions, but has been able to replace them. Because of declining popular support, the LTTE has had a harder time recruiting. Many, if not most, of their new troops are young teenagers, enticed or coerced into joining. The LTTE is believed to have about 7,000 people under arms full time. But they are mobilizing another 30-40,000 fighters from among the population they control. How useful this last group will be is unknown. The the LTTE has increasingly been using coercion to maintain support from Tamils, and has been known to shoot their own fighters to prevent or discourage desertion.

The big problem for the LTTE is the loss of over 5,000 fighters, and control of over a million civilians, in eastern Sri Lanka. Large quantities (over 10,000 rifles, and many tons of artillery shells, grenades of explosives) of weapons were lost. There are still stockpiles in the north, but not enough to arm over 30,000 mobilized civilians. The civilians up north get training in how to use rifles, and basic military techniques. But without weapons, a lot of the mobilized civilians can only help by carrying ammo and other supplies for those who are armed, and digging fortifications.

The LTTE navy is used to make suicide boat attacks against the navy, andsupervise the smuggling of weapons and ammo into LTTE territory. The LTTE still has over fifty speed boats and at least a dozen smuggling boats (often rigged to look like fishing boats). The smugglers try to mix in with the hundreds of Indian fishing boats that operate off Sri Lanka each day. But the Sri Lankan nave has gotten better at detecting these efforts, and more of the LTTE boats being discovered and sunk.

The final battle has over 100,000 soldiers facing as many as 30,000 LTTE fighters. The army wants to avoid a bloodbath, and so is taking its time starting the final offensive, and apparently plans to be slow and methodical, giving the shaky LTTE force plenty of opportunity to surrender or desert.

 


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