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How Eelam War IV was Won 1

Article Index
How Eelam War IV was Won 1
Page 2
The Northern Offensive
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Historian, art historian and writer, Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda is one of the few non combatants to have been allowed into the war zone during the final stages of the Eelam War. Some of his pieces were published by The Sunday Island (Sri Lanka), The News on Sunday (Pakistan) & The Independent (UK).  His case study, "Sri Lanka. The Last Phase in Eelam War IV. From Chundikulam to Pudumattalan" has been published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi, the infantry think tank for the Indian army. He is the only Sri Lankan to speak on the conflict at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (RMAS), where in November 2009 he gave a presentation" Fighting the Tamil Tigers. A Last Phase in the Infantry War.


Major General Ashok Mehta’s paper is the first complete account to be published on Sri Lanka’s last Eelam War. General Mehta provides a comprehensive overview of Eelam War IV, detailing the history of events from the outbreak of the conflict right up to its conclusion. His overview looks at the military and political factors involved and succeeds in being both narrative and analytical

One of the most valuable aspects of this paper lies in the author’s ability to bring together a wide range of information on different aspects and areas of the conflict. Using Sri Lankan and international sources, General Mehta has done his best to scrutinise everything within his reach, drawing on newspapers, magazine articles, media sources, personal interviews, conversations and field accounts. Despite the vast array of material which has emerged, General Mehta works his way through the different stages of the conflict step by step. His approach is ordered and methodical, and above all, it is extremely lucid. This is what makes his paper such a useful and informative introduction to the subject.

Given his vast experience and eminence in his field, it is disappointing that General Mehta has to rely so heavily on secondary evidence. At times, this serves to restrict his very considerable powers of analysis. How the rest of the world sees the Eelam War is well known and well documented. How Sri Lankans saw the conflict and how they fought it less known. What happened? What changed and how was it done? This is the story which General Mehta and other authorities should seek to understand and try to tell.

The first part of Mehta’s paper goes to some length to set the scene, outlining the political circumstances which led to the outbreak of hostilities. In tracing the history of these events, Mehta very rightly points out that it was the LTTE who closed the door to negotiations.

The LTTE’s attempts to assassinate the Army Commander and the Defence Secretary had a profound impact on the military and political leadership. Although he acknowledges that they helped precipitate the reorganisation of the army,3 General Mehta does not probe any further. In reality, there were crucial moments and their impact fundamental and formative.

The LTTE were well aware of the threat posed by General Sarath Fonseka. In their eyes, he was one of the few men left capable of destroying their organisation. In the short time since he become Army Commander, General Fonseka had already embarked on a far-reaching reorganisation of the army. However, due to the political situation at the time, he found himself working under tremendous constraints.

The LTTE suicide attack left Fonseka badly injured and he was lucky to escape with his life. This had a profound effect on the Army Commander, who was well known in army circles for his tenacious and unrelenting nature. Whereas previous commanders may have backed down, with Fonseka, the attempt to kill him merely hardened his determination, setting his resolve in stone. "They tried to kill me once. They will not get a second chance."4 In trying to kill Fonseka, the LTTE had created a driving, implacable enemy. This was the source of his motivation and unremitting personal commitment.

The attempt on General Fonseka also helped change attitudes within the establishment. The leadership realised that without Fonseka, they could not hope to fight (and defeat) the Tigers. The restraints which had held Fonseka back were lifted. He was allowed a free hand and given the resources he needed.