Why would Sri Lanka target the LTTE’s second-rung leaders?

Tamilchelvan’s killing was either a strategic mistake or an error

It’s easy to see it as a tactical success but a strategic blunder: why would the Sri Lankan armed forces carry out a decapitation strike on LTTE’s second rung leadership? S P Tamilchelvan, the head of LTTE’s “political wing” was killed in an air strike by the Sri Lankan Air Force earlier this week. Now despite being the head of its political outfit, Tamilchelvan was very much involved in its military activities. But in a sense, killing him is like as if British troops eliminated Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams or the Indian army took out Syed Ali Shah Geelani. It’s not a good idea to destroy overground and political channels of communication, even when they are not engaged in talks.

That’s not all. Tamilchelvan was also an established member of LTTE’s second rung leadership, along with intelligence chief Pottu Amman, Sea Tiger chief Soosai and Charles Anthony, Prabhakaran’s son (yes, the LTTE may not yet have a real state, but it already has dynastic politics). In this line-up, Tamilchelvan was perhaps the one most likely to be able to break off from Prabhakaran’s line, were the LTTE chief himself to exit from the scene. Now, unless the Sri Lankan government believes it can wipe out the LTTE to the last man, it needs a partner to negotiate with in the endgame. In killing Tamilchelvan, it has gotten rid of a person who might have been a good interlocutor. He was, after all, the known devil.

Some reports contend that Tamilchelvan was betrayed to the Sri Lankan armed forces by a high-level insider, as part of the LTTE’s internal war of succession. Fingers are being pointed at Pottu Amman, either for failing to prevent intelligence on Tamilchelvan’s whereabouts from leaking out, or for eliminating a potential rival. Even so, did the Sri Lankan government knowingly commit a blunder? According to B Raman, not only was Tamilchelvan betrayed, but the Sri Lankan armed forces were tricked into taking responsibility for the kill. It’s not unreasonable to say that if the LTTE’s top leadership wanted to get rid of one of its most public faces without damaging its own reputation, this was a very good way.

Decapitation strikes are a double-edged sword: you need good intelligence, usually from a human source deep inside the adversary, to carry one out. But such intelligence is also very susceptible to manipulation.

3 thoughts on “Why would Sri Lanka target the LTTE’s second-rung leaders?”

  1. As a keen follower of Lankan situation, I have to agree with your analysis. Without India, the sri lankan aspiration of cleaning out Tigers will be just a pipe dream. Karuna’s detention in London adds more twists to this sorry tale.

  2. Its possible that Srilankan Army might have been tricked into killing Selva. Apparently there have been rumors in Colombo for a while that Selva and the LTTE leadership (read Prabhakaran) had fallen out. Smarting from the twin humiliation in Anuradhapura (spectacular loss of aircraft and a PR disaster with naked parade of dead Black Tigers), the SL Army may have fallen into a trap set by elements within the LTTE itself.

    As for Karuna, he need not necessarily have been betrayed by SL. Even LTTE has enough human intelligence in Europe. If SL wanted to get rid of Karuna, killing him on the ground would have gotten good PR for the SLFP government there.

    But the precise air strike may have some Indian backing to it. India I believe has strengthened the SL Air force in recent months in response to the new Tiger ‘Airforce’. Now we have to wait and see, how effective are the anti-aircraft guns which India may have already supplied or is in the process of doing so. Actually, its a shame that the only Indian involvement in SL these days is that of an arms supplier.

  3. >> Tamilchelvan’s killing was either a strategic mistake or an error >>

    How about neither ?

    The Pottu Amman story is not very believable. No doubt there was ground intelligence, but the place where the attack took place was not exactly secret. “You dont need a Pottu Amman to tell the SLA that Thamilchevan lived in his house”. So the intel input largely reduces to timing (of lower value than location ). The story seems to be planted to demoralize the LTTE further.

    B.Raman, unfortunately is on the wrong track here.

    By killing Tamilchelvan, the SLA is just upping the war a notch. This is most likely in response to the humiliating attack by the LTTE on the Anuradhapura air base.

    Why would the SLA want Karuna ? There is talk that he is under protective custody, lol.

    In warfare, parading of naked bodies of enemy combatants is not a PR disaster. As distasteful as it may seem, it is a morale booster. It happens all the time. Armies have been decapitating enemy combatants and raising it on stakes since the dawn of time.

    The Indian involvement is purely to support the SLA with radars, navy cutters, and other armament. Recently two coast guard vessels were transferred (rented) to the SLA. The same people who sing praises are also the ones who are at power in the centre. A very tragic story is about to unfold in that island nation.

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