Since the fourth edition of the Eelam War broke out in 2006, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been following various strategies to thwart the Sri Lankan government's objective of finding a military solution to the ethnic issue. The Tigers have been following three broad military strategies - conventional, guerilla and suicide attacks -against the government forces.
First, at the conventional level, the main aim of the Tigers is to resist the rapid advance of the Sri Lankan Army towards Kilinochchi with the aid of aerial bombardments. The LTTE has been finding it difficult to hold back the government forces in the western (Mannar), southern (Vavuniya) and southeastern (Welioya) fronts, but has been doing fairly well on the northern front (along Elephant Pass). This front is vital for the LTTE mainly because of its seriousness in retaining the hard-won Elephant Pass. The Pass is strategically so important that the famous adage in the island is "those who rule the Elephant Pass rule the north." The LTTE is also unyielding in this front with an aim to capture Jaffna, which it lost to the security forces in 1995. Intelligence reports suggest that the LTTE plans to launch a series of amphibious operations to clear the peninsula of government forces. The Tigers are presently consolidating their auxiliary force - Makkal Padai - consisting mainly of civilians. They have also called their 'reserves' back to duty. In addition, the monsoon in the coming weeks would further slow down the advance by the government forces.
The Tigers also wish to overstretch the Army into the unfamiliar terrain of the Wanni by giving less resistance to advancing forces from the south. The past suggests that the LTTE regained the lost territories by inflicting heavy damages to government forces at an appropriate time. The "strategic retreat" of the LTTE has been partly in order to conserve its energy in terms of men and material. As of now, therefore, the Tigers are downplaying this strategy.
Second, the LTTE has been using 'hit and run' tactics in the east to make its presence felt in the region, but also to keep the security forces occupied. The idea is also to kill "informers" and "traitors" especially those belonging to Karuna group, now called the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP). It was mainly due to Karuna's men that the LTTE lost the east to the government forces. The Sri Lankan government thereafter, successfully conducted elections in this region and installed a government headed by former rebels. Colombo is trying to emulate the same experiment in the north as well. The LTTE, therefore, wants to demonstrate that the eastern experiment was not successful by adopting various means. Guerilla tactics is one among them. Among the three districts of the east, Amparai is most vulnerable due to the ethnic mix of Tamils and Muslims. The LTTE is eager to exploit the discontent of Muslims with the TMVP.
Third, the Tigers use suicide tactics to hit VIPs or innocent civilians across the island. The LTTE also uses its air wing to launch sporadic air attacks on vital targets and also to keep alive an element of surprise. With these, the LTTE is in a position to strike any part of the Sri Lanka, anytime, despite heavy security measures. The objective is not only to create a sense of fear among the people, but also to further dent the economy that is already overstretched. Inflation is already running at about 30 per cent. Negative travel advisories from important countries like the United States, Australia, Germany, Canada, Russia, Britain and New Zealand have constrained tourist inflow, one of the main sources of foreign exchange.
Given these military strategies of the LTTE, a low-intensity conflict is expected to continue for some years. The dynamics of the conflict are not likely to change dramatically even if the LTTE chief, Prabhakaran, falls. The LTTE's second-rung commanders are capable and motivated to carry on the struggle. In that case, as envisaged by the Army chief, the group would be fighting a "different war." As long as the grievances that gave rise to militant groups like the LTTE remain, the Tigers will continue to thrive. The more important task for the Sri Lanka government, at this juncture, is not winning the war against the LTTE, but winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil minority.