Catastrophic consequences of the loss of Trincomalee - the urgent need for strategic thinking

By R. Chandrasoma

There is an especial need at this trying moment in our history to draw attention to the unarguable thesis that it is political convenience rather than military strategy that has consummately had the upper hand in decision making in Sri Lanka. Our leaders have been unashamedly political in their thinking even at moments when the nation was mortally threatened and strategic choice ought to have pushed politics outside the purview of those in command. While the resolute Tiger was preparing to make mincemeat of our great base at Elephant Pass his preparations were open and tauntingly obvious the Field Commanders sat perplexed and bemused, twiddling their thumbs for want of something more useful to do.

Are we to blame them? Certainly, for a contemptible dereliction of duties incumbent upon those called upon to defend the nation. However, our condemnation must not be too severe - in mitigation it must be said that the prevailing command structure prevented them from making a pre-emptive strike and morale had plummeted due to the prevarications of a fickle leadership. The Political Generals in distant Colombo were engrossed in matters that were clearly 'prioritized' to use a current neologism. Political thinking overwhelmed the imperatives for clear military-strategic thinking and, while a traitorous leadership brooded over the political future of the party and of their individual fortunes as mass-deceivers of the people, the clever enemy routed our half-starved and dehydrated combatants. They ran back helter-skelter while our shameless 'Generalissimo' declared that it was a mere 'tactical withdrawal'.

It was a strategic defeat of the first magnitude that a dishonest and cowardly leadership has, to this day, not even acknowledged. Pirapaharan's current triumphalism is a direct outcome of this historic reverse that we suffered at Elephant Pass and he (i.e. the Tiger) knew it put paid to all hopes the Sri Lankan State had of restoring its power and authority in areas overrun by the enemy. There remains the base at Pallali but it does not have the strategic importance of Elephant Pass and now lies forlorn and open to insidious attack features that have not gone unnoticed by the wily Pirapaharan. This cliffhanger in a sea of Tamil insurgency will fall without a shot being fired.

Fellow-Sri Lankans, a moment of peril is upon us again - it is Trincomolee that is ticked off next in the trophy-book of Pirapaharan. Is there a strategist within the ranks of our callow leadership? If we lose this great base to the Eelamists led by a desperate man whose thinking is unyieldingly given to finessing the craft of victory in military-strategic terms, our future is bleak. We may survive in a few 'bantustans' in the South as a mongrelized race with power and pride down the drain.

Why do we say this? Please look at a map of Sri Lanka. If 'Eelam' as portrayed in the now-familiar maps of our Island becomes a reality, it is obvious to even an unlettered tyro that the Sinhala-State, caught in the pincer of a Tamil empire riding high on naval power, has no future except as a vassal state. Has this disastrous possibility been featured in the tortured political calculus of our leadership? Have the peace-infatuated fools now in charge of policy given a thought to this dreadful scenario?

Trincomalee in the hands of the Eelamists will attract marauding Western Powers keen to exploit the resources of the Southern Oceans rich in fisheries and other goodies that are being depleted beyond recovery in the Northern Seas. The same Western Powers that now pay lip service to the wellbeing and integrity of the Sri Lankan State may find the resourceful Tamils with a great harbour in their unfettered control to be far better partners in future forays in the strategically important South Asian Region.

The Norwegians are already here and their alliance with the Tigers will grow from strength to strength. Does this climactic rearrangement of power, territory and global alliances auger well for us? Can we co-exist peacefully with an aggrandizing neighbour led by a man whose implacable hatred for us is proverbial? Will his military clout diminish? On the contrary, will not a Tamil Nation bolstered by a mighty naval presence in Trincomalee think of annexing the resource-rich heartland of Lanka already overrun by its belligerent kinsfolk? Will not Sri Lanka fall like a ripe plum into the lap of the Eelamists?

Friends, all this is dismal reading the key question is: can we forestall this calamity? Look again at the map of Sri Lanka. There is a region stretching between Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee that is the lynchpin of our strategic defense. This region which the Tigers have long sought to overrun must be defended at any cost. Garrison-towns must be established in this vital corridor and the incursions of the Eelamists must be repelled with deadly force. It breaks the formidable pincer that we referred to above.

It effectively cuts Eelam into two separate regions that are logistically and economically difficult to bring together. Above all, it ensures that the Port of Trincomalee will be organically connected to the Sinhala mainland and will not be easily overrun by marauding separatists. If this region falls by military defeat or by the duplicitous treachery of a leadership ready to cut a deal with the enemy the great harbour will become a cliffhanger for the defenders and the Sri Lanka Navy may have to sail out of this harbour never to return again. If this happens the Sinhala people will be forced out of a region that was their homeland for over twenty centuries. It will be the crowning ignominy for our Sinhala-Buddhist nation.


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