Mahinda Rajapakse, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Gotabaya Rajapakse

By Ranjith Jayasundera : Sunday Leader: Soaring sky high, on par with the prices of bread, electricity and fuel is the Defence Ministry's tally of the number of LTTE cadres killed in its 'defensive' operations on the northern front lines. If anything can testify to the haste and lack of planning with which the Rajapakse defence apparatus manages this bloody war, it is the haste and lack of planning of their public statements relating to the war. To submit that Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka is arithmetically challenged under the circumstances would be the most gross understatement. Since the start of the government's campaign to 'liberate' the east for the TMVP at the beginning of last year, General Fonseka has seemed confounded in efforts to estimate the fighting strength of the LTTE. In an interview with The Hindustan Times in May 2007, he suggested that the LTTE had less than 4,000 cadres alive in its northern bastion. He didn't stop there. "But they are not its best cadres," he continued, before concluding that "if they lose 2,000 cadres they are finished." Seven months and over 2,500 dead Tigers later (figures from government reports) he told the Sunday Observer in an interview published on December 30, that the LTTE had 3,000 cadres remaining and that they would be wiped out within six months, or by June 2008. Mathematics If the Army Commander's May 2007 assertion of 4,000 Tigers is to be believed, after wiping out over 2,500 (2,562 to be precise) LTTE cadres by December 2007, there should have been scarcely 1,500 Tigers remaining. Coupled with his gem last May that "if they lose 2,000 cadres they are finished," one must ask what held back the champagne corks at Army Headquarters in December? Put another way, how were there suddenly 3,000 LTTE cadres remaining for the picking? Analysts had barely a day to absorb the incredulity of Fonseka's bizarre statements before he was quoted the next day from Lake House again, this time by the Daily News of December 31, where he said the war would enter a 'decisive phase' by August 2008. Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka's December estimate for ending the war within a matter of months was not completely ungrounded. His hypothesis for ending the war to the Sunday Observer was explained by his "daily target" of killing "at least 10 LTTE terrorists." By Defence Ministry figures - and the General's own admission - the army managed to maintain double this rate, killing on average 20 Tigers per day for the first few weeks of the new year. On January 11, at a new year's party for foreign media a buoyant Commander boasted about this kill performance. Bright as a button, General Fonseka vowed that he "will not leave this war to the succeeding army commander."

'Decisive phase' Lt. Gen. Fonseka is due to retire from the military in December 2008, having served the last of four one year extensions he is entitled to. So his vow to end the war by December could be generously perceived as keeping in line with the plan to enter a 'decisive phase' by August. Word of Fonseka's confidence spread far and wide across the country, from Cinnamon Gardens all the way to Muwanpellesa, that the army was on the verge of wiping out the Tigers. At The Sunday Leader, being the wet blanket that we are to the government's propaganda bonanza, we instituted a weekly graph of 'Fonnie's Law,' showing how close the government was getting to wiping out the remaining 3,000 Tigers. Next came Independence Day, with huge billboards springing up all over the country showing us denizens that the Rajapakse government would purge Sri Lanka of terrorists in 2008. The end was nigh, we were told. Not too many days after Independence Day, General Fonseka made a statement to the Sinhala weekly, Irida Lakbima published on February 10 that made us wonder whether he was suffering from Alzheimers and signalled the beginning of a flurry of official backtracking on the war timetables. General Fonseka started on an ominous note when broaching the topic to Lakbima. "They are an organised force with a lot of experience. They have thousands of fighters," he began. It was apparent the Army Commander respected his enemy, as Sun Tsu prescribed in The Art of War. But here's where things got a little funny. "I don't conduct the war looking at deadlines and timeframes," insisted the General. Eh? "This time when we take Kilinochchi, we will not leave it after a while. But we must realise that the offensive is going to take time," he warned. He also revised his estimate of LTTE strength to 5,000 cadres. This u-turn if nothing else should have raised enough eyebrows. Something's wrong with this picture. In May 2007 there are 4,000 Tigers left, and they will be "finished" once 2000 of them are taken out. Figures gone wrong By December 2007, after claims of over 2,500 killed, we were told that there are 3,000 remaining, and for some reason the LTTE were not "finished" yet. But this was to follow in six months, as 10 Tigers would be killed everyday and by June the whole island was to be 'liberated.' The government was in line with Fonseka's predictions and things seemed to be going fine as of Independence Day - it was the central government, not General Fonseka, that sprang up those billboards at public expense - and somehow six days later, the Army Commander takes back all of his own "deadlines and timeframes" and insists that the campaign was "going to take time." By February 10, 2008, the public is asked to swallow the fact that there are now 5,000 Tigers remaining. The numbers are spectacular. There were 3,000 in December. By February nearly 1,000 are supposed to have been killed according to the Defence Ministry website. After killing 1,000 out of 3,000 we thought there should be 2,000 left. But according to the Army Commander, there are 5,000 "LTTE terrorists" out there suddenly. Is there some special terrorist breeding programme that we are not aware of? Is Pirapaharan cloning his cadres? Or is the government just picking numbers out of a hat to distract people from the skyrocketing cost of living? Admittance It was only several weeks later that the government admitted in parliament that over a hundred soldiers had been killed in intense fighting during February alone - intense fighting that somehow slipped the mind of the kept press as they splashed daily reports of cakewalk advances and cattle slaughters of LTTE cadres.

Defence Minister, President Mahinda Rajapakse was the next to give us a new deadline, the most recent. He said on his disastrous interview on India's NDTV that the war would take another 18 months to complete. "We would have cleared them out of the remaining areas long ago but we also had to ensure no civilians were killed. I would say, in a year and a half, we might be able to do it." It's funny that the President mentions civilians in his fumbling explanation. If we were to hold the government to its December claim of 3,000 Tigers remaining, by the Defence Ministry's 'Kill-O-Meter' figures, we should have polished off these Tigers by the end of the upcoming New Year season, at the current rate of "terrorist killing." Lying Not to say 'we told you so,' but we did. The government has been lying about the war, for no other reason than to use chauvinism and extremism as fuel for its engine of nepotistic and seemingly limitless power. The only question is what they are lying about. Is the number of LTTE cadres remaining a lie, and are there several thousand more that we don't know about? Or are the numbers that are being killed off daily false? Is the government killing civilians and passing them off as LTTE cadres? Just last month, Air Force Spokesman, Commander Andrew Wijesooriya told us that the air force does not even bother keeping a count of the number of civilians killed in airstrikes, although he did mention that "all possible precautions" are taken to prevent civilian casualties. We wonder how the air force manages to take "all possible precautions" without knowing how well they have been doing in the past. Insult That the government claims that "only 3,000" or 5,000 LTTE cadres are remaining in a tiny portion of the Wanni jungles is the biggest insult imaginable to the security forces. Even the ill-fated Jayasikuru operation for all its failings led to the killing of between 3000 and 3,600 Tigers as the LTTE and military estimates, respectively. And there are many differences between the LTTE of the late 1990s and the organisation today. For one the government claims to have destroyed the entire fleet of the Tigers' floating armouries or arms smuggling ships, making it difficult for them to resupply. The east is 'completely' out of LTTE hands. The air force has advanced with the purchase of newer bombers and bombs. The LTTE has been banned in countries across the world and its funding and arms procurement networks have been stung by high profile arrests and convictions from the USA to East Asia. It is difficult to believe given all these restrictions (and the fact that the government has supposedly been able to kill over 5,000 LTTE cadres in less than the last one year) that the war will take another one and half years to complete if there are only 3,000 or 5,000 LTTE cadres remaining. Why invest? Even if this were to be so, and the LTTE was on the verge of defeat, why is the government investing in four brand new MiG-29 interceptor jets from Russia, as reported by Janes Defence Weekly? These aircraft, valued at over Rs. 2 billion each, with options, are used by air forces worldwide to intercept other jet planes. Why would we need such sophisticated air interception capabilities if the war is on the verge of completion? It is clear that as the cost of living increases and public unrest skyrockets with it, the government will continue to exert pressure on the military to seize more territory and kill more Tigers, damn the cost of our soldiers' blood. Having effectively torpedoed the APRC and abandoned the 17th Amendment and its checks and balances on executive power, it is clear that the government is dragging the country down to the depths that Robert Mugabe managed to keep Zimbabwe buried in for the last several years. And as much as the public will suffer the unbearable price of survival, we will have to learn to be thankful for the chance we are granted to wake up each morning. Few of us felt the pain of the three families who

lost a father, son or husband, in each day of February, to the folly of the government's war and keeping the Rajapakses in power. Our thoughts go out to those serving in the military on the frontlines and their families, for it is with their lives that the Rajapakse brothers are enjoying their game of political Russian Roulette, with virtually all the bullet chambers loaded.
The many deadlines Quote "The LTTE has 4,000 cadres in the north. They are not its best cadres. If they lose 2,000 cadres, they are finished."

Date May 28, 2007 Jan. 11, 2008 Dec. 30, 2007 Feb. 10, 2008 Feb. 19, 2008 Feb. 22, 2008

Official Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka

Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka "LTTE has 3,000 cadres remaining. Military plans to kill
Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka Mahinda Rajapakse Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara

them within six months. Our daily target is to kill at least 10 LTTE terrorists." "My term of office is coming to an end this year and I will not leave this war to the succeeding army commander." "They are an organised force with a lot of experience. They have thousands of fighters. I don't conduct the war looking at deadlines and timeframes. The LTTE has around 5,000 fighters. This time when we take Kilinochchi, we will not leave it after a while. But we must realise that the offensive is going to take time." "We would have cleared them out of the remaining areas long ago but we also had to ensure no civilians were killed. I would say, in a year and a half, we might be able to do it." "But we have never said that we will finish them off. We have never set deadlines. We are fighting a terrorist organisation, not a conventional war. The more we weaken them, then the more they will come into negotiations. It is not possible to wipe them out."

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