Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is the only terrorist group which once possessed its own ‘Military’ – Tigers (infantry), Sea Tigers (sea wing) and Air Tigers (Air Wing), in the world, began its armed campaign in Sri Lanka for a separate Tamil homeland in 1983. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in its January 10, 2008 report said that the LTTE is one of the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world and the world should be concerned about the outfit as they had ‘inspired’ networks worldwide, including the al-Qaeda in Iraq.
However, with the killing of its Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran on May 18, 2009 and its defeat it in Eelam War IV the outfit has become inactive inside Sri Lanka, though reports indicate that it still attempts to revive itself with the help of Tamil Diaspora.
The LTTE has been proscribed, designated or banned as a terrorist group by a number of Governments - India, Malaysia, USA, Canada, UK, Australia, European Union - where the LTTE has significant terrorist infrastructure for disseminating propaganda, raising funds, procuring and shipping supplies to support their terrorist campaign in Sri Lanka. While India was the first country to ban LTTE in May, 1992, Sri Lanka itself is the latest in the list banning the organisation on January 7, 2009.
The LTTE was formed on May 5, 1976, under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran, and has emerged as perhaps the most lethal, well organised and disciplined terrorist force. Headquartered in the Wanni region, Prabhakaran has established an extensive network of checkpoints and informants to keep track of any outsiders who enter the group's area of control.
Terrorism in Sri Lanka began in 1970 with the formation of a militant student body called the "Tamil Students Movement" to protest government plans to limit access of Tamil students to universities. Very soon this movement went underground and turned to overt terrorist activities. Violence escalated in Jaffna from 1972 onwards, beginning with the publication of a new constitution seen by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) as anti-Tamil. The year 1972 saw the formation of two Tamil terrorist groups – the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), splinter groups of the original Tamil Students Movement. In July 1983, countrywide riots and clashes between Sinhalese and Tamils left thousands of Tamils dead and several hundred thousand as refugees. Large number of Government forces were deployed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. This period marks the beginning of the LTTE guerrilla campaign against the Sri Lankan Government.
The LTTE aims to create a separate homeland for the Tamils known as the Tamil Eelam (State) in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. The Tigers control most of the areas in the Northern Province but also conduct operations throughout the island. They have recently been wiped out of the Eastern Province and are losing considerable ground in the Northern Province.
Leadership, Command Structure and Cadre
The LTTE leadership was organized along a two-tier structure: a military wing and a subordinate political wing. Overseeing both was a central governing committee, headed by the LTTE chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran. This body had the responsibility for directing and controlling several specific subdivisions, including, an amphibious group (the Sea Tigers headed by Soosai), an airborne group (the Air Tigers led by Prabhakaran’s Son Charles Anthony), an elite fighting wing (known as the Charles Anthony Regiment, named after Anthony, a close associate of Prabhakaran and was earlier headed by Balraj who died of illness on May 20, 2008), a suicide commando unit (known as the Black Tigers) & a highly secretive intelligence group both headed by Pottu Amman and a political office headed by B. Nadesan. The central governing committee also had an International Secretariat (headed by Veerakathy Manivannam a.k.a. Castro), which was in charge of the outfit’s global network. Most of these leaders, however, were killed during the Eelam War IV.
Prabhakaran headed the LTTE power structure, as chairman of its central governing committee and ‘commander-in-chief’ of its Army. He was assisted by B. Nadesan, his political advisor, and his intelligence Chief Pottu Amman.
The LTTE cadre strength dwindled since the Government’s onslaught in July 2006 and there was no specific information about its cadre strength. On December 29, 2007, the Sri Lankan Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka had said that the LTTE is left with only 3,000 cadres. The General then on January 11, 2008 speculated the total cadre strength to be about 4,500. At its peak, the organisation has cadre strength of about 18,000. On January 8, 2004, the then Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga alleged that the outfit increased its military strength during the truce period by recruiting over 11,000 guerrillas. "The LTTE has increased its cadre by three times from around seven thousand to over 18,000. Quite a few of them are small children and forcible recruitment was going on," she said. Earlier on January 22, 2003, the Sri Lankan President's office indicated that the LTTE had increased its fighting forces during the cease-fire period "by 10,000 cadres, most of whom were children." Citing intelligence sources, Presidential spokesperson Harim Peiris said that the LTTE strength had increased from "around 6,000 cadre'' before the February 2002 cease-fire agreement "to 16,000'', and charged that "kidnapping for forcible recruitment'' was a major recruiting mode of the outfit. According to another estimate, the LTTE's deployment increased from 9,390 before the cease-fire agreement was signed to 16,240 towards the end of 2002.
All cadres were carefully indoctrinated on the authorised position: they are fighting against an unresponsive and discriminatory Sinhalese majority for a separate State – Eelam; the cadres must banish all fear of death from their minds and be prepared to lay down their lives fighting the Government forces, or consume the cyanide pill fastened around their necks when capture is imminent. The LTTE placed immense emphasis on the cult of martyrdom.
LTTE cadres were known for their high sense of discipline, dedication, strong determination, a high degree of motivation and innovation. Bulldozers were suitably adapted to function as armoured vehicles. Men, women and children – both boys and girls - comprised its cadres. A deliberate policy of recruiting women and children into LTTE cadres was initiated after the signing of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) Accord in 1987, to offset a severe shortage of manpower, because of ever increasing casualties and the escalation of the conflict. Nearly one-third of the LTTE cadre comprised women, who are assigned duties on the battlefield, in the kitchen, and in medical camps as nurses. There were allegations of the LTTE abducting children from areas under its controls to fill its dwindling ranks, and an estimated 1600 children were in LTTE rank.
All LTTE fighters underwent a programme of rigorous training. A typical training schedule is spread over four months, during which they receive training in handling weapons, battle and field craft, communications, explosives and intelligence gathering, as well as an exhausting physical regimen and rigorous indoctrination.
While the Vituthalai Pulikal Makalir Munani (Women's Front of the Liberation Tigers headed by Col. Vithusha) was formed in 1983, women began combat training in 1985. In October 1987, Prabhakaran set up the first training camp exclusively for women in Jaffna for the second and successive batches. By 1989, this unit secured its own leadership structure. This period reportedly witnessed the highest recruitment of women as it was also the time when women were the worst sufferers of the ethnic conflict.
Media reports also indicated that women were being forced to join the LTTE, according to letters purportedly recovered from slain woman militants in Sri Lanka. "Every LTTE cadre is anxious to see his or her parents and I will come home for Pongal (harvest festival – January 14) though I do not know what my fate will be," said one letter recovered by Security Forces from a slain woman militant. "Amma, what can I do? When all those at home in the area were taken away, I too had to go with them (LTTE)," said another, which was released by the Media Centre for National Security, according to Times of India report on January 30. A report in the Chennai-based The Hindu said on March 10, 2002, that nearly 4,000 women LTTE cadres have been killed since they began taking part in combat from 1985, joining the LTTE pantheon of over 17,000 "heroes" in the nearly two decade-old conflict. Over 100 of the women killed belonged to the dreaded Black Tiger suicide squad. Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on the night of May 21, 1991, during an election rally at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by Dhanu, a woman suicide-bomber of the LTTE.
The women reportedly underwent the same tough training as men, and like them, are broken up into fighting, intelligence gathering, political and administrative units. In her book Women Fighters of Liberation Tigers (1989), Adele Ann, the Australian-born wife of Anton Balasingham, LTTE theoretician who died in December 2006, described the decision by a Tamil woman to join the organisation as a message to society "that they are not satisfied with the social status quo; it means they are young women capable of defying authority; it means they are women with independent thoughts; young women prepared to lift up their heads." LTTE chief Prabhakaran, in an address to women cadres on International Women's Day on March 8, 1996, had described the liberation of the Tamil woman as "the fervent child" that was born out of the Tamil "national liberation movement." Women in the LTTE were allegedly forced to suppress their femininity and sexuality, which is regarded as a crime and an evil force that could sap their strength. Marriage was not allowed for women cadres up to the age of 25 and for men up to the age of 28.
Children featured prominently in the LTTE's protracted guerilla and terrorist campaigns, and assessments by the Sri Lankan Directorate of Military Intelligence have estimated that as much as 60 per cent of the LTTE's fighters were below 18. Estimates based on LTTE fighters who have been killed in combat reveal that 40 per cent of its fighting forces - including both males and females - were between 9 and 18 years of age. The first recruitment of child soldiers into LTTE ranks dates back over two decades, after the ethnic riots of July 1983 resulted in a massive exodus of civilians to India. At this stage, LTTE chief Prabhakaran selected Basheer Kaka, an LTTE leader from the harbour city of Trincomalee, to establish a training base in the State of Pondicherry in India for recruits under 16. Initially, the child soldiers - affectionately referred to as 'Tiger cubs' - received non-military training, mostly primary education and physical exercise. By early 1984, the nucleus of the LTTE 'Baby Brigade' or 'Bakuts', was formed.
Until 1986, the LTTE had sufficient adult units in operation and young recruits were put through the Tigers' standard grueling four-month training course as soon as they reached 16. Many children from the Pondicherry batch achieved battle prominence, and several others served as bodyguards to Pottu Amman, the LTTE Chief of Intelligence responsible, among a host of other operations, for planning the assassination of two world leaders. The child fighters were originally a part of the Baby Brigade commanded by Justin, a Pondicherry-trained fighter. However, after 1987 the LTTE integrated children with other units to offset heavy losses in combat. A study by a UK-based Sri Lankan researcher Dushy Ranatunge revealed that at least 60 per cent of the dead LTTE fighters were under 18 and were mostly girls and boys aged 10-16. Ranatunge also revealed that almost all of the casualties were from Batticaloa, but after the escalation in the fighting following the LTTE assaults on the Kilinochchi, Paranthan and Elephant Pass defences on 1 February 1998, the dead have also included many from Jaffna.
A typical unit of children was trained for four months in the jungle. Woken at 0500hrs they assembled, fell in line, and their leader raised the LTTE flag. This was followed by two hours of physical training, after which the recruits engaged in weapons training, battle and field craft, and parade drill. During the rest of the afternoon, time was spent both reading LTTE literature and more physical training. Lectures on communications, explosives and intelligence techniques continued into the evening. No contact was permitted between the camp and the children's homes during the training period. Sleep and food were regulated during training to build endurance. After 1990, when children were pitched into battle against Sri Lankan forces, the LTTE made training tougher. The military office of the LTTE headed by Wedi Dinesh developed a training programme that would make the child fighters even more daring than adults. This included the screening of Rambo-style videos in which the daredevil approach is invariably successful. The trained child fighters were also prepared for battle by attacking unprotected or weakly defended border villages. Several hundred men, women and children have been killed by LTTE child combatants armed with automatic weapons guided by experienced fighters during such 'inoculation attacks'.
Operational Strategies and External Linkages
Apart from the military operations which the LTTE conducted in the North-eastern parts of the country against Government forces and the highly successful suicide killings operations in other parts of the country, a major aspect of the LTTE’s operations was its publicity, fund-raising and military procurement strategies.
The LTTE is still believed to have a wide network of publicity and propaganda activities with offices and cells located in at least 54 countries. The largest and most important centres were located in leading western states with large Tamil expatriate communities, most notably the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and Australia. In addition to these States, the LTTE is also known to be represented in countries as far-flung as Cambodia, Burma, South Africa and Botswana. It’s publicity networks covering Europe, Australia and North America also included radio and TV satellites.
Apart from publicity, another important aspect of LTTE’s strategy is fundraising. The majority of financial support comes from six main areas, all of which contain large Tamil Diasporas: Switzerland, Canada, Australia, the UK, the US, and the Scandinavian countries. The LTTE has established a wide network of offices and cells practically across the globe. They have secured a considerable degree of visibility in the United Kingdom – the headquarters of its "International Secretariat" – as well as in Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Australia and South Africa. These networks of offices and cells carry out propaganda, organise the procurement and movement of weapons and raise funds from the Tamil Diaspora.
There also have been reports that the LTTE raises money through drug running, particularly heroin from Southeast and Southwest Asia. The LTTE is in a particularly advantageous position to traffic narcotics due to the highly efficient international network it has developed to smuggle munitions around the world. Many of these arms routes pass either directly through or very close to major drug producing and transit centres, including Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, southern China, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Military and arms procurement played a vital part in the LTTE’s battle against the Government sources. The LTTE arms network was headed by Kumaran Pathmanathan colloquially known as "KP." At the heart of the KP’s operations was a highly secretive shipping network. The ships frequently visit Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa, Burma, Turkey, France, Italy and Ukraine, scouting for arms. In addition to setting up a number of lucrative businesses, the LTTE established a state-of-the-art boatyard that manufactured a dozen different boats, including a mini-submarine for debussing divers.
The LTTE had also set up a parallel civil administration within its territory by establishing structures such as a Police force, law courts, postal services, banks, administrative offices, television and radio broadcasting station, etc. The most prominent of the LTTE ‘state structure' is the ‘Tamil Eelam Judiciary’ and the ‘Tamil Eelam Police’. The ‘Tamil Eelam Police’, with its headquarters at Kilinochchi was formed in year 1993, and reportedly has several wings, including traffic, crime prevention, crime detection, information bureau, administration and a special force. LTTE cadres collect taxes, its courts administer their version of justice and the entire law and order machinery is LTTE-controlled.
Areas of Operation
The LTTE engaged the Sri Lankan State in three theatres: (1) in the northern theatre (Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts) the LTTE employed high and mid-intensity warfare. Since the mid-1990s, semi-conventional and unconventional (insurgent and terrorist) methods were also being used. With the loss of the peninsula in 1996, the LTTE reverted to unconventional warfare, mostly sparrow tactics (hit and run methods). In the mainland, mostly in Wanni, the LTTE engaged the Sri Lankan troops semi-conventionally. This become possible after the LTTE acquired artillery and heavy mortars. (2) In the eastern theatre (Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara Districts), the LTTE employed high, mid and low intensity warfare. Dependent on the LTTE force level, it engaged the troops semi-conventionally or unconventionally. (3) In the Southern as well as Western theatre, LTTE’s operations were largely focussed on the Colombo, the capital. By targeting financial nerve centres and political and military leaders this diversionary tactic of the LTTE had been highly effective. After steadily shifting the theatre of terror into the seat of the country’s administration, LTTE elimination of political and military leaders adversely affected the morale of the Security Forces.
The LTTE, however, faced a vertical split in the organisation when it’s Eastern ‘Commander’ ‘Colonel’ Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan aka Karuna Amman broke-away from the parent organisation and formed his own group – a military wing known as Tamil National Front and a Political wing called the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) in alliance with the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) - in March 2004. Karuna later joined the Government. Karuna’s deputy in TMVP, Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan, now heads TMVP and is also the Chief Monster of the Eastern Province.
The Defeat of LTTE
The LTTE, which, at one time, controlled over 15,000 square kilometres or nearly one-fourth of the 65,332 square kilometres territory of the island nation, was finally decimated with the killing of Prabhakaran on May 18, 2009 and the Government officially declaring the need of Eelam War IV on May 20.
Colombo is now pursuing several Governments to dismantle three broad groups that are now assumed to be controlling the remaining pro-LTTE international factions: the US group is said to be headed by V. Rudrakumaran, the UK group by Aruththanthai Emmanuel of the World Tamil Forum (WTF) and the Norway group by Nediyavan.