B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Army chief Sarath Fonseka said on Monday the LTTE had “lost the capability to fight as a conventional force” due to the relentless “overall military strategy” since August 2006.

In an interactive session with members of the Sri Lanka Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) at the Army Headquarters here, Lt. Gen. Fonseka said the Tigers would be reduced to nothing more than a “rag-tag terrorist outfit” in a year’s time.

He made the observation in response to questions on the assertion he made in December last year that the military would “wipe out” the LTTE by June 2008.

Since August 2006, the military had killed an estimated 9,000 LTTE cadre , and lost 1,700 soldiers.

He attributed the success to “overall military strategy” of eliminating the Tiger cadres and the full backing of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Now, the strategy is not about capturing territories, but eliminating LTTE cadres. “We do not just go for terrains, but we go for the kill. This is the difference between the military operations in the past and the present,” he said.

When the current phase of war started in August 2006, the Tigers had a fighting force of 8,000. “As per the intelligence reports, the current cadre of the LTTE in the worst-case scenario is 5,000. Most of the new recruits in the past two years are underage conscripts,” he said.

On the forthcoming SAARC summit and security arrangements, Lt. Gen. Fonseka said ongoing operations would not come in the way of providing foolproof security. Asked about speculation on the possibility of Indian troops taking over the security operations, Lt. Gen. Fonseka said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be here with his security contingent. “If there is a requirement of help from the Indian Navy and Air Force for a specific purpose, we would seek help from New Delhi,” he said.

He said it would be ideal for Sri Lanka to procure all its military requirements from India. However, given the Indian political sensitivities, Sri Lanka does depend on other friendly countries like China and Pakistan for its defence needs.