The American governments assessment
Courtesy The Island 23/24-04-2007
In 2002, after the Cease Fire Agreement had come into force, the United
States Pacific Command carried out a comprehensive assessment of the
LTTE and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces at the request of the US Department
of Defense. The result of this study was a top secret report, which
was signed by Peter W.Rodman on behalf of the International Security
Affairs desk of the US Department of Defense. Copies of this report
were given only to the then Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, the
Defense Minister Tilak Marapone, and the Secretary Defense Austin Fernando.
The then President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and the cabinet were kept
in the dark about this study. What follows are verbatim extracts from
The leader and founder of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran, is often
described as a megalomaniac. He is practically worshipped by Tiger cadres,
who have been inculcated with Tamil nationalist propaganda. Prabhakaran
has insisted that all LTTE soldiers wear a cyanide capsule around their
necks, maintaining that it is better to commit suicide than be captured
alive by the enemy. Though Prabhakaran is aware that the United States
publicly condemns the LTTE's terrorist campaigns, he continues his efforts
to win sympathy from the United States. For this reason, the United
States has some leverage with him. However, if the perception of the
United States as a direct supporter of Sri Lanka's armed forces against
the LTTE persists, Prabhakaran's susceptibility to US influence will
decrease or vanish completely.
Velupillai Prabhakaran is the unchallenged dictatorial leader of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organization. Prabhakaran
exerts tight control and discipline over the LTTE, which fights for
the establishment of an independent homeland, referred to as "Eelam,"
carved out of the northern and eastern portions Lanka. He is worshipped
as a cult-like figure because of successful indoctrination processes
and effective political propaganda campaigns. Prabhakaran's mind-set,
personality, ideology, objectives, and outlook dominate and resound
through the structure and organization of the LTTE. Prabhakaran's call
sign is Hotel Alpha, his location is referred to as "one-four,"
and his nom de guerre is Karikalan.
Prabhakaran, born on 26 November 190-4, comes from a typical middle-class
Tamil family with four children, including a brother and two sisters.
He and his family reside in the northern town of Valvettithurai (referred
to as VVT). VVT's inhabitants were servants (Prabhakaran's father was
one), traders, fishermen, or simply smugglers because of the winding
seacoast and close proximity to India, Prabhakaran's parents currently
live in Tamil Nadu, India, and his siblings live overseas. In 1984,
Prabhakaran met and subsequently married a fellow activist, Madhivathini,
who was on a hunger strike protesting Sinhalese treatment of Tamils.
They have two children: a son, Charles Anthony, who is named after a
former LTTE leader and a daughter, Dwaraka, who is named after one of
When Prabhakaran was a child, his father demanded absolute discipline
from him and his siblings. Prabhakaran was a quiet boy who was devoted
to his family and friends, assisting family during religious functions
and dutifully running errands for neighbours and relatives. He earned
average grades in school. As a teenager, Prabhakaran was shy with girls
and was known to be always restless.
Prabhakaran's introduction to politics and to the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict
came from listening to his father's oft-repeated discourses on the worsening
ethnic relations in the country and laments on the fate of Tamils..
Prabhakaran subsequently became fascinated with Subash Chandra Bose,
the Indian nationalist who preferred to resist British rule through
'Militancy rather than subscribe to Gandhi's doctrine of nonviolence.
His favourite of Bose's slogans was "I shall fight for the freedom
of my land until I shed the last drop of blood." Prabhakaran was
also intrigued with the military exploits of Napoleon, the teachings
of Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu epic of the Mahabharata, Tamil history
books, and Phantom comics, often imagining himself to be a legendary
Though Prabhakaran was quiet and was regarded as a good listener, he
was easily excitable and found it difficult to contain himself when
discussions arose over Tamil politics, the ancient Tamil kingdoms in
India and Sri Lanka, and the possibility of an armed struggle like that
of Bose. He soon became involved in student activist groups. His political
activism eventually forced him to go underground in 1973 and to cut
off family ties.
Prabhakaran cites Sinhalese discrimination against Tamils and the 1972
constitution (which declared Sinhala the only official language of the
country and Buddhism the state religion) as factors that inspired him
to become a rebel at age 18. As Tamil militancy emerged in the 1970s,
Prabhakaran began to prepare himself for the battles that he perceived
lay ahead. It is said that he had a natural ability with firearms and
as a marksman; in any case his skills in these spheres were self-taught.
As a measure of physical endurance, he would tie himself up, get into
a sack, and lie under the sun the whole day. Prabhakaran also was known
to insert pins into his fingernails. He and his fellow activists relied
on temple offerings for food and at times would go hungry, sometimes
taking sleep-inducing tablets to ward off their hunger.
Prabhakaran and his gang began robbing banks to help finance their
militant quest for a Tamil homeland. Though other rebels robbed banks
to amass personal wealth, Prabhakaran's intentions were purely political.
He was a meticulous planner, placing banks under surveillance for weeks
and sometimes months before robbing them He gradually began to take
the leading role in discussing operations, but shared information only
on a need-to-know basis. Prabhakaran was very suspicious of new Tamil
militant recruits. As a security measure, he kept his meetings with
outsiders to a minimum and sometimes did not reveal his identity. Prabhakaran
reportedly was very tense and nervous about operations and could not
accept defeat. He developed a reputation for losing control if things
did not go his way. Even when engaged in friendly physical contests,
if Prabhakaran felt he was losing, he would resort to viciously biting
Prabhakaran enjoyed skyrocketing popularity in July 1975 after he allegedly
assassinated Alfred Durraiappah, the mayor of Jaffna, as the latter
paid his respects to a local Hindu temple. Durraiappah was the chief
organizer of the northern region, for the SLFP, the current Sri Lankan
ruling party, but was regarded by many Tamils as a government stooge.
Following the assassination, Prabhakaran became obsessed with his personal
security. By 1976, Prabbakaran and a handful of hard-core militants
formed the LTTE, a name derived from its, precursor, the Tamil New Tigers,
founded a couple of years earlier.
Prabhakaran networked with other Tamil militant groups and leaders,
but later eradicated them in order to promote the LTTE as the only true
representative of Tamil nationalism that seeks to establish an independent
homeland, referred to Eelam. This constitutes Prabhakaran's sole ideological
justification for existence. In the early years Prabhakaran dabbled
with Marxist ideas, but he later became intent on basing the movement
purely on Tamil nationalism rather than on Marxist ideology which he
views as contributing to the downfall of other Tamil militant groups.
Other than Tamil nationalism, no other ideology or military theory has
a compelling appeal to Prabhakaran.
Although most LTTE cadres (including Prabhakaran himself) are nominally
Hindu the issue of religion plays a negligible part in Prabhakaran's
ideology. Prabhakaran believes that Eelam should be a casteless society,
a concept that runs counter to the Hindu perspective. In addition, a
number of LTTE cadres, hail from Christian backgrounds. Prabhakaran
quietly worships Lord Subramania (or Lord Murugan) a prominent god in
the Hindu pantheon. Nevertheless, Prabhakaran is a pragrnatist and generally
relies on his own will and ability.
Prabhakaran's local propaganda and recruitment efforts are directed
at children and adolescents. Prabhakaran has shown a fondness for children
and often engages them in conversation. This sincerity may encourage
the younger generation to be future recruits in the LTTE. Prabhakaran
believes that the second generation, of youth exposed to the war will
fight better than the first. Of the second generation, he has greater
faith in the northern population because it has been subjected to more
LTTE indoctrination than its eastern counterparts, who are constantly
exposed to Sinhalese and Muslim influences.
Tamil youths, in particular, are attracted to Prabhakaran's image as
a folk hero. A supernatural image has been created of Prabhakaran, and
tales abound of the numerous instances where he narrowly escaped death.
These escapades and the fact that he has never seen the inside of a
jail cell continue to impress youths who stand in awe of Prabhakaran's
achievements in the Tamil struggle for independence. The mysticism surrounding
Prabhakaran, reinforced with massive propaganda campaigns, has endowed
him with a god-like status and a cult-like following.
Prabhakaran's emphasis on iron discipline has contributed to the successes
of the LTTE. His tight control over the organization, the severe punishments
(including execution) he metes out to violators, and his indoctrination
of cadres (including the use of a cyanide capsule rather than submit
to capture) have made the LTTE's organization and strategy difficult
In terms of self-discipline, Prabhakaran sets an example that other
cadres must abide by. He does not consume liquor or smoke tobacco. Tea,
coffee, and carbonated drinks are also considered taboo. Sex outside
marriage is forbidden and those cadres who violate this code are executed
irrespective of seniority or personal loyalty. Gambling and financial
dishonesty are also punishable by death. Homosexuality, interestingly,
is not; however, it is dealt with by public humiliation.
Prabhakaran emphasizes rigorous training and rehearsals of operations.
By the end of the training regimen, a cadre is physically and psychologically,
ready for the most demanding combat. Relentless indoctrination is a
powerful tool utilized by Prabhakaran to ensure that a cadre is not
forced into battle, but willingly chooses to enter the fray and very
likely lay down his or her life for the sake of Tamil Eelam. Prabhakaran
rarely visits training bases, but studies videos to improve the curricula.
Prabhakaran thoroughly examines military successes and defeats so that
he may repeat the successes and develop new mechanisms for overcoming
Prabhakaran does not favour democratic processes. Though there is a
central committee of the LTTE on paper, Prabhakaran's word is decisive.
Prabhakaran continues to neutralize all competing Tamil groups and individuals,
both moderates and militants, who pose any challenge to his leadership
and to the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamils. When the
importance of politicizing the population before taking to the gun was
proposed to him, Prabhakaran commented with undisguised contempt, "You
intellectuals are afraid of blood. No struggle will take place without
The Liberation Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), or the Tamil Tigers as they
are commonly known, is considered one of the most ruthless terrorist
organizations in the world. Established in 1972, the group went underground
3 years later, after assassinating the mayor of Jaffna city. The LTTE
is known for its network of contacts with various terrorist groups around
The militants' choice of the tiger as their symbol represents not only
the ferocity of the animal but also a deliberate contrast with the lion,
which has traditionally been a symbol of the Sinhalese people and is
depicted on the Sri Lankan flag. The organization has an elite squad
known as the Black Tigers, who conduct suicide missions against military
and civilian targets. The Black Tigers have assassinated not only prominent
political leaders in Sri Lanka but also the former prime minister of
India, Rajiv Gandhi.
Previously, the LTTE was viewed by most Tamil civilians as the legitimate
defender of the Tamil cause. Much of its funding came from Tamil expatriates
as well as the Indian government. However, in recent years, the LTTE
has lost much support from Tamil civilians and has resorted to tactics
that instil fear in order to control the Tamil community. External support
from Tamil expatriates and the Indian government has also waned and
as a result, the LTTE has engaged in drug trafficking to finance its
Ideologically, the LTTE has at times employed Marxist rhetoric to characterize
its struggle. However, irrespective of ideology, the creation of an
independent Tamil state has remained the movement's only goal. In pursuit
of this objective, the LTTE has been prone to use direct and violent
action rather than to formulate principles on which-the desired independent
state would operate. The LTTE as a whole tends not to be susceptible
to US influence, especially given the perception that the United States
is actively supporting the Sri Lankan armed forces against the LTTE.
Prabhakaran has not groomed a successor. There are rumours that he
is preparing his son to replace him, but there is no meaningful intelligence
on his family. He deals harshly with any challenge to his leadership.
He has eliminated many LTTE members who have either questioned his authority
or have been perceived as a threat. He has always felt that the biggest
threat to his survival comes from within the organization.
Since Prabhakaran feels that the main threat to his survival comes
from within the LTTE, he is obsessed with his personal security. He
is known to sleep with a revolver under his pillow. In addition, the
only member of the LTTE allowed to carry a firearm in Prabhakaran's
presence is Soranam, the trusted commander of his bodyguard contingent.
When Prabhakaran plans to visit a place, he ensures that extensive preparations
are taken for his protection. Over a hundred bodyguard cadres (who do
not interact with other cadres) are assigned to protect him. It is reported
that there are three rings of 40 bodyguards each surrounding Prabhakaran
upon his arrival at a particular destination.
Prabhakaran has gradually created a culture where dissent is absent.
His close associates are Thamil Chelvam, head of the political branch;
Pottu Amman, head of intelligence; Karuna, head of Batticaloa-Amparai
commands; (At the time this report was compiled, Karuna was still with
the LTTE. Ed) Balraj, military commander, Soranam, bodyguard commander,
Shankar, head of Air Tigers; (The inclusion of Shanakars name
is curious, because Shankar the LTTEs air chief, was killed by
a long range hit team from the army two weeks after the first LTTE attack
on the Colombo airport in 2001. He was definitely not among the living
in 2002. Ed) Soosai, head of Sea Tigers; Jeyam, special group commander;
-and Kumaran Padmanathan, head of procurement. They all merely hold
executive posts and carry out Prabhakaran's dictates. Although Anton
Balasingham is considered the ideologue and spokesman of the LTTE, Prabhakaran
often sidelines him as well. No one is close enough to Prabhakaran to
significantly influence his final decisions. Blind loyalty is the criterion
for a close association with him. Prabhakaran's authority is based on
fear and respect.
Prabhakaran is an innovator, improviser, and a technophile. His macabre
creativity is reflected in the human bombs, suicide boats, projectiles,
and mines the LTTE has been producing over the years. Irrespective of
the cost, he orders the best equipment for himself and his men. LTTE
cadres have used night vision goggles and rocket- propelled grenades
(RPGs) to engage Sri Lankan troops. If the desired equipment cannot
be procured, Prabhakaran will order improvisation using existing equipment
for the designated purpose. He also uses satellite communications with
LTTE ships and LTTE cells around the world.
Prabhakaran uses deception as an integral part of his modus operandi.
In many cases, he has arranged to visit subordinates or has extended
olive branches to political targets to lull them into a false sense
of security just prior to their assassination. In tactical operations,
Prabhakaran would conduct deception manoeuvres to draw attention away
from an intended target. LTTE duplicity often factors into the organization's
public posture. Deceptive guidelines are given to LTTE cadres on how
best to answer questions posed by the public and media. Carefully worded
guidelines are even provided to the Tamil diaspora over the Internet
on how best to respond to questions on the conflict posed by non- Sri
Lankans. These guidelines are designed to portray LTTE cadres as freedom
fighters pitted against a hostile and ruthless government.
Prabhakaran's mind-set has always been proactive and rarely reactive.
Prabhakaran realizes the advantage of seizing the initiative in battle,
always exploiting the element of surprise. Retaining the initiative
in battle has often favoured the LTTE, both militarily and psychologically.
Prabhakaran is masterful at executing pre-emptive strikes against his
enemies. When he perceives a future threat-whether emanating from an
individual or a group-Prabhakaran takes the initiative to eliminate
it through assassinations, terrorist bombings, or battlefield attacks.
Some analysts believe that his actions are also driven by a desire for
revenge. The ordered assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv
Gandhi is a case in point. Most analysts feel that Prabhakaran perceived
a future threat emanating from Gandhi (the redeployment of Indian troops
to Sri Lanka to disarm the Tigers) and therefore had him assassinated
as a pre-emptive measure. However, Prabhakaran also felt a deep sense
of betrayal from Gandhi for reversing India's policy toward the LTTE,
which points to revenge as a motive.
Another example of revenge as a possible motive is the January 1998
bombing of a revered Buddhist shrine in Kandy. This LTTE action was
rumoured to be Prabhakaran's retribution for the Sri Lankan Army's mass
destruction of LTTE gravesites. Prabhakaran's long-term goal is to break
the will of the Sinhalese-led government and thus lead it to accede
to his demand for a Tamil homeland. To achieve this end, any and all
means are justified in his mind. Prabhakaran is likely to continue assassinating
political and military leaders as well as bombing key targets in the
economic infrastructure. He views the high political and economic costs
his actions impose on the government as doors that lead to negotiations.
Prabhakaran uses negotiations as a ploy for the LTTE to rearm and regroup,
especially after a series of battlefield defeats.
Prabhakaran's key strengths:
a) Ability to provide highly effective military training and impart
discipline-both physical and psychological-to his cadres;
b) Highly successful propaganda campaigns-both local and international;
c) Image as a folk hero;
d) Meticulous (and effective) preparation for battles and campaigns;
e) Ability to innovate and make use of limited resources;
f) Compartmentalization of information within the organization; and
g) Emphasis on security.
a) Increasing alienation of moderate Tamils;
b) Negative public image as a megalomaniac extremist rather than a
c) Use of tactics that increasingly instil fear among his Tamil subjects
rather than earn him support and sympathy;
d) Insecurity and lack of trust in his comrades in struggle;
e) Willingness to place innocent civilians (Tamil, Sinhalese, and foreign)
in harm's way; and
f) Intransigence toward accepting anything less than an independent
So far, Prabhakaran has been careful not to target Americans. At times,
he seems favourably disposed toward Americans and has even invited the
United States to act as a third party mediator in the conflict. Though
there is no evidence suggesting that Prabhakaran will change this posture,
the United States should tread carefully and sceptically in any dealings
with Prabhakaran. In the past, Prabhakaran has been known to extend
olive branches before striking at unsuspecting targets. If Prabhakaran
views US aid to the Sri Lankan government as making a difference on
the battlefield to the detriment of the LTTE, his policy toward the
United States could change to one of hostility. In the event of such
a policy shift, US military trainers, American diplomats, and American
businessmen in Sri Lanka would be likely LTTE targets for assassination.
US businesses and property would be likely LTTE targets for destruction.
However, any harm to US personnel or property would further tarnish
Prabhakaran's image among western countries and moderate Tamils.
Ultimately, Prabhakaran's raison d etre and legitimacy are predicated
on Tamil dissatisfaction with and alienation from the government. As
government-Tamil relations improve, Prabhakaran's popularity among Tamils
will fade. As long as Prabhakaran is alive, any peace offers proposed
by the LTTE will not be genuine; negotiations will be used as a short-term
tactic for the LTTE to rearm and regroup as battlefield defeats increase.
If LTTE manpower and resources become severely depleted, Prabhakaran
may, as a measure of last resort, publicly accept a seemingly long-term
political arrangement short of secession, so long as he is able to retain
some semblance of power. Again, this would be viewed by Prabhakaran
as a temporary situation until he could position himself to confront
the- government and revert to violence for, the sake of creating an
independent Tamil homeland.
Tomorrow: The American Governments assessment of the Sri Lankan