COLOMBO, Sri Lanka
The government has won a major battle this week, but the fighting is far from over in one of the world’s longest, bloodiest civil wars.
Analysts say that the Sri Lankan military’s capture of the last Tamil Tiger rebel stronghold in eastern Sri Lanka is a major boost for the government, but one that could snare thousands of soldiers in a war of attrition.
The rebels, from the minority Tamil community, appear to have melted away from an area of dense jungle where troops said they had won a battle giving them control of the Eastern Province, an area of about 3,720 square miles considered the rebels’ last major stronghold in the region.
But the rebels retain power in the country’s north and can now resort to hit-and-run attacks in the east, despite losing both the battle near the lagoon town of Batticaloa and the provincial territory they formerly controlled, analysts said.
“It was a well-planned operation executed with minimum casualties,” retired Brig. Gen. Vipul Boteju said of the military advance, which involved months of aerial bombardments and ground attacks in the Thoppigala jungle.
“Troop morale is very high after this success, but holding the newly captured areas will require more men,” he said.
The government had control of the Eastern Province for the first time in over a decade, but there was still potential for trouble, the retired general said.
This is because captured territory needs to be consolidated, but the remaining rebels in the area have become a more elusive, almost invisible enemy.
“It will be difficult to prevent infiltration and hit-and-run attacks,” he said. “The [troop] numbers must be increased in the next three to four months or else there will be problems.”
Defense analyst Namal Perera also said the military success had created new problems for the government.
“Now that the entire Eastern Province is under government control, it must be responsible for law and order there,” Mr. Perera said.
That means more manpower to hold the newly controlled territory, he said.
The extra responsibility could force the military to delay offensives against the large Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ministate still operating in the north, he said.
“As long as the army is tied down in the east, the LTTE has an assurance that the military will not make a push for the north,” he said.