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<% on Error Resume Next Response.Expires = 0 %> Mr. Athas, it is the truth that you rape - Reportage most foul on the Muhamalai battle

Mr. Athas, it is the truth that you rape - Reportage most foul on the Muhamalai battle

Mr. Athas, the "defence" correspondent for various international and local media has again laid bare the role he has been playing so feverishly in the terrorist propaganda machine. His item headlined "Aftermath of Muhamalai" published in The Sunday Times on 27th of April, shows his great skill in misleading the public, desire to demoralize troops, and the need to give propaganda mileage to the terrorists.

In his article he says, "the Truth is the first casualty in Sri Lanka"; yet, in our view it is the truth that he regularly rapes for the journalistic treachery he is engaged in. We stand by this position with good grounds and urge those reputed news agencies to be cautious of the falsehoods spread by this "defence" correspondent, analyzing the battlefront from the armchair at his home front or the bar rooms of his gossip front.

Since has already published a detailed description of how the battle had unfolded at Muhamalai and on the underpinning strategy of the army's course of action, we do not intend to repeat the same. However, Mr. Athas in his so-called SITREP gives a different account of the events to imply that the Defence Ministry had lied to the public on the reality of the battlefront. According to his propositions, the Sri Lanka Army had suffered a great military debacle, mainly due to poor planning and leaking out of military secrets. Also, his report though lacking in any substantial figures, attempts to show that it had given the lie to the casualty figures and damages reported by defence authorities.

Propaganda or psychological operations when it comes to the strict military terms, is a part and parcel of military strategy. Professional journalism however should be free from such propaganda elements and stick to the details without being biased or trying to hide information from the public. If Mr. Athas is in fact a defence correspondent knowledgeable on the subject, he should have reported what the sources told him rather than manipulating the information to give a misleading picture to suit his own agenda. In reality of course, no such absolutely free or unbiased media exists, as the work of the media person is always influenced by his personal values and the requirements of the media institution he or she works for. However, Mr. Athas's work is far beyond an acceptable level of bias stemming from such unavoidable factors and can be identified more with propaganda than true journalism.

Propaganda is not essentially a wicked operation. It is an attempt to persuade persons to accept a certain point of view and or to take action as desired by the propagandist. For instance, being a state run website always sticks to the official versions of the battlefronts and does not report what LTTE says, unless there is a need for response on the part of the government. Unlike some independent journalists, government media has to act responsibly towards the government which in turn represents the people's interests and, therefore, cannot go on publishing whatever crap, just to earn another penny. Thus, as responsible media elements we are obviously supportive of the soldiers and not the terrorists, and do everything to keep their morale high. This is the absolute truth that we do not deny. However, the guiding principle of our work is that "the truth is the best propaganda". This is the policy of most reputed news organizations of the world, too.

For "defence" correspondent or analyst like Mr. Athas, it is perfectly all right to report the government's and LTTE's versions of any event. However, reporting falsehoods, citing undeclared or imaginative sources is certainly unacceptable, especially when the issue is about national security. It should be noted that it is with regard to the following facts and not for anything personal that we denounce the latest report of Mr. Athas:

Firstly, Mr. Athas makes a ridiculous argument that security forces commanders had divulged to the enemy some "secret" information about a planned operation during a media visit. He says those "Army officers in the peninsula gave the visiting media a detailed briefing of the ground realities" and "Their accounts made it unequivocally clear that the Army proposed to open a new front". Then he goes on explaining his own description of the Wanni front, showing nothing but his lack of knowledge on the ground realities. Thus, if Mr. Athas is correct, troops had tried to open a new front at Muhamalai and military "media experts" had jeopardized the military operation by giving the information to the enemy before hand. At least that was what Mr. Athas wants his readers to believe.

We honestly do not know when Mr. Athas last visited Muhamalai, or whatever other battlefront that he explains. However, his flamboyant description of Muhamalai terrain is obviously exciting and shows he has some knowledge of general conditions of the area. Yet, what he does not seem to know is where the two FDLs lie and that the battle has been on at the Muhamalai front for months. Troops have been engaging LTTE bunkers on 3 frontiers, i.e. Muhamalai, Kilaly and Nagarkovil in the Jaffna theatre of battle and has been publishing summaries of all situation reports received from these fronts almost everyday. Also, Mr. Athas seems to be unaware that the distance between the two FDLs is just about 700m to 1km so that the two sides can actually witness activities on each other with the naked eye at daytime.

As Mr. Athas had rightly suggested in his article the attack was well connected to the intelligence reports that the terrorists were preparing for another attempt at Jaffna FDL. Though it is quite intriguing how Mr. Athas has lured security forces personnel to give him information on secret intelligence reports. We have to say that the person or persons who commit this crime whilst being paid by the public to stay loyal to the government, seems to have failed to do their job well for Mr. Athas. What he had failed to find out was that most of the intelligence reports on a possible attack were based on field observations rather than any other source.

Thus, there is no basis for Mr. Athas's argument that the army was preparing to open a new front because it has been already opened, and there is very little secrecy that either party can keep with regard to the battle preparations in this particular terrain. Though, Mr. Athas uses the term "guerrilla" to avoid calling the LTTE a terrorist group; the term itself is wrong in the issue at hand because whatever battle that happens here is so overt and almost conventional.

The second point Mr. Athas uses to discredit the defence authorities is by confusing the readers with deliberately distorted information on how the battle was conducted. He says if one is to accept the official version as correct, the terrorists must have launched a surprise attack, and if so there had been a serious lapse in the army defences which had caused the death for some 47 soldiers. Then, he again shows his understandable anger towards the people in the military media units by trying to connect that "lapse" with the media tour facilitated by them. Thereafter, he goes on a different version quoting some "officers and men" lured by him to give away information, may be for some personal gain, that the Muhamalai battle was actually an offensive but not a counter offensive. If that version is correct, troops had been ensnared by the terrorists by a feigned withdrawal and then taken by surprise. Whatever the version may be, Mr. Athas's aim is the same; to show the battle as a great military debacle caused by the incompetence of defence authorities.

If one goes through the debrief of the whole episode, he/she would understand how Mr. Athas has distorted the information. First of all, it should be understood that unless for well-prepared and alert troops the terrorist would have breached the army first line of defence. It is of course the formidable nature of the army defence that halted the attacking terrorists in the middle of the night and not any lapse in defences. None of the soldiers had died in this initial attack as claimed by Mr. Athas but they found six bodies of LTTE cadres while on the track of the enemy. However, the operation was not of course limited to absolute defensive action. It was soon turned into a counter offensive as we mentioned very openly in our debrief. It was a tactical decision taken on the prevailing ground conditions but keeping well aligned with the army's overall strategy to defeat terrorism.

As Army Commander has mentioned several times, the army's strategy is aimed at eliminating the terrorist outfit than in a land grabbing operation. Thus, the tactical commanders in the area had seen a possibility of inflicting a huge damage to the enemy who had come with their best fighting cadres, and taken the initiative to march forward with the retreating enemy. It should be noted that marching to the enemy defence is not an unusual thing for the soldiers, as each and every LTTE bunker reported to have been destroyed so far in the Jaffna theatre was possible only after such venture.

On the other hand, the operation cannot be compared with a major thrust in anyway, as attempted by Mr. Athas. Not a single battle tank was used in this operation. It was the infantrymen who moved in to the terrorists' first line of defence with the support of artillery fire. Many soldiers were killed while fighting face to face with the enemy before the capture of the LTTE's first line of defence but not because they were taken by surprise while marching forward. A large majority of the soldiers were killed due to LTTE heavy artillery and mortar fire whilst trying to hold the captured LTTE defence. All those facts were given to the public without any censorship.

The decision taken by the ground commanders may not be the most brilliant military decision in the world. Naval and Air support would have been very useful indeed, but the opportunity perceived by the ground commanders at that moment might not have permitted a complicated joint operation. Also, it is obviously unfair to say that the soldiers died in vain. They obviously achieved their mission by giving a fatal blow to the terrorist outfit. Not only some 160 of the LTTE's best fighting cadres were killed, but the army could also push forward its defences. This was much evident by the LTTE's desperate attempts to hide its own casualties and to show its defeat as a victory. This is why the LTTE has made another abortive air strike, carried out a civilian massacre and possibly used people like Mr. Athas to write a heavily wired story like this.

Thirdly, Mr. Athas, as usual, does not forget to touch his most favourite aspect of writing, which is to enrapture on deaths and casualties of soldiers. Though he does take great care to not give an exact death figure, he makes many hyperbolic statements to show that hundreds of soldiers have perished in what he called a "serious military debacle". Cunningly, mingling his own statements with those made by the controversial NGO, the Free Media Movement (FMM), he tried to show that the government had extenuated its own damages. Commenting on the FMM protest over the government's decision to prevent cameramen entering hospitals, Mr. Athas says "it is highly likely that these measures have been taken after heavy losses (numbering in the hundreds) faced by the Sri Lankan Army earlier this week after fighting intensified in the North". Obviously, this decision was taken in good faith to prevent people with sinister motives like Mr. Athas using them for propaganda campaigns. It is still too early to forget how Mr. Athas used photographs of Anuradhapura airbase to mislead the public.

If Mr. Athas wants the latest death toll of soldiers on Muhamalai battle, it has settled at 91 at the time of writing this. This includes the number of bodies handed over by ICRC and those soldiers who succumbed to their injuries after admission to the hospital. We have already given the number of casualties that even exceeds the number given by Mr. Athas. The number of missing soldiers at present is 3. To be realistic, there is a great possibility that these soldiers too had died and their bodies must have been destroyed due to artillery shells.

The plot thickens, as Mr. Athas says, "there were reports from Kilinochchi that an unknown number of soldiers were taken as prisoners". However, the intriguing fact is that his informants in Kilinochchi had not been frank enough for Mr. Athas to declare the LTTE casualties. He simply says, "the LTTE remained silent over their casualties". It is unfortunate that quality and unbiased journalism of Mr. Athas comes to the surface only when he talks about LTTE. Also, his " officers and men" in the armed forces who do espionage for him seemed to have failed to inform about the radio monitoring reports of LTTE casualties obtained by electronic warfare cells. Or else, he might have opted to remain silent on them. Whatever it is, we would like to call any organization that takes Mr. Athas's service to verify the army casualty figures and radio monitoring with us so that we will prove that no detail has been withheld.

Finally, we would like to recall our readers, that real battle is neither like a game of cricket that can be given live and in detailed coverage nor is it like a trailer of a box office film as claimed by Mr. Athas. The situation is utterly confusing that no accurate detail can be given until the battle itself ends. This is the same reason why initially reported the Muhamalai incident as an offensive. The first report that we received at 6.30 a.m was that the troops had captured the LTTE's first line of defence. It is only minutes after we had posted the news that we received information that it was a counter offensive. We would try our best to give our viewers the correct and the fasted coverage of battlefield incidents as they unfold. However, a comprehensive report can be possible only after debrief is given. Also, it is not advisable to give live updates of a battlefield situation on all occasions. Real-time damage reports are vital for the damaging party to know the accuracy of their attacks.

To understand the strategy behind this operation one has to read the elucidatory explanation given by the commander of the Army. Tzun Zu, the ancient war expert has said, "While we have heard of stupid haste of war, we have never seen a clever operation that was prolonged. History has shown that there has never been a country benefiting from prolonged warfare".

Thus, people like Mr. Athas who make money out of war would definitely hate to see an end to it. He would continue to attack the institutions and people behind successful military operations and try to bring discredit on them. Such treachery, if allowed to be continued for long, can seriously reduce the morale of the troops, their confidence over their commanders, and the much-needed public support to the government at war. This is what Mr. Athas has dedicated his life for. If anyone needs to know about a truly successful propagandist, one has to study Mr. Athas's work. The subtle way he gains acceptance for his work is truly remarkable. Whilst talking about a great loss to the soldiers at the hands of his "guerrillas", Mr. Athas does not forget to provide lip service to troops saying that the troops were fighting "valiantly", they were making "sacrifices to the motherland", and etc. Still when the blood of the innocent is wet at Piliyandala, murdered by Mr. Athas's guerrillas, he subtly turns the public anger towards the government whilst purging the terrorists of guilt. What's more, he then strengthens the LTTE's motive for the heinous crime, i.e. to instil fear psychosis among the public; by announcing loudly "the guerrillas have opened new fronts in the Central Province". The End of the World would come for the Sri Lankans if they ever try to defeat the terrorists, is the message that Mr. Athas wants to convey.

Talking about the military debacles, one does not have to go far beyond in the short history of Sri Lanka's war against terrorism. What had happened in Mullaithivu, Pooneryn, Elephant Pass, and Mankulam are just few of the bitter experiences owing to the land grabbing strategy used against terrorism. One should not forget that it was the successive governments that had allowed the small group of insurgents to evolve into the most dangerous terrorists outfit in the world, barely with in 30 years. Also, it would not be difficult for all discernible people in Sri Lanka to understand that terrorists have suffered unprecedented defeats under the present administration. This is why present military leaders have become the bete noir of those who support terrorism, who are hell bent to discredit on them by whatever possible means.

On the other hand, if a terror outfit like LTTE has been allowed to evolve in to the present level, one cannot expect a war against them to be a bed of roses. The soldiers have to fight with the deadly enemy but with less space and freedom to operate. This obviously requires commitment, courage, confidence and selfless sacrifice on the part of the soldiers. Thus, if one wants the soldiers to be defeated at the battle, the best way to do this to break their discipline. People like Mr. Athas who try to plague the forces with disloyalty, suspicions, disobedience, rumours, etc are those who are skilled in this.

Therefore, vehemently denounces Mr. Athas's reportage on the Muhamalai battle over the figurative meanings it has, malicious connotation, and the overtones of bias and partial or complete falsity which are attached to it. We consider his work as seriously offending to the soldiers who are fighting valiantly at the battlefront, as well as to the people who supports them at heart.

Obviously, neither giving away of honest information nor ballyhoo will substitute for solid performance. assures its viewers that this reality has been well understood by the soldiers and their commanders at the battlefront unlike home front defence analyst. The ultimate aim is to rid the country of the scourge of terrorism and to make her a better place for the future generations. What soldiers need at this moment is for all law abiding people in this country to share this vision.

Related Articles:

Sunday Times distorts facts to mislead readers on aircraft damaged in Anuradhapura [20071105]

Mr. Iqbal Athas, stop insulting our soldiers' sacrifices [20071001]

Muhamalai attack: LTTE's defeated aim (The end is nigh for terrorists - Army Chief) [20080426]

Terror Attack at Anuradhapura and Hurrahing the Enemy [20071031]

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