by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor Victoria Nuland, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs of the United States, has made a second visit to Sri Lanka within a few months. PriorMore
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran along with many senior LTTE leaders was killed in the military confrontation with Sri Lanka’s armed forces in May 2009. With that military debacle in the Mullivaaikkaal area of Mullaitheevu district, the LTTE – known as the tigers – ceased to be a functional entity in the island.
Among those reported dead in May 2009 was the LTTE’s much-dreaded intelligence chief Shanmuganathan Sivashankar alias ‘Pottu Ammaan’. Though Ammaan is spelled by many as Amman with a single ‘A’, this writer uses a double A because it is phonetically more accurate in terms of pronunciation. Incidentally ‘Ammaan’ in Jaffna Tamil usage denotes maternal uncle. Many senior LTTE leaders were addressed respectfully as Ammaan by members of the movement in those days.
LTTE Intelligence chief Pottu Ammaan was at the time of the LTTE’s military defeat, the de-facto No. 2 of the tigers. The de-jure No. 2 was Baby Subramaniam who was second only to Prabhakaran in terms of seniority within LTTE ranks. However it was Pottu Ammaan who functioned operationally as the No. 2. Though reported dead and subsequently pronounced legally dead, the fact remains that Pottu Ammaan’s body or remains were never found. This has led to much speculation about the LTTE intelligence chief not being dead.
This writer has over the years received many queries from readers about Pottu Amman. Many of them ask me whether Pottu Ammaan is yet alive. The fires of doubt in their minds is fuelled by persistent rumours and occasional media reports of a sensational nature. Several readers have also been wanting to know more details about the LTTE intelligence chief. It is against this backdrop therefore that this two-part article focuses on Pottu Ammaan with the aid of some of my earlier writings.
Sivashankar Alias ‘Pottu’
Shanmuganathan Sivashankar alias Pottu Ammaan a.k.a. Pottu functioned for more than two decades as the pivotal head of the LTTE’s powerful intelligence division. Pottu served the LTTE for nearly 30 years having joined the movement in the early 80s of the previous century. When the LTTE launched its attack on soldiers in Thinnevely on 23 July 1983 it had only 23 full-time members and seven part-time helpers. Pottu was one of the original 30. Though his family resided in Naayanmarkattu, they were from neighbouring Ariyalai.
There was a time when Ariyalai in Jaffna was second only to Valvettithurai (VVT) in providing recruits to the LTTE. Senior leaders like Santhosham master, Kannaadi Prem and Bhanu were residents of Ariyalai. Veteran LTTE leader Basheer Kaakaa and Pottu were also from Ariyalai but were residents of Nayanmaarkattu adjacent to Ariyalai. However from childhood, Sivashankar had moved with Ariyalai kids of his age and used to hang out more in Ariyalai than Naayanmaarkattu.
Sivashankar’s father Shanmuganathan was also known as Shanmugalingam. He had been working as a clerk in Nuwara-Eliya district for many years. The family lived in Jaffna because of schooling for the children. At one point of time, several LTTE members including Charles Anthony alias Seelan had rented out the front room adjoining the Verandah as a “safe house” and stayed there for a while. It is said that Pottu’s father continued to reside in the hill country till the late 90s. Since very little was known to the Sri Lankan authorities about Pottu the son was supremely confident that his father was in no danger.
Pottu studied at Maheswari Vidyalayam, Canageratnam MMV (Stanley College) and Jaffna Hindu College. Tall, handsome and smart, he was very popular with his friends. Apparently he did not excel in studies or sports but won a lot of essay competitions. Sivashankar was recruited to the LTTE by former tiger Batticaloa district commander Basheer Kaakkaa and ex-LTTE Trincomalee district commander Santhosham. This was in late 1981. Earlier he had worked as part-time helper. Upon joining the LTTE as a full-timer, Sivashankar was assigned the nom de guerre Kumanan. But as the days went by he became known as ‘Pottu’ which interestingly enough was a nickname used by friends from school days.
Origin of the nickname Pottu
The origin of that nickname Pottu is rather amusing. Pottu is the mark or thilak placed on one’s forehead. Usually Santhanam (sandal) or Vermillion (Kunkumam) is used for daubing a pottu in temples or on auspicious occasions.
The rise of the Tamil nationalist , Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) also known as the Federal Party and in later times the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in Tamil politics led to the dominance of concepts like struggle and sacrifice in Tamil political discourse. A militant manifestation of this tendency was the custom of placing ‘Irathappottu’ or bloody thilaks.
Aroused by the hawkish sentiments of Tamil political leaders, highly emotional youths would mount platforms, prick or cut their thumbs and place the oozing blood as ‘pottu’ on the foreheads of the leaders pledging their blood and life for the Tamil cause.
Apparently young Sivashankar too had on one occasion climbed on to the stage in a frenzy, ripped his hand with a razor blade and placed bloody pottus on the foreheads of Tamil leaders Appapillai Amirthalingam and Vetrivelu Yogeswaran. This was during the highly emotive 1977 election campaign where the TULF espoused a separate state called Tamil Eelam. Yogeswaran was the TULF candidate for Jaffna electorate then.
Sivashankar’s emotional gesture was perceived hilariously by his friends. He was teased and called Pottu after that. The name struck and later when he joined the LTTE the Pottu name lingered on and his new comrades too began addressing him as such.
As Pottu’s seniority increased the suffix ‘Ammaan’ was added. As stated earlier Ammaan means maternal uncle in Jaffna Tamil usage. Seniors in the militant movement are addressed as ‘Annan’ (elder brother) ‘Master’ or ‘Ammaan’. Apart from the official nom de guerre Kumanan, other names used by Shivashankar occasionally were Moorthy, Kuyilan and Kuruvi. But it was as Pottu that he was known best. His international radio sign was ‘Papa Oscar’.
‘Vediyarasanân’ (explosion king)
In later years when the LTTE began triggering off explosion after explosion in Colombo and other areas, some tiger leaders like the LTTE’s former political adviser Anton Balasingam referred to Pottu facetiously as ‘Vediyarasanân’ (explosion king). Interestingly Vediyarasan is also the name of the legendary warrior-king who ruled Neduntheevu or the Island of Delft. Tamil folk dramas are staged about Vediyarasan in the ‘Naattukkoothu’ tradition still.
First LTTE batch
The July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom with its consequences was a watershed in Tamil politics. India played an active role by providing arms training for Tamil militants known as ‘boys’ then. Sivashankar alias Pottu went to Uttar Pradesh in North India for arms training as part of the first LTTE batch. The 1st batch comprised trainees who were a blend of ‘old’ members and new recruits. Among Pottu’s comrades in the first batch were Kittu, Ponnammaan, Soosai, Aruna, Victor, Curdles, Pulendrhian, Rajesh, Gnanam, Imran, Pandian, Ganesh, Paduman and Kanthan.
After getting Indian training Pottu functioned briefly as Prabhakaran’s bodyguard. It was during this period that Pottu became a fanatical follower of his leader. He served his leader with slavish devotion. Pottu’s personal loyalty to Prabhakaran was unswerving and unquestionable.
Pottu was entrusted in mid-988 with the responsibility of administering the LTTE’s intelligence wing. He remained in charge for 21 years until May 2009.
The evolution and growth of the LTTE intelligence division has been quite remarkable. Being a guerrilla organisation the LTTE lacked resources in signals, electronic, imagery or technical intelligence. But these were compensated for greatly by excessive reliance on HUMINT or Human Intelligence.
The LTTE Intelligence wing was initially formed in December 1983. It was called the Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service or TOSIS. Its first head was a family member of a well- known smuggler in Valvettithurai. This person now living in a Western country bore the nom de guerre Vasanthan. The first head of TOSIS also had a pilot’s license. Vasanthan left the LTTE after the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord.
The TOSIS mainly functioned from Chennai during those days. Its role was minimal and somewhat nominal. The Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research and analysis wing) held some elementary training sessions for TOSIS. One of the early ‘intelligence’ tasks was the monitoring of maritime movement in Trincomalee harbour. The LTTE also ran a military office (MO) in Chennai headed by Thalayasingham Sivakumar alias Anton Master. The MO was more or less a prototype of a military intelligence unit.
Meanwhile the former LTTE Jaffna commander ‘Col’ Kittu set up his own local intelligence outfit. It was headed by ‘Ideas’ Vasu who also was from VVT. Vasu along with Ponnammaan and Curdles was killed in the Kaithady bowser explosion of 14 February, 1987. After Prabhakaran returned to Jaffna from Tamil Nadu in January 1987, he formed another intelligence unit called BETA-2. This was supervised by the former LTTE deputy-leader Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya.
Took over in 1988
The TOSIS was re-located to the northern mainland known as Wanni in 1987. The BETA-2 and all other regional intelligence outfits were merged with it. The TOSIS underwent a renaissance after Pottu took over in 1988. He was ably assisted by Bosco alias Potko who at one time was studying to be a Catholic priest.
The LTTE gained much territorial control after the Indian army departed in March 1990. Using Jaffna as the base, Pottu began expanding, streamlining and developing the intelligence division. While Potko attended to administrative functions Shanmuganathan Ravichandran alias Charles was in charge of external operations. Charles who adopted the name Arulventhan later was a direct recruit of Pottu Ammaan. Charles was introduced to Pottu by the latter’s bodyguard Kili during the Indian army period. External operations was a euphemism for attacks outside the North-East particularly Colombo.
Charles was sent to Colombo during the ‘peace talks’ period with President Ranasinghe Premadasa. It was during this phase that the LTTE infiltrated Colombo easily. Charles diligently set up a clandestine tiger network. After war resumed in June 1990, this outfit got into action. Among the early operations was the car bomb assassination of deputy defence minister Ranjan Wijeratne and vehicle bombing of JOC headquarters in Colombo.
The intelligence division was in the meantime being revamped. The LTTE made a systematic study of the chief intelligence agencies of the world. According to ex-LTTE members who had been intelligence operatives, the training manuals of Pakistan’s intelligence agency the Inter State Services (ISI) were obtained and utilised for training intelligence wing cadres. The LTTE also copied many methods and stratagems of Israel’s Shin Bet and Mossad, say former LTTE members.
One attribute gleaned from the Israelis was to utilise Thamizh as the language of operation for intelligence purposes just as Israel used Hebrew. Though known as TOSIS once the LTTEâ€™ intelligence division became totally Tamilised as it progressed. Special branches were begun within the intelligence division.
One such unit was called the ‘Viseda Vevu Pirivu’ or special reconnaissance unit. This was headed by Sashikumar or Sashi master who was decorated by Prabhakaran personally for the successful operation of 8 August 1992. This was the explosion at Aralithurai where a vehicle was blown up killing several top security officials including Denzil Kobbekaduwe and Vijaya Wimalaratne.
Demarcated intelligence division
In 1993, the intelligence division was demarcated into the ‘Thesiya Pulanaaivu pirivu’ (National intelligence division) and ‘Iraanuva pulanaaivu sevai’ (Military intelligence service). Pottu was in overall charge of the entire intelligence division in general and national intelligence service in particular.
Sashi master was placed in charge of military intelligence. He held this post till 2004 when Prabhakaran appointed Charles in his place. Sashi was placed in charge of special operations and training.
After Charles was killed by the Army in January 2008 in Mannar, Sashi master was re-appointed in charge of military intelligence. Sashikumar and ‘Col’ Sornam fought to the end in Mullivaaikkaal and died on 15 May.
National Intelligence Division
The LTTE National Intelligence Division had five known departments. The intelligence gathering section known as ‘Thagaval segarikkum pirivu’ was headed by Kapil Amman who was also the deputy chief of intelligence. The research and publications department known as ‘Aaivu matrum veliyeetu pirivu’ was headed by Maathavan master.
The special operations department known as ‘Viseda seyatpaadu pirivu’ was under Janan master. The infamous ‘Karumpuligal’ (Black tigers) suicide unit was also under this section. The ‘Payitchi matrum Tholil nutpa [pirivu]’ (Training and technology dept.) was under Aathavan master. The administrative department known as ‘Nirvaakappirivu’ was under Shankar. After he was killed by the Army’s LRRP in 2001, Gaddafi took charge.
Military intelligence service
The military intelligence service headed by Sashikumar alias Sashi master had five known departments. The ‘Viseda Vevu’ or special reconnaissance department was headed by Charles aka Arulventhan and later Irathinam Amman. The administrative department known as ‘Nirvaagapirivu’ was also supervised by Sashi master.
There were also three ‘Iraanuva thagaval segarippu pirivugal’ (military intelligence gathering units) for the Army, Navy and Air Force. These units had to gather information about all army, navy and airforce installations, movement of personnel, etc. These were headed by Gauthaman.
Intelligence division cadres were carefully screened with background checks before recruitment. New recruits underwent intensive training that lasted at times for nearly a year. Trainees were kept in isolation and had to wear masks for group sessions so that their faces were not seen by each other.
Training was varied. The black tiger suicide squad members were given specialised training that included how to walk in crowded streets without knocking on people while wearing an explosive laden suicide jacket or belt. Sinhala language lessons with proper emphasis on the ‘accent’ was also imparted to those carrying Identity cards with Sinhala names.
A typical LTTE cell located outside the North-East had four to six members. They were called ‘Velikkala muhavarhal’ or field agents. One did not know the other and each was assigned separate duties. Each cell was handled or coordinated by a ‘pirathhana muhavar’ or principal agent. At times the principal agent interacted directly with the field agents. At times an intermediary called ‘Idainilaiyaalar’ was used.
An elaborate network of safe houses, storage facilities, dead letter boxes, etc. was set up by the LTTE intelligence. Earlier the tigers utilised Tamils of North-Eastern origin for setting up the supportive network. Later they focused on Indian Tamils. Gradually the tigers began enlisting Muslims and Sinhalese using enhanced financial remuneration as an incentive. The ceasefire period from 2002 February was a windfall. An intricate network was established.
A noteworthy feature of this phenomenon was the infiltration of Police and Armed Forces. Initially a media personality was used to cultivate potential double agent recruits in the Police and Armed Forces. Huge sums of money and in some instances expensive property were given as incentives. Most of these officers were Sinhala or Muslim. Some of these personnel were later identified and apprehended. Sri Lankan officials were immensely impressed by the extent to which Pottu Ammaan had elevated the LTTE intelligence division.
Bosco alias Potko
The LTTE’s intelligence wing was a mere fledgling when Pottu took over. It was Pottu Amman who developed it to unbelievable levels. As mentioned earlier, he was aided greatly by Bosco alias Potko who at one time was a student in a Catholic seminary.
Some of Pottu’s old acquaintances were initially flabbergasted at Pottu’s metamorphosis as Beria to Prabhakaran’s Stalin. Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was the dreaded Chief of Secret Police in the Old Soviet Union during the dictatorial rule of Josef Stalin.
One of his classmates now in Canada told me once that Sivashankar was a ‘mokkan’ (idiot) in studies. He was amazed at Pottu’s growth in later life and observed, “I just don’t know how he is running the intelligence division so well nowadays.” But then academic brilliance is not a pre-requisite to run an intelligence outfit. What is required is lateral thinking, practical approaches, devious, cunning, organisational skills, shrewd judgement of men and matters, and above all perpetual paranoia about everything.
Expertise in playing cards
An indicator of Pottu’s ability and talent was his acknowledged expertise in playing cards. He was very fond of playing cards. A former LTTE colleague of Pottu told me that he (Pottu) could be woken up from sleep at night for a game of cards. He was always ready for cards. On one occasion, the tigers had to flee from a safe house because an army patrol was approaching. Pottu had apparently forgotten to take away a bag of home made grenades with him but had not forgotten to take away his pack of cards. Pottu was not the intelligence chief at that time.
Pottu was apparently a marvel at ‘Three Naught Four’ and was able – within a short time – to gauge which cards were being held by his adversaries. He would play his cards accordingly. Pottu had the uncanny ability to both bluff as well as call the bluff of his opponents. This was a trait which stood him in good stead as intelligence chief.
Pottu Ammaan however was autocratic in running the intelligence wing. He also had a cruel streak which made him a much dreaded man within and outside the LTTE. Once in 2002, Pottu Ammaan was a ‘surprise’ participant at a political discussion between the LTTE and MPs from the newly formed Tamil National Alliance (TNA). I asked LTTE political strategist Anton Balasingham then in London about Pottu’s inclusion in a political discussion. Balasingham chuckled and replied that Pottu was included to intimidate (verutta) the MPs.
The much-dreaded Pottu Ammaan’s reign of terror came to an end in May 2009. How and why that happened would be delved into in grater detail in the second part of this article
Almost 3 months after his appointment as CDS, Gen Anil Chauhan has maintained silence. He travelled to Def-Expo in Gujrat and along with three service Chiefs to NDA Khadakvasla, the cradle of jointness – symbolically a deft move. Initial briefings and scrutiny of feedback from Services on theatrisation are over. Integrated capability development requires a Joint Procurement Agency which was produced by Defence Planning Staff in 1988. The absence of institutional memory causes time and cost overruns.
CDS has become synonymous with integration and theatrisation, the task given originally to late Gen Rawat. Jointness was to be achieved in 3 years but no timeline was set for Integrated Theatre Commands. Not surprisingly, days after Gen Chauhan’s appointment as CDS, Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, in the run-up to IAF Day on 8 October, admitted that inter-service differences had not been reconciled and a discussion was warranted to find a solution to take theatrisation forward. He reiterated the traditional objections of IAF: the paucity of resources, just 30 fighter squadrons today and best case of 35 to 36 squadrons by 2035; 24X7 AD cover required concentration of resources and separating the two (AD Command and Theatre Command) will affect joint strategy.
Gen Rawat, not averse to shooting from the hip, had stirred a hornet’s nest by suggesting IAF was an extension of Artillery and essentially a combat support arm. ACM Chaudhari’s recent comments included a ‘future ready IAF to include space and cyber-space, abridged decision-making chain of command and need for a joint strategy’ while each service had its own doctrine. As a precautionary, he added:” IAF is not opposed to integrated theatre commands (theatrisation)”. He also advocated the need for an equivalent national security strategy. NSS is a vital document on integrating the whole of government effort that every President in the US is mandated to produce once in his term. Biden issued an interim NSS in March 2022 and on 12 October, a final one. The Biden strategy talks of ‘strategic competition with China, the US’s ‘most pressing challenge’. “We will effectively compete with PRC which is the only competitor with both the intent and increase the capability to reshape the international order while constraining a dangerous Russia’.
On India, it says ‘as it is, the world’s largest democracy and a Major Defence Partner, the US, and India will work together bilaterally and multilaterally to support our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific”. For a long time India used to define its military challenge as: while Pakistan is the immediate threat, China remains the long-term challenge. That was dramatically reversed by China’s incursions in Ladakh. The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols DoD Reorganisation Act in the US brought about sweeping changes, especially on integration and jointness; almost simultaneously in the UK, the Heseltine reforms introduced the CDS legislation. India is allergic to the idea of a written document outlining national security objectives, their orientation, and their pursuit. No White Paper has seen the light of day even though India had a CDS for nearly three years. India is defiantly proud of its strategic autonomy and that it is among the world’s leading economies with the third largest military.
India feels that not articulating NSS is a strategy, though there is one. The Raksha Mantri’s Operational directive with 8 contingencies to three Service Chiefs is considered good enough. A Joint Services Doctrine 2017 on release was found with many loopholes. The Breaking News is that NSS is being scripted by NSA.
The current debate on theatrisation has turned into prioritising structures, strategies, and capability building. Movement on capabilities has been tardy due to insufficient funding and somewhat retarded by Atmanirbharta in absence of quality R&D and a developed military-industrial complex. The IAF is stuck at 30 squadrons for two decades and an RFP for 114 MRCA stagnates for 5 years. Legislation mandating conceptual and structural transformation through the CDS system instead of amendments to Service Acts must become the path to integration. NSA Ajit Doval who heads DPC is working on NSS from an integrated review of defence, foreign, and development -in other words, the Strategic and Technology Environment meshed with fiscal allocation.
Gen Chauhan is determined to press on with Eastern Land Command (China); Western Land Command (Pakistan); Air Defence Command; and Maritime Theatre Command. Northern Command dealing with LAC and LOC will be merged later with ELC and WLC. Air Space Command and Cyberspace Command commissioned in 2017 are likely to be operational shortly though there are teething problems with ASC. One other entity will also be operationalized shortly- the Special Operations Division consisting of Battalion Special Forces, Garud, and Marcos squadrons. This will later upgrade to Special Operations Command. Gen Chauhan must invite ACM Chaudhari for talks to smoothen wrinkles in establishing ITCs with as little difference as possible. Political oversight is essential to prevent irreconcilable differences. A periodic review will be useful.
On November 22, 2022, the President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Secretary to the Minister of Defense Kamal Gunaratne, the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne and the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung attended the commissioning of the Navy Ship Vijayabahu, formerly the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro, in Colombo Harbor. The United States had donated the ship to Sri Lanka on October 26, 2021 as part of its continuing commitment to strengthen Sri Lanka’s ability to protect its maritime sovereignty and security.
Viewing the commissioning ceremony with Sri Lankan dignitaries, Ambassador Chung extended her appreciation to the ship’s officers and sailors for their skillful handling of the ship during the voyage. She also expressed her thanks to the families and loved ones of the sailors for their sacrifice during the crew’s long absence.
Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is seven times the size of its land area and maintains a Search and Rescue area nearly 25 times as large. The new vessel is capable of performing wide-ranging operations that include conservation of marine resources, search and rescue of naval and fishing vessels in distress and interdiction of drug and weapons smuggling among other crucial functions.
The Vijayabahu is the third ship donated by the United States to the Sri Lanka Navy, preceded by the Gajabahu in 2018 and the Samudura in 2004, which continue to patrol the nation’s waters. The latest ship, a former Hamilton-class high-endurance 115-meter cutter, undertook one of the longest voyages in Sri Lankan naval history embarking from Seattle, Washington, on September 3 and arriving in Colombo on November 2, 2022.
In its former U.S. role, the then-Douglas Munro enforced fishing regulations in Alaskan waters, seized trawlers engaged in illegal practices and interdicted 11.5 tons of cocaine off the coast of Mexico, one of the largest hauls in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard. After the 2004 tsunami, the cutter provided food and water to Indonesians and later seized a vessel overtaken by pirates off the Horn of Africa. The ship also rescued survivors of numerous shipwrecks in dangerous and frigid waters off the Alaskan coast.
The transfer of the vessel is just one point in a long history of cooperation between Sri Lanka and the United States in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. is committed to supporting Sri Lanka’s efforts to protect its sea lanes, which are vital to alleviating the current economic crisis.
America’s longest war, Afghanistan, has been called “the forgotten war,” which, for those who fought in it and are still suffering from it, is an insult added to its horrible end only a little over a year ago. Many questions, meanwhile, remain about its open-ended mission, such as why we stayed on a decade after killing the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks and dismantling his lethal networks. But it’s the chaotic ending of the conflict last year that’s about to get renewed attention at the hands of House Republicans, who, having won a narrow majority in the midterms, have declared their intent to launch a new investigation of President Biden’s botched evacuation and raise it to a boil by the 2024 election season. They will have plenty to work with.
Such an inquiry will be sticky for the GOP, however, since President Trump’s 2020 Doha Agreement with the Taliban to end the U.S.-led war, which excluded the democratic government in Kabul from all negotiations and teed up the disaster of August 2021. Republicans will also struggle to escape the fact that Trump’s anti-immigrant policies the previous year also meant that less than 2,000 Special Immigrant Visas—a quarter of the annual allotment—were approved for Afghans, leaving a backlog of 18,000 applications of interpreters and other contractors by the time the Taliban took Kabul, thus creating the urgent need for the “largest U.S. military airlift in history.”
If they desire a credible inquiry, House investigators should also consider scrutinizing the role the U.S. intelligence community played in the final outcome of the war—the good, the bad and the ugly—when their efforts cost some lives while saving others.
They might begin with the untold story behind the defining image of the ignominious ending, the sight of that behemoth U.S. Air Force cargo plane taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport with desperate Afghans plummeting from its massive fuselage and wheel coverings onto the runway and through Kabul rooftops. (Human remains were found in the wheel wells when the C-17 landed in Qatar.) The world watched, aghast, as the viral video spread across Twitter and TV.
Secrets of the C-17
Why the C-17 Globemaster III took off with so many civilians clinging to it remains officially unanswered. An Air Force spokesperson at the time said an investigation had been initiated but also offered spin: “Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible.”
But the real reason, according to a new book on the chaotic August 2021 evacuation, was that the plane held an MH-47G Special Operations helicopter stocked with sensitive and classified systems for flying clandestine, low-altitude night sorties for special mission units like the Army’s Delta Force. According to accounts gathered together by retired Green Beret Lt. Col. Scott Mann for his book Operation Pineapple Express, the top U.S. military commander at the airport, a Navy SEAL admiral, feared the twin-rotary chopper, a modified version of the venerable Chinook and flown by the Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, would fall into the hands of the marauding Taliban. So off they went.
The horrifying sight of bodies falling from the C-17 was just one of several incidents in which U.S. clandestine services’ priorities during the hasty Noncombatant Evacuation Operation, or NEO, were often placed above all else—particularly human life. President Joe Biden had promised Americans that the Kabul evacuation would not have a “Saigon moment,” like the one captured in the indelible photograph of Americans scrambling aboard a helicopter from a rooftop as communist troops descended on the South Vietnamese capital in 1975.
There was “zero” comparison between Afghanistan teetering on the edge, Biden assured nervous Americans, and Saigon’s shocking collapse, in which thousands of Vietnamese who had worked with U.S. forces, including the CIA, were abandoned.
“There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a [sic] embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable,” Biden told a press conference on July 7, 2021.
But it was.
In mid-August the entire U.S. diplomatic and security contingent at the embassy in the Kabul Green Zone was hastily evacuated by helicopters—not from the embassy’s rooftop, to be sure, but from an adjacent soccer field. Some 1,800 Americans were flown two miles away to HKIA by the morning of August 16. Diplomatic Security agents involved in the embassy evacuation and NEO were recently decorated for heroism.
How similar was it to Saigon? The answer is a “walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,” as Kris Kristofferson might say. Whatever, the end was a rout, recorded in countless hours of deeply shocking and saddening photos and videos that are certain to be resurrected come the 2024 presidential election season, shredding Biden’s boasts about evacuating an astonishing 124,000 people the last two weeks of August.
Fact: The C-17 Globemaster III was on an intelligence mission to ferry a highly advanced special operations chopper for use in last-minute clandestine rescue missions in Afghanistan. But it landed on a concrete sea of chaos. The huge runway was being overrun by 10,000 or more civilians who soon forced all air ops to halt. Rather than unload the sensitive cargo, the crisis forced the top commander at the airfield, U.S. Navy SEAL Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, to order the C-17 back in the air, even as other planes remained parked. Why? It was to protect the chopper in its belly from capture or its classified systems from being pilfered by the Taliban or the crowds, according to author Scott Mann.
The decision was confirmed in the transcript of an interview Vasely later gave to U.S. Central Command investigators: “Late morning [August] 16th, the mass of civilians on HKIA slowly began moving north across the runway, overwhelming the U.S. security forces aligned to attempt to contain the crowd. I ordered the one C-17 and two C-130s to leave.”
Unsaid was whether Vasely knew that civilians had piled onto the retractable wheel covers (called humps) of the massive cargo plane as it taxied to take off on the single runway. Apache AH-64 attack helicopters were hovering low over the asphalt using their rotor wash to blow civilians out of the plane’s path. He likely did not know about the civilians until the plane was long gone.
And yet the killing of innocent civilians around the airfield didn’t stop there. It was more deliberate and committed more often by “friendlies” than Taliban, who were busy outside beating those clustered around the airport with rubber batons and rifle butts.
During the mad scramble by the U.S. to exit Afghanistan after the stunningly rapid collapse of the U.S.-supported government, U.S. military senior commanders and diplomats made deals with numerous devils to exit without further calamities. The airport was the only place left to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan green card holders, legal permanent residents and “special interest” persons after the controversial decision to close Bagram Airfield north of the capital and desert it overnight on July 2.
Another consequential decision by American commanders inside HKIA was to accept a CIA offer on August 16, as revealed in Operation Pineapple Express, to clear up to 10,000 civilians from the runway and ramps by using the spy agency’s large Afghan paramilitary “surrogate” force, hardline fighters who had carried out the Agency’s capture/kill ops. The airport crowds had forced air ops to cease after the infamous C-17 was wheels up that sunny Monday morning.
That group of seasoned Afghan militiamen were known as National Strike Units (NSU), a notorious outfit that had to change its name from “Counter-Terrorist Pursuit Teams” after years of human rights abuses came to light. The price demanded for clearing HKIA of the civilian crowds was a guarantee that the U.S. military would airlift the CIA’s surrogate forces and their families out of Kabul.
Almost immediately it became clear that the price paid was much higher.
Bridge Too Far
The 82nd Airborne Division failed at its fundamental mission of securing the airfield, insiders note, because they could not get enough paratroopers on the ground when the crowds flooding the runway forced a stop to air operations the day after Kabul fell. But the CIA’s NSU paramilitaries—ironically, all clad in retro Vietnam tiger stripe camouflage fatigues—quickly cleared the airfield of the civilians with help from the Army’s Delta Force, a smattering of 82nd Airborne paratroopers, and Taliban teams, with U.S. Marines creating a buffer between the once warring parties. “Within two hours, [they] had 400 [Afghan paramilitary] guards protecting the south side,” one U.S. official told CENTCOM’s investigators.
How they achieved this was ghastly, as several U.S. Marine Corps officers on the airfield explained in a terrific recent HBO documentary, Escape From Kabul.
“The Afghan unit that was there, the way they got people off [the airfield], to the point, was just running everyone over and shooting them,” Marine Lt. Col. Chris Richardella, a battalion commander, said in the film.
“They killed them,” another Marine officer bluntly told the filmmakers. A third Marine officer in the documentary said he witnessed “people being executed on the airfield.”
Richardella said it was after dark and he observed civilians dying in the headlights of the NSU paramilitaries’ trucks as they plowed into the crowds—but, he added, the brutal tactics succeeded. By 10:30 that night, the airfield was once again secured and planes were landing and taking off again just after midnight.
The brutality of the four NSU teams, known as units 01, 02, 03 and 04, didn’t end there. Their violence was often directed at Afghan Special Operations soldiers on the run from the Taliban. Call it a violent twist on the “crabs-in-a-barrel” cultural phenomenon—the CIA surrogate forces were now inside HKIA and a nearby CIA base, and the Afghan government forces simply were not.
The NSU teams pulled security at several gates where Afghans and foreign nationals were allowed to enter HKIA in an unorganized trickle. No one in the U.S. diplomatic mission in Kabul or at the White House had adequately planned for a NEO of that size despite months of warning signs that Ghani’s government would fall after the U.S. withdrew from the country in July 2021. (More on that below.)
At North, East and Abbey Gates, CIA’s tiger-striped paramilitaries were often more violent toward their countrymen than the Taliban outside the coils of concertina wire, who were trying to control the teeming masses of civilians and partner forces, such as Commandos, Special Forces and others, attempting to flee the country. This is evidenced in photos, video and by eyewitnesses beaten by the surrogate forces or who witnessed them kill fellow Afghans in cold blood.
“When I stood outside North Gate, one CIA paramilitary came and beat me on my back with his AK-47 stock, striking on my shoulder. He hurt me really badly,” Zahir, a former interpreter for U.S. special operations who remains in hiding in Kabul, told SpyTalk.
Others I’ve spoken to witnessed NSU men firing into the crowds or suffered themselves from Kalashnikov butt strokes, like Zahir. This brutality by NSU fighters is on display in the opening scenes of another forthcoming documentary, NatGeo’s Retrograde.
Once Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, a former Delta operator and the 82nd Airborne’s commanding general, arrived at HKIA on August 18, he began to have daily face-to-face meetings in the South Terminal with the commander of the Taliban’s Red Unit to discuss securing HKIA from ISIS attacks and facilitate the exodus of Americans and Afghan allies, according to soldiers from his paratroop division and the CENTCOM report.
To that end, Biden even did something extraordinary, as CENTCOM’s report explained. “POTUS directed … the sharing of intelligence for force protection threats with the Taliban (en extremis),” which were on paper handed to the Red Unit commander. “This intelligence sharing built trust and opened critical lines of communication with the Taliban commander,” the CENTCOM report added.
Few trusted the Taliban to allow evacuees to pass unharmed.
CIA operatives did many good things, too. They acted swiftly to help secure the airfield, even bribing individual Taliban commanders securing the enormous perimeter as the race was on to evacuate at-risk Afghans and Americans, according to one officer there at the time. CIA officers also helped some Afghan special operators gain access to the base and guided American citizens and “special-interest Afghans” into HKIA using a secret entrance named Liberty Gate on the north side of the airfield.
Top military and Biden administration officials have boasted of evacuating 124,000 people during the NEO airlift, but have skillfully avoided questions about how those evacuees navigated the world’s most dangerous airport commute in order to get on a plane, or who helped get them safely to the entry control points.
In reality, it was not the United States government. Most got inside HKIA with their own perseverance and luck or with the help of ad hoc veterans groups located in the U.S. who used encrypted app group chats, such as Operation Dunkirk, Task Force Pineapple, Allied Airlift and others, to communicate with their Afghan brothers.
When an AP story revealed that special operations forces had choppered 169 Americans to HKIA from the Baron Hotel on August 21—a compound that overlooks the airport’s Abbey Gate—CNN quoted Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby as confirming that the mission was approved by the ground commander. “He executed a mission that he believed was in the best interest of helping these Americans, and he did,” Kirby said.
But, few if any among those 169 people were Americans. They were British, and the mission was flown by the 82nd Airborne’s pilots, not special ops, at the request of Her Majesty’s armed forces, senior military sources have told me.
That incident and other rumors of SAS “rescue missions” of British nationals perpetuated a myth during the evacuation that American special operators were also rounding up U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghan allies throughout Kabul or even outside the capital.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
On Their Own
Those wishing to leave had to get to the last U.S. outpost on their own, with the exception of 3,000 U.S. embassy Afghan staff and their families who were brought into HKIA aboard chartered buses.
Delta Force operators were only permitted by senior U.S. military and political leaders to execute a few rescue missions outside the wire of HKIA or from the CIA’s nearby Eagle Base, retrieving only a few dozen at-risk people—a statistical drop in the bucket, as thousands of frightened U.S. citizens and partner forces in Afghanistan desperately tried to find a way out. The SAS rumors, incidentally, were also untrue.
Why weren’t special mission units allowed to rescue more people? It was Washington’s chronic aversion to risk, senior officers have told me, citing fears of a disastrous “Blackhawk Down”-style urban street fight with the Taliban.
As a result, planeloads of U.S. citizens were left behind in Kabul, along with tens of thousands of Afghan Special Operations soldiers, while the CIA evacuated almost all of its surrogate forces. At least 600 Americans made it out months later on Qatar-organized flights with the aid of volunteer groups such as Project Dynamo.
But in the utter chaos of August 2021, Americans waving blue passports were beaten by Taliban outside HKIA— even while Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was shrugging off such reports in his daily televised briefings.
America and all its military might could not help its own citizens.
Abandoned en masse among Afghan forces were two groups most at risk of Taliban retribution after America had cut its losses and retreated from the war. Most of the 18,000 Afghans—mostly former interpreters—who were awaiting processing of their special immigrant visas were not evacuated, as well as most of the 18,000 Afghan Special Operations soldiers who had fought side-by-side with American Green Berets, SEALs, Marine Raiders and Rangers for two decades.
(NatGeo’s Retrograde takes you inside a 10th Special Forces Group team room at Fort Carson, Colorado, where Green Berets discuss the Taliban’s sudden victory over Kabul and how to leverage the volunteer groups to get their Afghan brothers stateside. The active-duty soldiers used those non-government resources successfully, and avoided the Afghans’ capture and Taliban interrogation about those Germany-based Green Berets who had been training Ukrainians for years ahead of the Russian invasion.)
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the likely new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee come January, issued his own report in August deploring the abandonment of partner forces.
“As the Taliban’s advance on Kabul progressed, there was no organized effort to prioritize the evacuation of critical Afghan military personnel who possessed unique knowledge of the U.S. military’s tactics, techniques, and procedures and could thereby pose a security risk to America if they could be forced to divulge their knowledge to a U.S. adversary,” he said.
Their American friends, mostly active-duty and retired Green Berets, have received countless photos and videos in the 15 months since the U.S. exit of Afghan commandos, Special Forces and National Mine Removal Group operatives murdered by the Talibs now in power, who had publicly promised all was forgiven.
Amid the chaos, thousands of NSU surrogate fighters with their families were transported from Eagle Base (which CIA operatives burned to the ground on August 26) to HKIA for evacuation from Kabul. That effort contributed to the over-crowding of the airport that day and was among the reasons U.S. commanders stopped most entries of Afghans into the airport in the hours leading up to the ISIS suicide blast at Abbey Gate that night, according to sources who were there. The other reason for the long gate closure was ISIS threat reporting, which was constant for several days.
Approximately 200 civilians and 13 American service members were killed in the ISIS suicide bombing just after 5:30 PM local time, which effectively ended the NEO.
Some have called what happened an intelligence failure, but that’s not quite right. No intelligence assessments anticipated the fall of Ghani’s government would come within six weeks of the U.S. withdrawal from Bagram Airfield. But sources also say there were no classified assessments that gave Afghanistan’s elected, albeit corrupt, government any chance of survival once the U.S completely left, sources told SpyTalk. Various assessments predicted that the collapse would occur in October or December 2021, or, most optimistically, by February of this year.
And yet throughout 2021, senior leaders receiving these intelligence assessments had publicly denied the collapse of Afghanistan’s democracy was a foregone conclusion. The CIA, of course, knew differently: It was already planning how to evacuate its people and assets. One Saigon was enough for the spies. For the rest left behind, only suffering and tragedy awaited.
This article was originally published in SpyTalks. Click here to read more content similar to this.
RP Ravichandran, one of the six convicts who was released on Saturday in the assassination case of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, said that the people of north India should see them as “victims instead of terrorists or killers”.
He said that time will judge them as “innocents”.
Speaking to ANI after his release from Madurai Central Prison, Ravichandran said, “The people of north India should see us as victims instead of terrorists or killers. Time and power determine who is a terrorist or a freedom fighter but time will judge us as innocent, even if we bear the blame for being terrorists.” Nalini and Ravichandran had approached the apex court seeking release from prison-like fellow convict AG Perarivalan.
This came after the Supreme Court, on May 18, had evoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to release AG Perarivalan, who was one of the seven convicts in the assassination case.
Earlier, Nalini Sriharan, one of the six convicts in the case, expressed her gratitude to the Tamil Nadu and central governments for extending “help” to her during her punishment of 32 years and said that she wants to be with her family.
Sriharan, who is the longest-serving woman prisoner serving a life sentence in the country, was released from the Vellore jail on Saturday following an order from the Supreme Court on Friday, freeing all six convicts, including RP Ravichandran, in the case.
Upon walking out of the jail, she thanked the people of Tamil Nadu, who she said, supported her for 32 years.
Speaking to ANI, Nalini spoke about her future plans whether she will live in India or shift abroad and said that all her family members have been waiting for her for a long time and she now wants to be with them.
“I want to be with my family. All members of my family have been waiting for such a long time. I want to thank the State and Central govt. They helped us a lot during this period,” she said. When asked if she would meet anybody from the Gandhi family after her release, Nalini said that she is not planning to do so while also adding that she will go “wherever my husband goes”.
“I will go wherever my husband goes. We were separated for 32 years. Our family kept waiting for us… I am not planning to meet anyone from the Gandhi family. We are under the case. There is no possibility of me meeting them. I want to thank the State and Central governments. I thank the state government for giving me parole, so I could go to the Supreme Court and try my level best,” she said.
She remarked on the order passed by the two-judge bench of Justice BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna who took into consideration the good conduct of convicts in the prison, and said that the judges have studied their cases and they know “what is wrong and what is correct”.
“Our judges know everything. They have studied our case. They know what is wrong and what is correct and what they can do, they have done it,” she said.
The Tamil Nadu government had earlier recommended the premature release of convicts saying that its 2018 aid and advice for the remission of their life sentence is binding upon the Governor.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on Friday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to release six convicts including Nalini Sriharan of the assassination case of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
“I welcome the Supreme Court Verdict on the release of six persons,” Stalin said in a tweet on Friday.
“This judgment of the Supreme Court is proof that the decisions of the government elected by the people should not be shelved by the governors in the appointed positions,” he said.
Nalini Sriharan and five others were serving life sentence terms in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They were set free by the SC on the grounds of having good conduct in jail.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group during a public rally.
The seven convicts were sentenced to death for their role in the killing. They included Nalini Sriharan, RP Ravichandran, Jayakumar, Santhan, Murugan, Robert Payas, and AG Perarivalan.
In the year 2000, Nalini Sriharan’s sentence was reduced to a life term. Later in the year 2014, the sentence of the other six convicts was also reduced, and during the same year, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalitha recommended the release of all the seven convicts in the case.
Source: Asian News International
During the month, the government’s preliminary talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on structuring its economic recovery continued. However, debt restructuring continues to be delayed with China due to its preoccupation with the 20th NPC meetings of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Even negotiations with India and Japan are moving at a slow pace. Perhaps, this is due to their lingering doubts about the Wickremesinghe government’s ability to see through the structural reforms.
In this context, President Wickremesinghe must be heartened by the show of solidarity for his actions by the US and some of the EU members, despite the use of high-handed methods to suppress public protests. Internally, the passing of the 22nd Constitutional Amendment (originally introduced as 21A) to improve executive president’s accountability, the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to curb Aragalaya activism and the launching of the Rise Together (Ekwa Nagitimu) campaign at the grass roots to recoup the image of the Rajapaksas were key highlights of happenings in October 2022.
The events leading up to these important internal developments showed existing differences, not only within the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and its cohorts, but also within the opposition parties as well. Of course, during the month political leaders continued to ride their time-tested political hobby horses – new constitution, electoral reforms, call for general election and the not be missed late entrant “investigation and follow up into the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.” The government used the familiar gambit of appointing parliamentary select committees and presidential commissions to tackle the opposition moves. So, everybody continued to be busy doing something.
Strategizing economic recovery
However, President Wickremesinghe appears to be leveraging lack of unity within political parties to adopt transactional strategies to push through actions to achieve targets set in the 2022 interim budget for increase in government revenue and debt reduction. The actions taken so far, include reducing government spending, tackling public corruption, energy reforms to open retail distribution of fuel to private firms, privatise wasteful state-owned enterprises and promote foreign investment avenues. Normally, these issues are considered politically explosive. Despite paying lip service, political parties in power have seldom considered seriously implementing such measures. Given this dismal record of political parties, Wickremesinghe government’s actions do not seem to have animated the media. The Aragalaya movement has by and large eroded public credibility in political parties.
Inspite of the lack of credibility in the government, some progress seems to have been made in improving the business climate as indicated by the LMD-NielsenIQ Business Confidence Index (BCI) for October. Reporting on the state of business, Sri Lanka’s online business magazine LMD said the BCI provided “a semblance of relief; it has climbed a heartening 13 basis points to 89” during October from September’s 76. However, it quoted NielsenIQ Director-Consumer Insights Theirca Miyanadeniya’s assertion “concern over the socio-political status of the country is waning as business and people are in a race to survive against a backdrop of extreme hardships.”
With the major economies expecting a period of global recession in the coming months, it is essential that Wickremasinghe government survives to see the country through the period of economic privation in the coming months. Under such circumstances, the passing of the 22nd Amendment to the constitution 174 votes in favour and one against, may be considered as an indication of grudging acceptance of President Wickremesinghe’s leadership by over two-thirds members of parliament. The amendment was passed despite some pro-Basil Rajapaksa members of the ruling SLPP objecting to the clause on not allowing dual citizens to become members of parliament. This indicated two things: the decline of Basil Rajapaksa’s influence within SLPP and the Rajapaksas continued support to President Wickremesinghe.
The 22A is a compromise between the Yahapalana government’s 19A to curb the sweeping powers of executive presidency and Gotabaya’s 20A to restore the powers of the executive presidency. The bill was much debated by parliament members and the public and its present form represents a compromise solution reflecting some of the key elements from both the earlier amendments on the subject. For instance, it has retained the 20A clause on the powers of the president to dissolve parliament after two and half years, as against four and a half years stipulated in the19A.
On the other hand, 22A has reintroduced 19A’s clause prohibiting dual citizens from contesting elections which was allowed by the 20A. The 22A reduces some of the powers of the president enjoyed earlier under 20A, regarding appointments to high officers of the state including the Chief Justice, judges of supreme court and appeals court, chairmen of the election commission, human rights commission, and police commission and the IGP. The constitutional council created now has the power to make these appointments. The president and prime minister enjoy some influence in picking members of the constitutional council, which will have three members from civil society.
The writing on the wall is clear: Sri Lanka must achieve targets presented in the 2022 interim budget for increase in government revenue and debt reduction to overcome the worst ever financial crisis it is facing now. Otherwise, Sri Lanka’s debt will be unsustainable; international financial bodies like IMF and World Bank do not assist the economic recovery of such countries. Obviously, lack of understanding among the political parties in tackling long pending critical issues, has stood in the way of evolving a coherent national political and economic narrative to restore Sri Lanka’s credibility both at home and abroad. It will not be pragmatic to expect the political parties to give up their pettifogging and bury their hatchets to see through the crises. They are accustomed to using the economic crunch and hardship faced by the people to improve their poll prospects.
As a seasoned politician, President Wickremesinghe is using his Machiavellian skills to use factionalism existing within almost all the parties, to push through legislation to restore the economy. So far, political parties by and large are grudgingly accepting his rule for want of a better alternative. How long he survives this perilous journey will determine the future course of events in Sri Lanka. One advantage he only seems to enjoy is the moral, political, and even economic support of most of the major Indo-Pacific powers including India and China. But much would depend upon how President Xi Jinping will handle China’s economic downturn, that could have its fall out on Sri Lanka.
Tailpiece: Contact with BJP?
A columnist writing in the Colombo weekly Sunday Times said a group of former LTTE cadres identifying themselves after rehabilitation as the ‘Democratic Cadres Party’ were in New Delhi in India recently. They took part in “an event organised by a group that maintains close ties” with India’s ruling BJP. They are said to have had discussions with various influential political actors and policymakers in New Delhi. Their requests to Indian authorities included lifting of the ban on LTTE proscribed in India since 1991 and full implementation of 13th Amendment. The article said their allegations that Hindu shrines were being acquired by the Archaeological Dept and WildLife Dept under questionable circumstances seemed to have struck a chord with the audiences, “given the BJP’s aggressive campaigns based on Hindutva ideologies.”
[Written on October 30, 2022.]
The third term for Xi Jinping with key loyalists elected to the Central Committee as well as the Central Military Commission facilitates fostering his agenda in the political, economic and from the Indian perspective importantly in the foreign policy and national security domains.
Here is an overview of the likely impact for India
Unprecedented Third Term
On Sunday October 23, the Communist Party of China (CPC) unveiled the top leadership with Xi Jinping elected as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee at the first plenum of the 20th CPC Central Committee following the Party’s twice-a-decade national congress.
Xi led Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi onto a red-carpeted stage at the Great Hall of the People noted Xinhua.
The unprecedented third term, established Xi as the second most powerful leader in China’s history after Mao Zedong assuming greater salience even than the legendary Deng Hsiao Ping the architect of China’s modernizations.
With Xi at the helm in China after 2012, the aggressive security policy in particular that has been adopted has led to confrontations on the India China border a part of which is the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh.
Xi’s pursuit of the Chinese Dream also includes reclamation of what is perceived by China as sovereignty over territories which have been “lost,” when China was weak. Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh are the two major claimed areas which are a territorial part of India.
While under Xi’s tenure as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission amongst other hats that he wears, markers for modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been set for regional domination by 2027 and global primacy in 2050.
Reclamation of Claimed Sovereignty
A related issue to reclamation of sovereignty is violation of treaties with India which have maintained stability since the 1990’s and broken the status quo in 2020 by occupation of areas which were accepted as on the Indian side of the LAC.
The clash at Galwan in June 2020 may have been incidental and avoided but the fact that the PLA was prepared for the same ass evident from circumstances should act as a post event warning for India.
Some of the areas as the Kungrang Nallah which have been traditional grazing grounds for Yak and Sheep yielding Pashmina for the heardsmen in Ladakh for years have been converted into a buffer zone.
As the newly formed CMC now includes Xi loyalists with experience in the Western Theatre Command – the theatre that faces India, ‘sovereignty reclamation,’ could be a key agenda of the third tenure of the President and Chairman of the CMC thus creating challenges for India’s security.
CMC Packed with Loyalists
As Ananth Krishnan has highlighted in the Hindu, General He Weidong has been named as the Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) replacing retiring Xu Qiliang. General Zhang Youxia continues as the first ranking — Vice Chairman and continues even though he is beyond the retirement age. General Xu Qiling is appointed as one of 205 members of the Party’s new Central Committee a prestigious post in the party hierarchy and is also head of the joint staff department of the CMC.
Krishnan highlights that the three generals who will remain key decision makers of the PLA have also served in the Western Theatre Command (WTC) and thus would be well versed with nuances of management of the LAC.
The CMC directly controls the operations on the LAC in the Xinjiang and Xijang border districts sidelining the WTC.
Supported by Foreign Minister Wang Yi on an extension and promoted to the Politburo the Wolf Warrior diplomacy of which he is the architect is expected to continue to keep Indian foreign policy establishment on their toes.
Xi National Security Agenda
Earlier in his Report to the Congress, General Security Xi had highlighted his national security agenda. Xi said that national security, “is the foundation of national rejuvenation, and social stability is the premise of national prosperity. We must unswervingly implement the overall national security concept, put the maintenance of national security throughout the entire process of Party and state work, and ensure national security and social stability”.
Important to highlight here is the efforts to link the process of the Party and state work in a unified manner to ensure national security and social stability. This has been the emphasis of Xi through his tenure for the past decade wherein party-government-military unity has been emphasized.
Xi Jinping started by stating that modernization of national security systems and capabilities is essential not only to safeguard national security but also social stability
Xi Jinping embraced the concept of comprehensive security for the country with widened scope of national security stating that the whole purpose of security was ensure safety of the people. This could be achieved through political and economic security as the foundation implying stability of the party and the economy are the core principles/ This is guaranteed by ensuring military, scientific, cultural and social security, “and the promotion of international security as the basis to coordinate external security and internal security, homeland security and national security”.
He goes on to add the importance of “Traditional security and non-traditional security, self security and common security”. Coordination and consolidation of “national security and social stability,” was important to, “build a higher level of safe China, and ensure new security with a new security pattern. development pattern”. Thus adapting to a comprehensive security model is the panacea for China for the future
People’s Liberation Army (PLA)
Five minutes into his speech submitting the Report to the Party, Xi went on to the People’s Liberation Army called for a “new situation for the modernization of national defense and the army.”
Relevant here is the fact that substantial reforms have been undertaken by the PLA as per directions of Xi Jinping since 2013 which include streamlining of the Central Military Commission, central institutions for higher direction of war and creating geographic theatres. Further refinement in these is desired essentially to increase the operational efficiency and achieve national security goals.
Xi Jinping then went on to outline the objective of building the PLA into a world class army where the Party has absolute control over the military.
Ideological reforms or loyalty was to go side by side with, “Modernization, the modernization of the military organization, the modernization of military personnel, and the modernization of weapons and equipment, improve the strategic capability of defending national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and effectively fulfill the mission and tasks of the people’s army in the new era”. Attracting talent to achieve these objectives was outlined.
Importantly Xi emphasized again the loyalty of the Army to the party to, “ensure that the barrel of the gun always obeys the party’s command”.
Organisational Reforms of PLA
On the organizational front he called for improvement and implementation of, “system and mechanism of the chairman responsibility system of the Military Commission,” implying possibly of greater role to be played by him in decision making as he is the chairman of the CMS. Discipline eradication of corruption were also emphasized. Given the removal of a number of senior commanders of the PLA for corruption, the campaign is expected continue, even though detractors claim that commanders who were not loyal to Xi were implicated and removed which is difficult to verify.
In the final minute or so Xi Jinping talked about the operational facets of PLA modernization to include strengthening training and preparations, “improve the people’s army’s ability to win, innovate military strategic guidance, develop people’s war strategies and tactics, build a strong strategic deterrent force system, increase the proportion of combat forces in new areas and new qualities, and further promote actual combat military training”.
Towards this end, building of new domain forces with combat capabilities, UAV, networked information and joint command and control in the operational areas of “reconnaissance and early warning, joint strikes, battlefield support, and integrated logistics support,” a translation provided by Manoj Kewalramani at Tracking People’s Daily Substack states.
Technology and weapons, organization and composition of forces, training and law based governance of the military was emphasized.
A special emphasis was devoted to strategic planning with a view to, “consolidate and improve the integrated national strategic system and capabilities, strengthen the construction of national defense science, technology and industry capabilities”.
Mobilisation, reserves, caring for retired service personal and military government civilian unity was emphasized.
As Xi remarked at the closing of the 20th Congress, “We are fully confident and capable of creating new and even greater miracles on the new journey of the new era — miracles that will amaze the world.” “We must remain confident in our history, exhibit greater historical initiative, and have the courage to fight and the mettle to win,” he said to, “forge ahead, and unite and lead all Chinese people in striving to fulfill the goals and tasks set out at the 20th CPC National Congress”.
India must follow up on the tasks set by the 20th CPC National Congress in the foreign policy and security domain and be prepared to protect its national interests.
Views expressed are personal
A Mossad network in the country, whose runners are believed to be locals, is understood to be headed by a local woman in her mid-30s, a Kuala Lumpur-based daily newspaper, New Straits Times, has reported.
According to the report, it is understood that the woman was trained as a private investigator before she was believed to have been recruited by a Mossad agent, just before 2018.
This was the same year Mossad agents gunned down Fadi Mohamed al-Batsh, 35, a Palestinian professor and member of Hamas, the report added.
“The Malaysian woman was subsequently sent for training abroad, including in Europe, to master the art of espionage. It is learnt that for this, the woman was given some RM120,000,” the report further added.
In last month’s snatch-and-grab in Kuala Lumpur, the woman was believed to have set up a surveillance team to trail two Palestinians. It is also believed that she was on the Israelis’ retainer for €2,000 a month. She is said to have several local men working for her, the report concluded.
Meanwhile, Caretaker Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin said the ministry would take action if the claim was true. “We should look into matters (allegations) like this, then we will announce (further action),” he said, referring to a New Straits Times (NST) report that revealed Mossad agents had used Malaysians to carry out a covert operation to abduct two Palestinians they believed to be Hamas members.
However, the Malaysian operatives only managed to snatch one of the targets. The other one escaped and lodged a police report.
Southeast Asia is going to be vulnerable permanently if Myanmar continues to pursue its long-cherished nuclear ambitions. Definitely, the military junta would use the weapons against various ethnic rivals, and insurgents. Not only so that, but the whole Southeast Asian region would also be volatile, and unstable for the stupidity of the Myanmar junta. Myanmar’s aggressive behaviour would be growing day by day. Recent border tensions between Myanmar-Bangladesh are the best example to understand and realize that. Myanmar’s military is so brutal, and cruel that it has been carrying out airstrikes upon its own people. Thus, the nuclear weapons in the hand of the Myanmar military are more dangerous than North Korea even.
An agreement signed by Myanmar’s military regime and Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation to jointly assess building a small reactor in the Southeast Asian country underscores the junta’s long-term pursuit of nuclear weapons, analysts said.
Myo Thein Kyaw, the regime’s minister of science and technology; Thuang Han, minister of electric power; and Alexey Likhachev, chief executive officer at Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation, signed the “roadmap for cooperation upon its own citizens” while they attended the Eastern Economic Forum on Sept. 5-8 in Vladivostok. Junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing oversaw the signing of the agreement.
The deal would further Russian-Myanmar cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, and assess the feasibility of a small-scale nuclear reactor project in Myanmar, Rosatom said in a statement issued Sept. 6.
The same day, the junta announced that it would use nuclear energy for electricity generation, scientific research, medicine production and industry.
There is no doubt Myanmar has a nuclear program. It sent scientists, technicians and army officers to Russia for training in recent years. And Moscow has agreed to supply Myanmar, formerly Burma, with a small nuclear reactor for civilian use. The question is, why the world is silent in this regard? Why does not ASEAN raise the concern this time?
Myanmar (Burma) has been carrying out rudimentary steps toward developing nuclear weapons, a documentary released in June by an opposition group alleges. The documentary by the Democratic Voice of Burma featured information provided by Sai Thein Win, a former officer in the Myanmar army. Win claimed to have been deputy manager of special machine tool factories involved in Myanmar’s secret nuclear weapons efforts and ballistic missile development program.
The opposition group also issued a corresponding report on June 3 featuring an analysis of Win’s information by former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector Robert Kelley. Kelley claimed in the report that, taken collectively, the technology featured in Win’s information “is only for nuclear weapons and not civilian use or nuclear power.”
Burma’s nuclear ambitions, spotlighted by last month’s announcement that Russia has agreed to help the regime build a nuclear research facility, date back at least seven years. In December 1995, the junta signed the Bangkok Treaty, banning the development, manufacture, possession, control, stationing, transport, testing or use of nuclear weapons under the terms of the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Five years later, after a visit to Moscow by Burma’s minister for science and technology, U Thaung, the junta’s nuclear plans became clearer…”The junta’s recent confirmation that it will build a small-scale nuclear power plant in the next few years caps Myanmar’s long pursuit of nuclear technology dating back to early 2000.
The Southeast Asian country’s two-decade-long journey to nuclear capability was made possible by Russia after a series of engagements that accelerated under the current junta and its military predecessor.
Though the current regime insists nuclear energy would be used for peaceful purposes in Myanmar, which has been hit by chronic electricity shortages, many believe this is the first step in a plan to utilize nuclear energy for military purposes including the production of nuclear weapons.
In 2009, it was reported that Myanmar was suspected to have initiated a nuclear weapons program. If such a program does exist, Burma’s technical and financial limitations may make it difficult for the program to succeed. The United States expressed concern in 2011 about potential violations of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), though by 2012 these concerns had been “partially allayed.” Burma has faced persistent accusations of using chemical weapons.
In 2007, Russia and Burma did a controversial nuclear research centre deal. According to them, “The centre will comprise a 10MW light-water reactor working on 20%-enriched uranium-235, an activation analysis laboratory, a medical isotope production laboratory, silicon doping system, nuclear waste treatment and burial facilities”.
According to an August 2009 report published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Burma had been working to develop a nuclear weapon by 2014. The reported effort, purportedly being undertaken with assistance from North Korea, involves the construction of a nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facilities in caves tunnelled into a mountain at Naung Laing, a village in the Mandalay division. The information cited in the newspaper story reportedly originated from two high-ranking defectors who had settled in Australia.
On June 3, 2010, a five-year investigation by an anti-government Myanmar broadcaster, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), found evidence that allegedly shows the country’s military regime began a programme to develop nuclear weapons. The DVB said evidence of Myanmar’s nuclear programme came from top-secret documents smuggled out of the country over several years, including hundreds of files and other evidence provided by Sai Thein Win, a former major in the military of Myanmar. A UN report said there was evidence that North Korea had been exporting nuclear technology to Burma, Iran and Syria. Now, Russia supports Myanmar’s nuclear program openly.
Based on Win’s evidence, Robert Kelley, a former weapons inspector, said he believed Burma “has the intent to go nuclear and it is… expending huge resources along the way.” But as of 2010, experts said that Burma was a long way from succeeding, given the poor quality of its current materials. Despite Kelley’s analysis, some experts are uncertain that a nuclear weapons programme exists; for example, the Institute for Science and International Security notes ambiguity as to whether certain equipment is used for uranium production, or for innocently producing “rare earth metals or metals such as titanium or vanadium.” The U.S. expressed concern in 2011 about possible NPT violations, but by 2012 stated that its concerns had been “partially allayed.”
Myanmar signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on September 26, 2018, but has not ratified it.
On 15 December 1995, ASEAN Member States signed the Treaty of Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ Treaty) as a commitment to preserve the Southeast Asian region as a region free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The Treaty is also known as the Bangkok Treaty. Through this treaty, ASEAN reaffirms the importance of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and in contributing towards international peace and security. It also marks the establishment of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) in Southeast Asia – one among five NWFZs in the world. The other four NWFZs are in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Pacific, Africa, and Central Asia.
The Protocol to the SEANWFZ Treaty welcomes the signing and early ratification of the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS), which will contribute to the promotion of the realisation of a Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone. Efforts are underway towards the accession of the NWS to the Protocol.
Myanmar’s attitude is contradictory to the Protocol to the SEANWFZ Treaty. Whatever may be the truth, the fact remains that nuclear Myanmar is not in India or China, but all neighbouring countries’ interests. They cannot afford to have another nuclear power along its border. Other regional countries would definitely feel insecure. The direct nuclear threat from Myanmar would destabilize the whole region in the long run. If nuclear deterrence works, then the arms race is a must in the region. Myanmar’s this dangerous ambition would take a relaxation from all stakeholders in the region. West should join with all regional countries and ASEAN to pressure Myanmar to give up its nuclear (weapons) ambitions. They must take action like in the Iran case, Otherwise, the world is going to see another nuclear threat in the Southeast region. Instead of developing nuclear weapons, the world must compel Myanmar to focus on bringing back democracy and resolving problems like HIV AIDS, human trafficking, rape, drug abuse, child soldiers, forced labour, ethnic crisis, refugee issues and corruption.
Rolando Cubela, a Cuban revolutionary who plotted with the CIA to kill Fidel Castro, died in Miami in August, his passing unnoticed in the English-language U.S. press. While the U.K. Telegraph ran a (paywalled) obituary, neither the New York Times or the Washington Post has reported the death of a man whose rise and fall once convulsed the governments of Cuba and the United States and generated headlines worldwide. Rolando Cubela Secades was 89 years old.
I heard about Cubela’s death independently from three friends in Miami who heard the news from his family. He was living in a Miami nursing home until he passed, they said. Cubacute, a Spanish language news site in Miami, quoted Cubela’s sister saying he had died of a respiratory infection.
The son of a tailor from the provincial city of Cardenas, Cubela enrolled as a medical student at the University of Havana where he emerged as a leader of the rebellion against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. In October 1956 he gained notoriety for assassinating Col. Antonio Blanco Rico, a top military officer, in a Havana nightclub. Cubela won glory in December 1958 when his Revolutionary Directorate forces joined with Fidel Castro’s July 26 movement to win the decisive battle of Santa Clara, which toppled the Batista regime and brought Castro to power.
Amid a struggle for control of the University of Havana campus, Cubela was elected president of the student federation, a politically powerful position. At first he was a revolutionary firebrand, celebrating the closing of a pro-American newspaper and the defeat of the CIA-trained brigade at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961. But as Cubela became disenchanted with Castro’s hard left turn to one-party socialism, he turned on his former comrades.
In August 1962, he met with two CIA men in a Helsinki nightclub. “He said he was not interested in risking his life for any small undertaking,” the CIA reported “but if that he could be given a really large part to play, he would use himself and several others whom he could rely upon.” Known by the code name AMLASH, Cubela subsequently underwent secret training at a CIA safe house in France.
In a series of meetings in Paris in the fall of 1963, Cubela said he was ready to act against Castro himself. “If you can’t get rid of the rabies,” he told one of his CIA handlers, “just get rid of the dog.” He only needed a weapon. Deputy director Richard Helms approved sending a pen, fitted with a poisoning mechanism, to Cubela. On November 22, 1963, an undercover officer was showing the pen to Cubela about the same time President John F. Kennedy was struck down by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas.
When Cubela learned of JFK’s death, his CIA handler reported that “Cubela was visibly moved and asked ‘Why do such things happen to good people?”
Cubela continued to plot with CIA agents through 1965. Although Helms would always deny the AMLASH operation was an assassination plot, Carl Jenkins, a CIA military trainer, said in a 2021 interview that he supplied the rifle that was sent to Cubela in Cuba.
Thanks to an undercover agent in Miami, Cuba’s intelligence service got wind of Cubela’s intentions and Cubela and a co-conspirator were arrested in February 1966, and charged with plotting with the CIA. Cubela’s trial attracted reporters from all over the world, drawn by a story rife with betrayal and intrigue.
On the stand, Cubela was contrite, admitted that he had planned the “physical elimination” of Castro while personally falling apart.
“I was carrying around a series of preoccupations and contradictions, the product of long struggle after the triumph of the Revolution,” he said, perhaps referring to his recurring nightmares about Col.Blanco Rico, the man he assassinated in 1956. Cubela said he fell into “a disorderly life, a life of parties, cabarets, a completely insane life. I was decomposing and deteriorating.”
Sentenced to death, Cubela was spared when Castro let it be known he didn’t favor the death penalty for his former comrade. “Among revolutionary men,” Castro said, “nothing can replace the bond of the beginning. Cubela’s sentence was commuted to 25 years, which he served in La Cabana, the fortress overlooking Havana Bay while serving as a doctor for his fellow inmates.
Cubela was still in jail a decade later, when U.S. congressional investigators first learned about CIA plots to kill foreign leaders. The disclosure of the AMLASH conspiracy roiled Capitol Hill and the CIA, leading to the creation of a Senate select committee, led by Sen. Frank Church, which investigated the CIA for the first time.
Cubela’s revolutionary background and Castro’s leniency bred suspicion that Cubela had been a double agent informing the Cuba leader of the CIA’s plans to kill him. “Was AMLASH actually a conscious double agent for Castro?” asked a Washington Post report in 1976, “or was he perhaps so transparent and emotionally exploitable that he unwittingly provided an equivalent service?”
Castro denied that Cubela was a double agent and CIA director Helms said the same thing, about the only subject the Latin revolutionary and the urbane spy chief ever agreed on.
Cubela didn’t like to talk about his past, according to Santiago Morales, a fellow prisoner. When Morales came down with tonsillitis, Cubela arranged for an operation and the two men became friends.
“Everybody liked him,” Morales, who now lives in Miami, recalled in an interview. “He had no special privileges. We talked a lot but, as a rule never got into details of our reasons for being there. … He told me …. about being interviewed by Raul Castro in prison.”
Morales says he got the impression that Cubela believed Raul Castro had intervened with his brother to spare his life.
Cubela and Morales were released in August 1979 along with several thousand political prisoners as part of an agreement between the Carter administration and the Castro government. Cubela moved to Madrid where he married and worked as a cardiologist. In 2005, he participated in two demonstrations organized by the Democracia Ya Platform, one of them in front of the Cuban Embassy in Madrid.
He later moved to Miami to be closer to his children.
“He was done with politics. He didn’t want to go back,” Morales said. “He had a good life. He was a great guy. But he never got rid of his past. Cubela spoke only in passing about his execution of Colonel Rico, Morales said, but it remained painful.
“It’s one thing to kill not knowing who you’re killing, but when there’s a name and a family and a pleasant human being—and they say he [Colonel Rico] was a pleasant human being—it hurts. And it didn’t lead to a happy ending,” Castro, not Cubela, prevailed in the struggle for power.
“In the end, I think he had been beaten by the events,” Morales said. “It was a miracle he was alive.”
This article was first published on Spy Talks, click here to read the original