The War of the Claymores
The Claymore directional fragmentation mine seems to have captured everyone’s imagination lately as a sort of all-purpose magic weapon. We’ve seen it accused of the attempted assassination of Gota Rajapakse, the attempted bus bombing in Pettah, the Hotel Nippon bombing in Slave Island last week, as well as the Col Charles assassination yesterday (6th January). Google Grenadiers and other armchair warriors wax eloquoent about the mine’s magical capabilities, extolling it as the perfect way to Win The War — the Hind gunship, long-range sniper, and the LRRPs, have all had this supernatural status bestowed on them from time to time.
The M18 Claymore was developed as a perimeter defence weapon by the Pentagon, and is basically 700 ball bearings backed by a pound and a half of C4 explosive, all packed into a curved plastic casing. It is command-detonated by an electric charge, and its 60-degree horizontal arc kill zone has a range of 50m (though it can cause serious injury upto a 100m and some danger upto 250m).It is this weapon that has been used as a protype by the LTTE and the Army for various improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The original M18 is an anti-personnel weapon and can’t be used against armoured vehicles, though it might have moderate effect against a thin-skinned civilian vehicle (yes, like a CTB bus). So the super-Claymores used by the LTTE (some weighing as much as 10kg) are basically M18s on steroids. Or crack; since unlike regular Claymores, these have a massive backblast, as the damage to the Hotel Nippon evidenced. They can’t be used as perimeter defence, since anyone lying behind them would be blown to shit as well. Both the Dam Street bombing and the Gota assassination attempt show that there was nothing “directional” about those IEDs; they caused casualties and damage in a fairly circular radius. So they have actually ceased to be Claymores and are simply common or garden IEDs, detonated in a variety of ways — but usually by remote.
In recent months the media has hyped the alleged Claymore attacks by the Army’s behind-the-lines super-commandos variously known as the LRRPs (long-range reconnaissance patrol) or DPUs (deep-penetration unit). The last one was yesterday when a LRRP team ambushed the LTTE head of military intelligence, Shanmuganathan Ravishankar aka Col Charles in the Paalmadhu area of Mannar. Charlie was blown up while travelling in a van, along with three bodyguards. Whether the LRRP team really used a Claymore or not is still unclear, and it’s unlikely that such info will be released, even though the 6-man team from the 3rd SF has already returned to base. BBC news quoted an LTTE spokesperson saying that Col Charles was blown up by a “roadside bomb”. An IED would have been more effective against a vehicle than a Claymore, so this is probably correct, though the LTTE’s use of the term is more likely with the intention of using terrorist terminology in connection with the Army, rather than in the spirit of accuracy. Interestingly, Jay Shankar for Bloomberg.com quotes MoD spokesmaan Brig Udaya Nanayakkara as saying that Charles was shot dead by the Army after an artillery and mortar exchange. While this might be strictly true (the LRRPs probably would have mopped up the ambush by shooting any survivors), it reveals an MoD attempt to divert attention from the LRRPs, giving the impression that Col Charlie was killed in a conventional firefight.
The increased usage of Claymores and IEDs by the LTTE would seem to have moved the unconventional warfare portion of the Sri Lankan conflict in a new direction; a departure from the bog standard suicide bomber. The latter has begun to see less and less success in the last year or two — the latest such attack (on Douglas Devananda last year) was a dismal failure. The MoD seems to have got the hang of stopping suicide bombers, and the Tigers have recognised this fact. Using an IED is also more deniable, as the suicide bomber clearly trademarks the attack as being an LTTE one.
From the GoSL side, the LRRP-planted IED seems to have had a better kill ratio than more conventional assassination methods such as airstrikes, with a score of LTTE top and middle level brass being taken out. Tamilselvam remains the only VIP so far killed by conventional targeting. However, MoD success seems to be more a result of a better use of military intelligence and special forces, rather than the IED itself. The LRRP team probably would have nailed Charlie just as well if they had used RPGs or gunfire on his vehicle, though the danger of getting caught up in a firefight always remains.
Therefore, I think it’s safe to say that the Claymore is just another tool of war, and its success or failure will always depend on the tactics used in its employment. No silver bullet here.