After the east, the Wanni beckons
has been written of the capture of Thoppigala since then and throughout
the months-long operation that was technically divided into two phases
that began on February 24 and April 25.
The Commando Regiment has been instrumental in many offensives since the
Mavil Aru operations began in the east on July 26, last year. The
Thoppigala operation, involving the 2 and 3 Commando Regiments, is no
exception and Brigade Commander, Commando Regiment, Brigadier Charlie
Gallage has done tremendous work.
He was at hand on Friday to receive Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath
Fonseka and the Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera
Elite forces used
From the inception Eelam War IV, the Army used its elite forces – the
Commandos and the Special Forces – for the many operations that gave it
a tactical advantage over the LTTE. These specially trained forces
braving the elements, deprived of regular baths and surviving on dry
rations, even capsules for nutrition, made the difference.
The regular infantry troops did their part, while the deep penetration
teams brought on the element of surprise and contributed towards the
resultant victory in the first stage of Eelam War IV.
The invaluable intelligence and support of the ‘Karuna’ faction, in
terms of information on terrain and places he once controlled, also gave
the forces more than an edge in this phase.
The LTTE, smarting under the loss of Karuna and his men, failed to make
an impression in this phase of the war, where the security forces won
almost all the battles.
Salt in the wound
The military won round one in the east, with the last battle at
Thoppigala, which it secured on Wednesday, July 11. The Tigers warned
that there would be a trap but, in the end, there wasn’t any.
As if to rub it in, the military announced that it would use the Tigers’
Thoppigala training bases to train its soldiers, obviously for the
battles ahead in round two in Wanni and the north.
The trend has been that of the LTTE warning of greater bloodshed, if
this or that area in the east is captured. But, in the end, it turned
out to be a non event.
On other hand, the government had been saying it would stop with Sampur
but, in the end, continued its thrust. Finally, with the east liberated,
the military is not happy until it forges ahead in the Wanni and the
north, claiming that its military positions are threatened by the LTTE
artillery and mortars.
The action started several months back, even as Tiger control of the
east was beginning to fall apart.
Ready to fight
The LTTE has always withdrawn from the east, when confronted, which is
true, even when Col. Karuna held sway for the Tigers there.
But, in the north, as we said before, the forces should not expect a
cakewalk, as the Wanni Tigers are well entrenched and will fight it out
on their own terrain.
The Tigers have signalled that they are ready for the fight, by
performing military drills before the international media, in rebel-held
territory in the north.
Drills apart, the Tigers, equipped with artillery and mortars, struck
yesterday, killing a soldier and wounding another 11, putting a dozen
troops out of action in one go in northern Vavuniya. The military
retaliated and killed scores of Tigers, according to Military Spokesman
Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe.
Tiger fighter S. Kadalarasan, on the sidelines of a practice assault,
said, “The main objective on the battlefront is how to destroy the
enemy’s battle tanks and armoured vehicles.”
The military would not hesitate to put its armoured corps to
good use in what is seen as tank territory. But, the military should be
reminded that the last time it tried using tanks in Muhamalai on October
11, lost several owing to the LTTE’s ingenuity.
They were, of course, routed from the Jaffna peninsula in 1995, during
Operation Riviresa, which, however, drew troops from the liberated east,
allowing the Tigers to infiltrate and control the east again. From the
peninsula they moved into the Wanni, where they are well entrenched.
Locked out of the Jaffna peninsula and the east, the LTTE is fully
concentrated in the Wanni and would be more than a match for the
security forces even in a conventional battle, as we saw west of
Omanthai, a few weeks back.
As for the military, to its advantage, troop morale is high, following
the capture of Thoppigala, marking the liberation of the entire east,
with pockets of Tigers likely to be targetted in the mopping up
But, the real fear of the Tigers is the role played by the
air force in ‘Eelam War IV’. The air force wreaked havoc on Tiger
infrastructure including training camps, bunkers, fuel and ammunition
dumps and gun positions.
“We can’t keep a training base for a long time in this area,” said LTTE
military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan, alluding to the threat of air
Round two would largely depend on the air force destroying more of these
bases, with yesterday’s attack on the Mannar base being just the
“We successfully bombed the LTTE camp in Mannar with many casualties,”
declared Air Force spokesman, Group Captain Ajantha De Silva.
While the LTTE conceded defeat in the east, for the first time, LTTE
political head S.P. Thamilselvan, who has warned of a bloodbath before,
has threatened to hit, not only military targets but also, economic
Wanni war on the cards
Thamilselvan also declared that peace was not possible as
long as Mahinda Rajapaksa remained President and the role of the
international community was futile. However, again it was the Tigers who
wanted Rajapaksa as President, in the first place, by enforcing a
boycott of the election in the cleared areas, with or without a bribe.
Was the threat and the ‘no faith’ confession an announcement that the
Tigers were giving notice they were withdrawing from the five-year
truce, which, anyway, is in tatters and would ignominiously be buried
unless a miracle occurs? If it doesn’t, war in the Wanni is very much on
The Wanni Tigers, no doubt, have known to be stronger in the north and
Wanni, than in the east but, the series of reversals it faced during the
past year, was likely to have a dampening effect on the morale of its
cadres, even to defend these strongholds.
While the hardcore LTTEers who withdrew from the east to the Wanni,
would fight to the last, the ones recently conscripted would not be
motivated to stay on and would escape in the face of the recent
reversals. Some have even surrendered to the security forces. The
security forces estimate that a little over 2,000 Tiger cadres have been
The LTTE admits that a little more than 1,000 have died in
the one-year of fighting. What about those injured? The wounded in
action (WIA) is usually much higher than the number killed in action (KIA).
Given the dead, the wounded and those who escaped, it would be difficult
for the LTTE to put up a good fight in the Wanni and the north. However,
it could be argued that the LTTE, entrenched in its positions, does not
need those fleeing from the east, to defend the Wanni and the north.
What would make the difference in the second stage of the war in the
Wanni and the north is, which side first springs the element of
surprise. As we have seen, it would not be easy to repeat the same
strategies as in the east, as the Wanni is well fortified.
In this second round, it is the air force, as we said before, that could
destroy LTTE infrastructure, training camps, ammunition dumps and gun
positions and make a material difference by wreaking havoc. However, it
would have to be done carefully, avoiding, as it did in the east, the
While some may question whether there was a tactical
advantage as opposed to a strategic advantage in capturing Thoppigala,
the psychological advantage of getting at the ‘nerve centre’ of the LTTE
in their last bastion in the Eastern Province, is worthy of mention.
According to the military, troops gained total control of Narakamula and
Tharavikulama areas, where the LTTE had its eastern headquarters and
other fortifications. Troops advanced from three directions namely,
Karadiyanaru northward, Sittandi westward and Welikanda southward.
In the backdrop of this success, the Security Council met on Wednesday –
sans Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who is overseas but, sent his
message to mark the occasion.
Unlike previously, when a cake was cut at the Security Council meeting,
this time around such celebrations were on a low key, as bagging
Thoppigla was expected, since the LTTE was up against it and it was only
a matter of time before the Tigers’ supplies would be cut off.
Lines of control
It must be mentioned that the east was demarcated with strict
lines of control at the time of the February 22, 2002 Ceasefire
Agreement. It must also be mentioned that the LTTE did entrench itself
in the east, during the truce.
Major General Lucky Algama (killed by the LTTE at an election rally),
together with then Brigadier Janaka Perera, helped wrest control of the
east in the early nineties, under then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Cecil
Waidyaratne who stepped down after the Pooneryn debacle.
The Special Task Force (STF) has been entrusted with the security of the
eastern coast from Batticaloa down up to Pottuvil, Siyambaladuwa and up
to Amparai and Maho Oya. The total strength of the STF is 6,000
personnel, with the recruitment drive adding 600 new recruits. The
biggest obstacle for recruitment is the requirement that the six passes
include mathematics in one and the same sitting.
The STF moved from Kangikadichchi Aru northwards, overrunning LTTE bases
up to Pillumalai, while soldiers moved westward form Vavunativu,
capturing Kokkadicholai, Ayittimalai, Unnichchai and Karadiyanru LTTE
bases. By April 2007, the troops were able to clear the A-5 highway
completely, by capturing the section of the road between Chenkaladi and
Mahoya. This enabled operations in Thoppigala to flush out Tigers from
their last stronghold in the east.
We have dealt with the resettlement in the east, after the
many operations conducted in the past year. This must be coupled with
development as an alternative for the people to be the beneficiaries,
after two decades of deprivation. On Thursday, the Government is
scheduled to announce its ambitious plans, despite the Treasury coffers
being sapped by military expenditure.
According to government statistics, the Eastern Province is 9,965 sq.
kilometres in extent, which is approximately 16% of the total land area
of the island. At its longest, it is 286 kilometres, from Kumana in the
south to Pulmoddai in the north east, while at its widest, it is 89
kilometres, from Ulhitiya in the west to Kirankulam in the east. It has
a 420-kilometre coastline (Ampara 110 kilometres, Batticaloa 100
kilometres and Trincomalee 210 kilometres).
The chances are that development would also take into account the
tourist potential of the eastern coast. Scuba diving and other forms of
maritime leisure activities are likely to figure prominently in the
development plans. Already, the government has announced a buffer zone
along sections of the coast.
Need of the hour
Resettlement was effected after flushing out the Tigers who
attacked camps in Kattaparichchan, Muttur, Toppur, Selvanagar and
Mahindapura. Resettlement in Sampur is yet to commence, while in Vakarai
it is almost complete.
Speedy resettlement of civilians is the need of the hour. They must be
allowed to earn a livelihood after decades of deprivation, loss of loved
ones and a fear psychosis that has gripped them, as they were often
caught between the Tiger and the deep blue eastern sea.
Tigers dethroned from Thoppigala
Army takes last Tiger stronghold to complete rout
of the LTTE from the East
By Santhush Fernando in Thoppigala
For anyone travelling down the Batticaloa-Polonnaruwa, A11 highway, the
Thoppigala peak is visible in the distant horizon, a few kilometres
after Welikanda and nearly up to Valachchenai. For many years, however,
that was as close anyone, other than the LTTE, could get to this
illusive rock, which is more of symbolic value than of strategic
What Elephant Pass (EPS) was to the Sri Lankan military, Thoppigala was
to the Tigers, an impregnable fortress. Just as the Sri Lankan military
grappled with the fall of EPS in 2001, this week, the LTTE had to fathom
the reality that they no longer were the kings of the Thoppigala
The much-talked of Thoppigala peak or, the Baron’s Cap, as it was called
by the British, is surrounded by vast stretches of jungle with rocky
outcrops. This complex mountain range, with its thick jungles, had
provided cover for the LTTE, for many years.
Rough terrain, jungle cover and an intricate network of roads carved out
in the area, had ensured that the region was virtually impregnable and
near impossible to hold by the security forces.
The significance of Thoppigala was further enhanced with the outbreak of
violence in the East, last July. Since the launching of military
operations to capture Mavil Aru in July 2006, a majority of the eastern
LTTE cadres retreated into this jungle hideout, while a few others
escaped to the Wanni by sea and overland.
With the fall of Vakarai in January and the clearing of the A5 highway
by April this year, the LTTE cadres left in the east, had no choice but
to fall back to their fortified positions in Thoppigala. Here, there was
a sense of security for the Tigers, since they were well entrenched and
the terrain well suited for guerrilla warfare.
However, with the capture of Vakarai and the region east of the A5
highway, the LTTE cadres were well and truly trapped within the
Thoppigala jungles, with their supply route to the Wanni cut off and
access to the sea denied.
The Thoppigala region, dotted with rocky outcrops and vast areas of open
shrub land, posed a serious challenge to the advancing security forces,
when they launched their operation to capture the LTTE’s last stronghold
in the east.
“The open areas deprived the forces the element of surprise, while the
rocky outcrops offered excellent observation posts for the enemy,” said
a senior commanding officer involved in the operation. The army launched
its three-pronged final assault on Thoppigala on April 12.
In order to deny the Tigers of the strategic high ground, the Commando
Regiment was tasked with capturing several key rocky outcrops in the
area. With the army taking control of Kottiyagala, Dombageliyadde and
Narakamulla, the LTTE was virtually entrapped in Thoppigala, with their
main supply routes cut off.
The Commandos captured Kottiyagala peak on June 17 which deprived the
Tigers from observing the forces’ movements in the valley below. In the
final push towards Thoppigala, the army captured an area of
approximately 1,100 square kilometres.
During the last days of the operation, the advancing troops came under
heavy mortar fire. The Tigers even used a small multi-barrel rocket
launcher to thwart the advancing forces. In addition to the elite units
of the Gemunu Watch, the Gajaba and Sinha Regiment infantry units were
deployed to the newly captured areas, to reinforce these positions.
It is reported that recruits undergoing training at the Special Forces
Training School in Maduruoya were also deployed to engage the fleeing
LTTE cadres, in addition to the armoured corps, artillery and engineer
On July 10, the Commandos’ final push on Thoppigala was thwarted.
However, the next day, the elite troops reached Baron’s Cap, marking the
end of major ground operations in the east.
The military claims that 444 LTTE cadres were killed in the operation,
of which 58 bodies were handed over to the ICRC, while ground troops
reported seeing over 200 dead LTTE cadres.
Even though the whole of the Eastern Province is now under the control
of the security forces, the LTTE is still expected to mark its presence
with small-scale hit-and-run attacks. Several LTTE cadres, mainly young
recruits, have surrendered to the security forces, while others have
mingled with the civilians.
With military operations in the north imminent, it is to be seen whether
history will repeat itself, where troop requirements in the north
provided an opportunity for the Tigers to re-infiltrate the east, once
it was cleared.