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Military Matters


 

Troops push for a foothold in Wanni

  • President confident of securing Madhu
  • Fortified bunker for Madhu Matha
  • LTTE guns cause scrapes on SLAF fighter jet

The Church authorities, this week, again appealed to the government and the LTTE to make the precincts of Madhu a combat free zone. The Tigers have not given an assurance that they would not attack the Madhu area. The military is not willing to call off its operations and is going ahead with its plans in West Mannar, circumventing the shrine area. It is consolidating its positions northwest of Madhu and south of Adampan. The military is not willing to call off its operations and is going ahead with its plans in West Mannar, circumventing the shrine area. It is consolidating its positions northwest of Madhu and south of Adampan

“I don’t need the permission of anyone this time to visit Madhu,” President Mahinda Rajapaksa told associates recently.
The statement by the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces is pregnant with meaning.
Firstly, it means that he is confident that the military will soon take over Madhu —seen by the security forces as a strategic area to push their way deep into Mullaitivu.

Secondly, the statement by the President, read with a previous request by him to visit Madhu, suggests that general elections are on the cards, sooner than later.
Already, a research poll conducted by Social Indicator, the survey research unit of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, reveals that over 87% Sinhalese, 50% Muslims and 21% Tamils are satisfied the way the government is conducting the war. On preservation of law and order, 84.4% Sinhalese, 42% Muslims and 21% Tamils are satisfied. (See box story for details).

As presidential candidate, Prime Minister Rajapaksa, in a bid to attract a slice of the Catholic minority vote, requested the Church authorities to grant him permission to visit Madhu.

Alive to the fact that the LTTE had previously targeted presidential and other candidates during campaigning, the Church authorities were not willing to take that risk, as his security could be at peril.
The LTTE has held sway over the vast Madhu jungles, long before peace talks commenced in 2002, and after talks commenced, there were stringent checks by the LTTE, of pilgrims entering their territory, as they head to the shrine.
During the war, the security forces were constrained in their operations in the vicinity of the shrine during the past year. The operations were limited to brief jungle incursions by small groups of security force personnel.

The military had to hold its indirect fire, in the form of long-range artillery, for fear of damaging the 450-year-old holy shrine.
President Rajapaksa has maintained that all territory belongs to the Sri Lankan State and the security forces were accordingly instructed to secure, in stages, those still under Tiger control.

The military is bent on capturing areas behind enemy lines north of the current Madhu jungles. As pointed out last week, this is to make the impregnable places to the south of Madhu redundant. Supplies and reinforcements would automatically get cut off, forcing the LTTE to withdraw its beleaguered cadres deeper into the Wanni. This tactic is referred to as ‘bypassing the enemy line behind it.’

The fortnight long military operations in the Adampan and surrounding areas since December 1, were conducted towards this end. Last week, Senpathi, not only gave details of the operations and retaliatory strikes, but also analysed the possible game plan by the two sides.
Besides pushing through the Madhu jungles, the military has set its eyes on capturing areas north of Adampan, especially Vidutalativu, from where there is a decent road to Mankulam, a strategic town on the A-9 highway.
By this way, the military could stage a two pronged attack from Omanthai upwards and Mankulam down and amass vast swathes of Tiger territory.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa vowed to get Prabhakaran’s head.
The Army and the Air Force are both poised towards achieving that goal. Alive or dead, they would want to hand over Prabhakaran to India, where he is wanted for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
A former Research and Analysis Wing officer recently revealed that Gandhi had tried to assassinate Prabahakaran, who, however, finished off the former Premier.

The support of the Indians, Americans, Pakistanis and others in the undeclared ‘Eelam War IV’ that commenced after the internationally backed peace process failed, has been tremendous.
The Army has been trying hard to penetrate the Wanni for several months but succeeded in getting a toehold there, as Senpathi observed last week. This column observed on several occasions that the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) had got down bunker buster bombs to go all out to get LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who shuttles among three bases, according to intelligence.
“Prabhakaran’s bases are suspected to be in High Security Zones in Vavuniyakulam, Mulativu and Kilinochchi and bunker buster bombs have already been secured to hit big targets. But, it is learnt that the LTTE Leader shuttles between his bases and takes to bunker clusters 30 feet deep, to avoid the impact,” Senpathi observed on April 15 this year and re-iterated it the following week.
Last month, on November 2, on the instructions of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Air Force Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonetilleke, expert pilots flew at a low altitude and swooped down, successfully bombing the target — Political Wing Leader S.P. Thamilselvan in Kilinochchci.

A fortnight back, however, unknown to the LTTE, its anti-aircraft weapons succeeded in causing minor damages on a fighter jet carrying out a bombing mission. Undeterred, the SLAF carried out its bombing missions on selected targets.
Besides the LTTE constructing bunkers for its senior leaders, top army officers, in the battle zones, constantly use bunkers during heavy shelling by the LTTE.

A fortified bunker has also been constructed to house the miraculous statue of Madhu Matha, to protect the statue from any damage, should the church get caught in the crossfire.
Given that the hallowed Catholic shrine had an international appeal and none other than Vatican Secretary Cardinal Tarcisco Bertone inquired from President Rajapaksa in April this year, the military restrained itself in its operations. It deliberately avoided using artillery fire and MBRLs in operations here.
The LTTE, too, is expected to demonstrate the same restraint by not directing artillery and mortar fire in the direction of the shrine.

But if the Army manages to take control of Madhu, will the LTTE, in a desperate bid to stall the advancing forces into Mullaitivu, go on the rampage, shelling indiscriminately?
The Tigers, fighting with their backs to the wall, their numbers dwindling, however, have plenty of artillery guns and shells. The chances are that they would put the big guns into desperate use.

The Church authorities, this week, again appealed to the government and the LTTE to make the precincts of Madhu a combat free zone. The Tigers have not given an assurance that they would not attack the Madhu area. The military is not willing to call off its operations and is going ahead with its plans West Madhu, circumventing the shrine area. It is consolidating its positions northwest of Madhu and south of Adampan.
The Tigers, commanded by “Bhanu” and “Jeyam,” were engaged in pitched battles, sometimes preceded by heavy artillery and mortar fire. The LTTE continued this week to try and regain lost territory, as it knows the dangers ahead, should the military continue its forward thrust to reach Vidutalativu.

As part of its strategy, the security forces are opening a number of fronts to engage the Tigers simultaneously, as they are stretched out, given the shortages of cadres. The situation is worsening, as more and more cadres are paying with their lives or ending up wounded and indisposed.

Fighting continued in the Mannar region into the second week. On Tuesday December 11, a bunker on the LTTE defence line at Narikkulam, was destroyed by security forces, who launched a pre-emptive strike in the morning. The military maintains that the new Adamapan Forward Defence Line in Mannar came under attack by the LTTE at noon the same day and heavy fighting prevailed till about 2:30 p.m. The 8th Sinha Regiment and the 9th Gemunu Regiment repulsed the attack and consolidated their positions in the area. On Friday (14) again, there were attacks at Narikkulam.
The soldiers of the 3rd Commando Regiment opened fire at a tractor transporting LTTE cadres at Parappakadathan in Madhu area, killing 11 of them.

A group of LTTE cadres frequenting the area north of Uvilankulam in Madhu, came under artillery fire by the 10th Gajaba Regiment. An ammunition storage of the LTTE was reportedly destroyed in the attack.
As the battles are fought by the military, to gain ground, and the Tigers, to resist the advance, there are heavy casualties on both sides, unlike in the east, where the LTTE staged tactical withdrawals. The military claims that 33 Tiger cadres were killed and 55 more wounded in clashes this week in Mannar and Vavuniya fronts in Wanni, while the military admits three soldiers were killed and 20 others injured.

On the Vavuniya front, troops were confronted by Tiger cadres at Periyathampane, Kandaperiyakulam, Purisuddikulam and at Kallikulam, in separate clashes. Meanwhile, in the north, clashes erupted at Muhamalai, Kilaly and Nagarkovil fronts, where 13 Tiger cadres were killed.
Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella revealed midweek that almost daily over 10 Tigers were killed in both Jaffna and the Wanni fronts. Realising that the Tigers are facing a severe manpower shortage, the military strategy is to further reduce the numbers by regular confrontation. The rationale is that there would come a point that the numbers would be insufficient to hold territory.

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Paradise percentages

A total of 57.1% of the Sinhalese and 30.2% of Sinhalese say they are ‘very satisfied’ and ‘somewhat satisfied’ with President Rajapaksa’s conduct of the war. This adds up to a total of 87% from the majority community satisfied, while half the minority Muslims are satisfied about the conduct of the war with 42.3% ‘somewhat satisfied’ and 7.5% ‘very satisfied.’ Interestingly, a fifth (20%) of the minority Tamil community (not upcountry) has also shown they are satisfied with the conduct of the war.
Of the law and order situation, too, 40% Sinhalese are ‘very satisfied’ and another 44.4% is ‘somewhat satisfied’ with the government’s performance. Nearly 42% Muslims and 21% Tamils are satisfied with the law and order situation.
These figures were obtained from a poll conducted by Social Indicator, the survey research unit of the Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The results of the November 2007 survey reflects the opinion of Sri Lankans who live in eight provinces (excluding the North, East included) on issues such as war, peace, security, the economy, human rights, media freedom, corruption, balances of military power and so on and so forth.

The survey was conducted amongst a sample of 1600 randomly selected individuals during the period November 12-26. It should be noted here that due to the security conditions of the country and the sensitive nature of the survey, the Tamil sample was chosen using a non-random sampling technique. Interviews were conducted by Social Indicators, highly trained field researchers involved in this study since its inception. The results of the Sinhala, Muslim and Upcountry Tamil communities are subject to a 3% error margin. Social Indicator has released the findings in a graphical format in its topline report available online at www.cpalanka.org/polling.html. The report is presented in a descriptive format due to the possibility of multiple interpretations and analyses of the findings.

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