Military Matters

Switched fronts: Tiger targets fail

Changes in Army after Buttala attack

It is one long year since the first battles to wrest control of the Madhu area and the subsequent ones to penetrate the Wanni. No doubt, the Madhu region is still within Tiger territory.

It would soon be a year since President Rajapaksa had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. It was on the sidelines of this meeting that President Rajapaksa discussed with the Vatican Secretary, the difficulty pilgrims from the South had visiting Madhu, which is under Tiger control.

Military top brass have constantly declared that the battles in Wanni were not waged just for territory. So, faulting the Military for failing to penetrate the Wanni, after prolonged fighting, was futile.

Tiger artillery still counts
This column has said that, from the inception of the battles in this region, it would not be a cake-walk. This column also warned that the decisive arsenal on the LTTE side were its long-range artillery and the ability to move them around strategically.

This is probably why the Military is yet to undertake a sustained assault by marching its columns into the Wanni. Limited operations have been successfully undertaken with the express intent of eliminating Tigers in a war of attrition, which we have discussed previously.

The LTTE has maintained that its real fighting formations have been spared, for the real battles ahead. This week we saw the LTTE deploy some of the experienced fighting formations for the pitched battles in Mannar, suggesting that it was running out of cannon fodder.

To the LTTE’s credit, it has been able to dig in for a defensive war, while waiting for the morale-boosting battle that has eluded it so far.

Besides the Army, the Navy and, specifically, the Air Force, have sought and destroyed Tiger assets. SLAF fighter jets have destroyed ammunition dumps, oil storage tanks, manufacturing sites, training camps, conference and communication centres and even underground bunkers of its leaders. The frequency of the air raids are simply blunting the Tigers will to fight, but perhaps nudging it into acts of terror, even going for soft targets.

But, evidently, the SLAF has not been able to destroy Tiger artillery gun positions, notwithstanding such claims. This is why the LTTE is still able to keep its head up. But for how long, we would have to wait and see.

Vigilance against Tiger terror
Both sides are employing Psy Ops as a strategy to demoralise the opposition.
While the Army is unrelenting in pushing over, the LTTE, from time to time, has shifted the battlefront to Colombo City, suburbs, and to other rural southern districts such as Moneragala, Hambantota Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, to blunt the government’s will to fight.

Somehow, the Tigers have failed to reach their real targets. Even yesterday, they were forced to explode in desperation at Mount Lavinia, injuring 18 civilians. It was the vigilance of the civilians that forced the passengers off the bus, on seeing a suspected brief case. The suicide bomber who exploded at the Fort railway station three weeks back, also did so when confronted. The Tigers have failed to get at their desired targets in many more attempts, thanks to the vigilance of the security forces and the civilians.

On Thursday, Naval personnel on patrol in Kerawalapitiya, closer to Mahabage, detected 20 kgs of explosives concealed at a construction site along the Katunayake express highway.

MI saves Presidential carnage
Military Intelligence (MI), too, has played a significant role in Eelam War IV.
For instance, MI was able to avert a major disaster, when the LTTE’s elaborate plan to target the convoy of President Rajapakse and his family was unearthed.

LTTE suspects Ramesh, Vathsala, Vadini and several others were arrested on information. Vathsala confessed that a Japanese interpreter working at the Presidential Secretariat, had agreed to help her infiltrate President’s House. The suspect is now in custody. Meanwhile, security forces suspect that the priests who were arrested in Mannar and Nuwara Eliya with 23 suicide jackets, and the suspects led by Ramesh, were members of one group targeting the President.

Inquiries revealed that the Tigers had planned to use eight LTTE cadres armed with RPGs to attack the motorcade. They had planned to launch a simultaneous attack on the three bulletproof cars in the motorcade. Identifying the particular vehicle used by the President or the Defence Secretary was difficult, hence, the modus operandi. Their plan was to attack the motorcade using a van, even as the bulletproof cars were to be attacked using RPG fire.

Sinhala Tigers
While the top defence brass and influential politicians have been spared in Colombo, the Tigers have simultaneously sought to cause a fear psychosis in Buttala and other places in the Moneragala and Hambantota Districts, with attacks on security forces and police personnel, not to mention civilians.

A total of 16 security force personnel have been killed in the deep south by the LTTE, since the attack on Thalgasmankawdawala Army checkpoint last October.

Several Sinhala civilians in Moneragala and Thanamalvila areas are learnt to be supporting the Tigers in exchange for money, according to the investigations.

A group of commandos recently chased off a group of illicit gem miners within Yala sanctuary, where they were operating under political patronage. Later, the secretary of a politician called Brigade headquarters in Hambantota, and complained against the soldiers. How illicit gem miners operate amidst LTTE attacks in the area, has surprised the Army.

Security forces have received information that ganja cultivators supply food to the Tigers. It is obvious that jungle tracks are used by the Tigers under the guidance of the poachers.

Deliver or move out
This week, too, the Tigers killed three soldiers erecting a road barrier in Dambakote, Buttala.
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka removed Brig. Sudantha Ranasinghe who was in charge of the Buttala area and brought him to Colombo.

Brig. Ranasinghe was replaced by Col. Devinda Peiris, who took over as Centre Commandant of the Artillery Regiment, from Col. B.J.F. Rodrigo just two months back.

Since the Colonel Commandant of the Artillery Regiment, Nissanka Wijesinghe was appointed Chief of Staff, the Centre Commandant could now be a Brigadier. Brig. Rukmal Dias in charge of Colombo security, is likely to be appointed as Centre Commandant of the Artillery Regiment.

By constantly moving officers around, the military has tried to ensure greater efficacy not only in providing security in Colombo, but also in operational areas.