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Military Matters


 

Heavy casualties on both sides

                     Pre-dawn clashes with LTTE : Army goes northwest and Navy northeast                      

Claims and counter claims have been made by the LTTE and the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) over a pre-dawn incident that sank a naval Fast Attack Craft (FAC) yesterday in the northeastern coastal waters off Nayaru.

The Navy has declared 10 of its men as “missing in action” (MIA), while six, including the Officer-In-Charge, Lt. Commander Goonewardene, were rescued after a search operation that lasted till 6:30 am.

The pro-LTTE Tamilnet website, however, reported that its ‘elite Black Sea Tigers in an engagement with a SLN flotilla, in the seas off Mullaithtivu, attacked and sank a SLN Dvora FAC, between Mullaiththivu and Naayaa’ru at 2:10 a.m.’

The LTTE claims it killed 14 sailors in the clashes, while conceding it lost three of its Black Sea Tigers- ‘Lt. Col.’ Anpumaran, ‘Major’ Niranjani and ‘Major’ Kaninila- “killed in action” (KIA).

The SLN, which blamed the incident on a sea mine explosion, (See box story for types of sea mines) has denied clashes with the Tigers. It says that the aluminum hull of the craft was damaged when its latter part got caught in the explosion.

The SLN questions the absurdity of the Tigers failure to kill the six crew members rescued several hours later. Some crew members got into the drifting life craft that is easily targeted, while the rest jumped overboard. Citing the rescued, the SLN states that the Tigers were nowhere near the scene.

Naval sources, who say the explosion could have occurred by a drifting mine, a moored mine or, one at the bottom of the sea, however, have ruled out the use of diver-delivery vehicles, on board some of the ships destroyed by the SLN, not too long ago.
 
Mining the seas
In April 2007, SLN surveillance patrol craft operating in the eastern seas, detected some 24 sea mines placed by the Tigers. Naval divers called into action, claimed removal of all the sea mines in the Nayaru area, making it safe for the SLN and for fishing.

Nevertheless, the SLN feels more have been planted since.
A month before ‘Eelam War IV’ commenced on June 17, 2006, mysterious mid sea explosions were heard in the Pamunugama area, which the police claimed were magnetic mines laid by LTTE underwater divers. Later, there was talk of the LTTE having acquired or turned out submarines.

The LTTE is known to spring surprises on the military. Four years ago, it took the ‘Karuna’ faction by surprise, by moving its cadres and heavy weapons across the Verugall river, to stage an attack on Good Friday, a day one would least expect such a move.

Yesterday’s incident, again took place hours after Good Friday, which also happened to be Medin Poya. Generally, the Tigers are wary of giving any advantage to their opponents, and the moonlight would have removed the element of surprise, giving the SLN a distinct advantage.

Encounters of a watery kind

It is learnt that two SLN FACs were in the seas off Nayaru, some 15 km from Mullaitivu. The LTTE states that the ill-fated FAC was between Nayaru and Mullaitivu. If this is correct, the LTTE is trying to make out that the Sea Tigers reacted to the presence of naval craft in an area it still controls.

The LTTE states that the fighting lasted 45 minutes, from 2:00 am., while the SLN says that the blast occurred around 2.30 am. State defence officials are of the view that the LTTE would not attack on a Poya Day when there is so much light. Further, they opine that suicide boats, originally manned by one member, now, have two members, one to fire weapons. But, experts say that a third could be used to obtain radar information. The LTTE has its observation points and radar points here. Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry reported SLAF fighter jets launched precision air strikes on a Sea Tiger base yesterday (22), 7km North of Nayaru lagoon in Mullaittiuvu at 11.15 a.m. The air strikes, according to the military, came amidst intense Tiger activity monitored in the area.

The other FAC accompanying the ill-fated craft, had informed Eastern Naval Command, which, in turn, obtained assistance from Northern Naval Command, that dispatched several craft to the location. The two FACs, locally manufactured by Colombo Dockyard, were fitted with Israeli weapons systems.

The SLN, with its sheer superior firepower and speed, had a distinct advantage over the Sea Tigers, which, however, has unmatchable weapons- explosives guided by the ‘misguided’ suicide bomber.

‘Fishy’ Tigers

That is why the coastal belt, from Thondaimanar to Madagal, is off bounds for fishermen, as the Tigers sometimes pose off as fishermen and strike. Six months ago, there was a major attack off Thondaimannar. Prior to that, there was an attack in the Kachchativu island. As ‘Eelam War IV’ commenced, the Sea Tigers used combined sea-land attacks to displace the military at Kilali.

But, the Sea Tigers did appear somewhat subdued, after possible clashes within the LTTE hierarchy. The suspected rift between LTTE’s Sea Tiger Wing leader, ‘Col.’ Soosai and intelligence wing leader Pottu Amman, did not do the Tiger naval wing any good. There were less confrontations in the latter part of last year and early this year, despite the LTTE’s original claim that ‘Eelam War IV’ would be decided on the seas.

The SLN successfully defeated the Sea Tigers, every time they took on the SLN or, bring in arms and ammunition. The pictures of smoldering Tiger vessels are still fresh in the mind. In all, the LTTE lost some 10 ships in the past five years.

Army plays it safe

But, the military would not take chances with the Tigers, who are known to bounce back. The Palali military base, Kankesanthurai harbour, Karanaigar Naval base and Trincomalee harbour and their environs, have all been declared out of bounds for fishermen as the LTTE would often disguise itself to secure an advantage.

During ‘Eelam War IV’, the SLN did well to in effectively implement a naval blockade along the eastern coast, as well as the northern coast, preventing the Tigers from bringing supplies from outside.

The two possible supply routes are Mullaitivu on the northeastern coast and Vidatalativu on the northwestern coast.
The LTTE, which has witnessed “close air support” given to ground troops by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), is possibly anticipating a sea-land operation by the SLN and troops in the northwestern coast. Army columns and “deep penetration units” have been moving through the Mannar jungles to wrest control of locations that would enable them to eventually capture Vidatilativu.

Sea-land operations

The Army is keen on sea-land operations to maximise its efforts towards securing the northwestern coast, with Pooneryn as one important target. Securing and maintaining the Mannar-Pooneryn Road would essentially require the services of the SLN. A secure northwestern coast would enable the Army to face the enemy on one flank- eastern side of the road. This strategy is thought of as against securing the rest of the A9-Road, which has to be defended on two flanks on the ground.

But, the thinking of the SLN may have been that the Sea Tigers were already anticipating a naval assault or a sea-land operation on the northeastern coast. Hence, the possible patrol on the northeastern waters off Nayaru, close to Mullaitivu, to catch the LTTE off guard.

Cutting off the northeastern Mullaitivu line of supply, may be an option the SLN may be toying with. The SLN controls the eastern seas from Pullmodai down through the Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai coasts.

The LTTE controls the coastal strip from Nagarkovil down through Chempiyanpattu, Chalai, Mullaitivu up to Kokkuttoduvai.
The Tigers supply route has been from Mullaitivu through Kokkuttoduvai into the Manal Aru region, also called Weli Oya, where the Army’s recently created 59 Strike Division is trying to make headway.

Army chief takes stock in Jaffna

The army has been fighting the LTTE on several fronts in Wanni, Weli Oya and Jaffna.
Last week, too, the army drew the LTTE into confrontation and attacked LTTE’s first line destroying bunkers. The Mechanised infantry, with its extra fire power, and the mobile infantry with its fire power, hit the Tigers hard. The aim is not to secure land at this stage, but to get them to confront. But, there was an unusually late monsoonal rain that was not there last year or the year before. The rains have saved the day for the LTTE.

Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka visited Jaffna yesterday (22) and met senior ground commanders as clashes between Security Forces and Tigers took place in Muhamale and Nagarkovil areas. Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri, Jaffna Security Forces Commander, who received the visiting Army Chief, at the Palaly airport briefed him on the security arrangements. Commanders of Divisions, Brigades and Units discussed the security situation in their respective areas.

The Army claims it secured 11,000 recruits in January and February, and was bent on taking on the LTTE on several fronts, to exhaust the Tigers who are already overstretched. The LTTE’s Toppigala hideout secured in July last year, has provided an ideal terrain for training soldiers. When the Army was heading for Toppigala, one important strategy it adopted was to close the supply routes to Toppigala, which it did at Karadiyanaru. Closing the supply route would isolate the enemy. This is exactly what it is doing in the areas of Parappakandal in Mannar.

Fighting erupts in SE Adampan

Meanwhile, the Military announced heavy fighting between the Army and Tigers in the area southeast of Adampan, Mannar in a pre-dawn attack yesterday (22). The Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) claimed troops overran eight Tiger bunkers, killing over 22 Tigers and injuring more than two dozens in the lower Adampan area, considered the gateway to Vidutalatuivu. Troops are yet to reach Adampan town. There was no independent confirmation of the casualty figures, but the pro-LTTE Tamilnet website failed to report the incident.

The MCNS, citing latest reports from the battlefront, said that troops gained considerable territory during the multi-pronged assault launched around 4:45 am. yesterday.

“The advancing Army battle formations were assisted by heavy artillery and mortar fire directed at LTTE resisting positions,” states the MCNS report citing unnamed defence sources. Meanwhile, the MCNS adds that troops captured a square kilometer, following intense clashes with Tigers in the general area between Parayakulama and Ilanthaivan, in Mannar yesterday.

The military reported four soldiers died and 16 wounded during the confrontations. Troops recovered five Tiger bodies, while search operations are on, even as troops were consolidating their defences.

Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who himself has fought in these places, as a commanding officer (CO), and is drawing up all plans in the current phase of the war, is directing the COs from Colombo as he knows the areas, like the back of his hand.

Nature takes a hand

But, nature has intervened to slow down the advancing troops, given the long bouts of incessant rain, retarding progress.
The floods have also affected the people and ‘added insult to injury’ to the internally displaced people from the Musali Division of Arippu, Silavathurai and Mulikilam. The Mannar rice bowl and home gardens have also been adversely affected by the raging waters.

Meanwhile, strategically, the Army has closed the Mannar-Medawachchiya, A-14 Road at the Mathavchaiy entry-exit point, for vehicles coming in and going out of the north to the south. The reason being to stem the flow of explosives to the South, on the understanding that all explosives are coming from the north.

This means all goods- perishable and non perishable- coming from the north, have to be re-loaded into other lorries, increasing labour and transport costs, sending the prices of goods, both in the north and south, soaring.

New DIG CID, new STF Commandant

SSP Sisira Mendis, who served the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), for 30 long years including four years as the director of the department, was appointed DIG CID and is expected to overlook the Terrorist Investigations Department as well. He takes over from DIG CID D.W. Prathapasinghe, who has been transferred to Sabaragamuwa.
After his transfer to the north as SSP Vavuniya for one year in 2007, the then SSP Mendis returned to the CID recently as its director, before being appointed DIG, overseeing the important unit of criminal investigations.
Mendis is held in high esteem both within and outside the police force as an honourable and disciplined officer.
Meanwhile, another honourable and capable officer in the police Nimal Lewke who has served the Special Task Force as its Commandant has been replaced by DIG K.L.M. Sarathchandra. DIG Lewke will, however, continue to serve as DIG Operations, Western Province.

Previous attempts, by interested parties, to move Lewke out of the STF in August 2007 by appointing Senior DIG Mahinda Balasuriya as STF Commandant did not succeed.
The latest rationale behind removing the war veteran from heading the STF was that he served in that position for four years. There have been precedents where the position of Commandant was held for over four years and the best example is DIG Karunasena.

Among the new changes, approved by the National Police Commission, are: DIG Eastern Range, H.M.D. Herath; DIG Moneragala Operations Range, A. Goonetilleke; DIG North Western Range, P. Nanayakkara; DIG Ampara, R.P.S.K. Rajapaksa, DIG Central Range, Abeysiri Gunawardene; DIG Crimes, U. Hewage, DIG Training and Exams, A. Jayasinghe; DIG Recruitments, S. Michael; DIG Ombudsman, W.P. Dayaratne.

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Sea Mining Operations

The advantages of employing the sea mine include engaging an adversary at minimal risk to ADF forces; providing the possibility of delivering a pre-emptive defensive attack; engaging an adversary with a covert weapon that maintains a continuous threat; forcing an adversary to operate both military and commercial shipping in areas that make them more vulnerable to other weapons; forcing an adversary to maintain an MCM capability; and presenting an adversary with a significant psychological threat. The disadvantages of employing sea mines include the dangers to mine warfare vessels and friendly shipping, as well as the requirement, under international law, to clear away all mines after the conflict is over.

Classification of Sea Mines Mine Types
The sea mine threat may be described under two main categories. Moored mines are positively buoyant, attached to the seabed, floating at a pre-determined depth below the sea surface, and are laid in water depths of up to 300 metres. Ground mines are negatively buoyant, resting on the seabed, and are laid in water depths of up to 200 metres against surface shipping or 300 metres against submarines.
The two main sea mine categories can be subdivided into sub-types dependent upon their method of operation and actuation, as shown in the diagram above.

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