Heavy casualties on both sides
Pre-dawn clashes with LTTE : Army goes northwest and Navy northeast
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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