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Military Matters


 Air Force more than matches new Tiger weapon

By Rohan Abeywardena
The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) this week introduced fuel-air bombs for the first time, more than matching the battlefield stakes raised by the LTTE early last week by its gas attacks on troops at Akkarayankulam and Wannivilakulam.

The impact of the new bomb was instant, as the LTTE’s expatriate sympathisers began making immediate discreet calls to Colombo to inquire and complain of air raids in Kilinochchi on Wednesday morning.

Wednesday’s introductory air raid over Wanni, with the new bomb, could even be just a warning shot to the LTTE not to resort to any further chemical strikes, as the return could be far more devastating
SLAF’s fuel-air bomb ‘sucks out’ Tigers

According to military analysts, the lethal new bomb is ideal to take out Tigers from the thick jungles of Kilinochchi and Mulaithivu and could even help expedite an end to the war. As the name fuel-air indicates, it is a bomb that explodes on the surface, causing a fireball, while sucking out air from everything in the vicinity. In other words, if the fire ball does not kill an enemy combatant hiding in a fox hole, the air sucked out of his lungs certainly will. So, while the SLAF has bunker busters to take out LTTE command structures and leaders holed up in deep bunkers, the fuel-air bomb will take care of the hardcore fighters it is now throwing against advancing troops in the thick jungles.

Unlike the banned cluster bombs used liberally by the Israelis, even in civilian areas, in its 1996 foray into Lebanon against Hisbullah forces, there is no such ban on fuel-air bombs in its use against combatants. Cluster bombs are truly lethal, as, on explosion, a single cluster bomb releases many small bombs that can explode long afterwards, when accidentally touched or handled, especially by playing children.

Ever since mustard gas was first used by German soldiers against allied forces in World War 1, as a chemical weapon in warfare, such chemical attacks are well known to terrorise fighting men. But fortunately, for the soldiers, the Army immediately identified the substance used by the Tigers on September 15 as CS gas, used in anti hijack operations and issued gas masks to frontline troops as a counter measure.

The LTTE has no qualms about using whatever it can get hold of against the security forces, and there is a history of it resorting to chemical attacks. As far back as 1990, it used locally manufactured chemicals to attack the Army’s Kiran camp at Trincomalee. On September 2, the Tigers apparently spiked the fish supplied to Army’s Henanigala camp in the East with cyanide, resulting in about 300 soldiers falling ill. Even their erstwhile war hero Karuna Amman has recently warned that the Tigers were capable of resorting to chemical warfare as a last ditch effort.

Army Chief upbeat

Whether anyone likes it or not, Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka is one who does not mince his words and on Thursday, in a bold and daring advance warning to the Tigers, he told journalists gathered at the National Library in Colombo that, by next week, forces will begin firing the first shots to take Kilinochchi, the LTTE’s administrative headquarters. He was speaking at the launch of the “Wanni Satana”, the third book on the ongoing war by our sister paper Rivira’s Defense Analyst Tissa Ravindra Perera.

With his troops within sight of some buildings in this Tiger nerve centre by this Friday and only 100 metres from the main North-South A-9 road at certain points between Kokavil and Murukandi temple (five kilometers south of Kilinochchi), the outspoken Army Commander has so far certainly proved his critics and Cassandras who predicted doom for the Army from the beginning, wrong.

Troops steadfast against stiff resistance

Knowing the Tigers, who are now finally throwing their hardcore units into battle, it is certainly not going to be a cake walk in the remaining stretches for the country’s fighting men, but the myth of the Tiger invincibility woven by certain lobbies, has been badly dented.

This week too, as the Army neared Killinochchi outskirts, there continued to be pitch battles, especially at places such as Akkarayankulam, Vannivikilam, Vannarikulam and Nachchikuda, as the LTTE sent reinforcements to these points, to breakthrough security forces frontlines along the impressive bund cum trench defence line put up by them, to halt the troops’ advance. But, as in all recent clashes, the security forces beat back all these attempts, inflicting a heavy toll on the Tigers, while themselves making some supreme sacrifices.

Kokavil falls after 18 years

One of the other major battlefield achievements this week was the recapture of Kokavil after 18 years. Kokavil army camp fell to the LTTE on July 11, 1990. Former Vidyartha Rugger captain, now leading the 57-2 Brigade Lt. Col. Senarath Bandara led his troops in taking the Kokavil railway station on Thursaday. It must be noted that 57 Division Commander Brig Jagath Dias had served as a young platoon commander in Kokavil in 1983.
The Army Commander also strengthened the 57 Division this week, by adding a fourth Brigade to it. The new 57-4 brigade is under the command of Lt. Col. Senaka Wijesuriya.

Tiger top brass invisible

The targeting of Vattakachchi, a place frequented by Tiger supremo Prabhakaran, by the SLAF last week, has sent fresh shock waves through the LTTE hierarchy, as they are unable to find out how the forces came to know of the secret location. The result has been even lesser visibility of any of the Tiger leaders this week, along with total radio silence by top men. Even Tiger military spokesman Illanthiriyan too, has not been heard of in days. And Friday’s death anniversary of Vaithilingam Sornalingam alias Col. Shankar, which the Tigers normally mark in a big way, went almost unnoticed.

Shankar, a close lieutenant of Velupillai Prabhakaran, was blown up by a claymore mine activated by the Army’s deep penetration unit on September 26, 2001 near Oddusudan. Tigers have commemorated his death along with that of the death of Thiyagi Thileepan who died after a 12 day hunger strike in 1987 on the same day, for the last seven years on a grand scale.

While Shankar, in addition to being a close confidant of the LTTE leader, pioneered many things for the organisation such as procurement of weapons in the international arms market, its Sea Tiger wing and even the air wing that has been making waves in the last two years, Theleepan, the one time Tiger leader of Jaffna, became a martyr for them by fasting unto death in September 1987, protesting the alleged failure of India to fulfill its obligations under the Indo-Lanka accord of July that year.

Vigilant security pays off

Meanwhile, security forces and police continued to be on maximum alert, especially, in Colombo this week, knowing very well the Tigers were bound to make some desperate attempts in the South, in a vain attempt to put the forces on the back foot. Such alertness brought some good results as well, when police commandos recovered 565 grammes of C-4 plastic explosives from Hekitta, Wattala, along with a T-56 assault rifle, two magazines, 125 bullets and a map on Wednesday. At Kohuwala on the same day, a Tiger cadre was nabbed with a micro pistol. On Friday, Negombo police recovered 100 grammes of C-4 explosives, a suicide kit and some bomb making items found buried at Kudapaduwa, on information provided by a Tiger cadre arrested at Katunayake. The cadre identified as Ambu, had earlier lived in Malaysia, from where he had been deported back to Sri Lanka.

Intelligence reports have also warned of an explosive laden vehicle being ready for a massive attack in the south.
Last week’s timely recovery of a cluster of bombs buried in Batticaloa, according to security sources, had been meant to target Eastern Chief Minister Sivanesaturai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan, and he continues to be a prime target of the Tigers.

But the Chief Priest of the historic Koneswaran Temple, Trincomalee, was not so lucky last Sunday. He was gunned down by the Tigers around 6:00 p.m., while he was riding a motorbike on Fathima Street. Kurukkal Rev. Thivathunaraja (43) was well known for his close cooperation with the security forces in supporting development work in the area.

Downing of Tiger plane confirmed

While the arrival of 37 civilians in Pulmoddai on Thursady morning by boats, after fleeing Alampil, Mulaitivu, was a welcome sign, it also brought some confirmation about the downing of the first Tiger aircraft early this month by an air force F-7 fighter, as it was fleeing after dropping some bombs over security forces Wanni command base.
The group comprising five small boys, 10 little girls, eight women, and 14 men, told debriefers that some of their relatives living at Iranapalai, situated north of Pudukuduirippu, had seen it crashing into a school, killing both crew members.

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Battle for the Wanni enters make or break stage

With the deadline for aid workers to quit the LTTE controlled areas of the Wanni expiring tomorrow, the battle for the Tigers’ de facto capital Kilinochchi has now entered its final and most crucial stage….

When the history of a war or, even a battle, is being written, there are, undoubtedly, decisive moments that will be identified in retrospect, as the crucial points, which eventually, sealed the outcome of the conflict in question. There is now, collective consensus that, the coming weeks will most certainly be the deciding moments, which will determine the outcome of the battle for the Wanni. After a gruesome campaign of well over a year, the security forces are now within a matter of kilometres of achieving one of its primary objectives, capturing the de facto capital of the LTTE, Kilinochchi.

The signs are loud and clear that the military’s thrust into Kilinochchi will be launched very soon, some even predict that it might happen as soon as this week. Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, at a book launch by Tissa Ravindra Perera, a journalist with our sister paper Rivira, said that the “Army will fire its first salvo towards Kilinochchi by next week”, adding that. the Army is now less than four kilometres from the Kilinochchi town limits.

Another sign that things on the Wanni battlefront will intensify is the deadline given to UN and NGO personnel to pull out of the region. Around three weeks ago, the Defence Ministry informed all aid workers operating in the uncleared areas of the Wanni, to relocate their personnel and assets by September 29. The government, it seems, is keen to avoid humanitarian workers being caught in the crossfire, with the memory of the 17 aid workers massacred in Muttur, still fresh in their minds. This time around, however, the Defence establishment has taken precautions to minimise international outcry from a similar incident. Reliable NGO sources say that the Defence Ministry has refused several requests to extend this deadline, even by a few days. The pullout of the humanitarian workers in the Wanni, is seen as a clear sign that the battles will intensify in the coming days and weeks.

Though all eyes are now set on the Military’s anticipated frontal assault on Kilinochchi, this week’s fighting indicated that the Army is looking to consolidate its rear and ensure that its supply routes are secure, before it attempts to take on the Tiger ‘capital’. This week saw the Military getting ever more close to the vital artery running across the Wanni, the A9 highway.

The 57 division which captured the important town of Mallavi early this month, is now heading towards Mankulam. Those troops are less than four kilometres from the strategic junction, the capture of which would open up several options for the Army. A link-up with the troops now dominating Kokkavil will further strengthen the rear of the divisions, which would eventually advance towards Kilinochchi. What remains to be seen is whether the Army will manoeuvre from Mankulam southwards to capture the whole of the A9 from Omanthai. Until now the Army has not advanced even a kilometre from Omanthai since the fighting began in the region last year. A full out battle to capture the stretch of road might bog down the Army for a longer period, since the LTTE is said to be fortifying its defences around Puliayankulam and Kanakarayankulam along the A9 which were the stalling points for Operation Jayasikuru a decade ago. Also, fighting along the A9 between Omanthai and Mankulam would ensure that all civilian movements towards Vavuniya will cease since it is this road that the Defence Ministry has recommended for civilians to take when fleeing the Wanni. However, after the attack on the Vavuniya security forces headquarters this month, it was apparent that the artillery attack which caused most damage to the security forces was directed from the general area of Puliyankulam, around eight kilometres north of the Omanthai check point. This prompted the military to consider the advance along the A9 from Omanthai. Whether this action will be taken prior to the final assault on Kilinochchi will be seen in the next few weeks.

Reports reaching Colombo yesterday suggested that the Army has now reached Kokkavil town, situated between Mankulam and Iranamadu on the A9.

Kokkavil is of strategic interest, since it commands the high ground in the area. A couple of decades ago, there was a TV transmission tower located here, which was defended by a small Army garrison. With the commencement of Eelam War II, after the collapse of peace talks with the Ranasinghe Premadasa Administration in June 1990, the LTTE launched simultaneous attacks on Army camps along the A9. The garrison at Kokkavil was commanded by a young Captain named Saliya Upul Aladeniya, who valiantly fought alongside his men, until the very end, refusing to abandon the camp, even in the wake of its being overrun by the Tigers. Aladeniya flatly refused to abandon his injured soldiers, many of whom were in no state to be evacuated. Refusing orders to withdraw, Aladeniya stayed with his men fighting valiantly, until an adjacent fuel dump exploded, killing the majority of Army personnel at the camp.

Captain Aladeniya and more than 60 soldiers perished at Kokkavil in July 1990, which will be painfully remembered as the last time the Army was in control of this small but strategic town. Aladeniya was posthumously awarded the Parama Weera Vibhushanaya, the highest war time award for Valour in the Sri Lanka Army, for his valiant defence of the Kokkavil camp and for his leadership. The young Captain was the first recipient of this prestigious award for courage. It is indeed a fitting tribute to those soldiers led by Aladeniya, that their fellow comrades from the Sinha Regiment are now in the process of retaking Kokkavil, a task that has taken over 18 years.

The Army’s thrust towards Kilinochchi will pose the LTTE more than one obvious problem of losing its de facto capital. Once the Army reaches Kilinochchi, it is open terrain through Paranthan, up to Elephant Pass (EPS), the narrow gateway to the Jaffna peninsula. If the Military is able to make a rapid movement in this terrain, which is believed to be favourable for tanks and armour, then, it is in a position to retake EPS within a matter of days. An eventuality, which would jeopardise the LTTE’s defences in the northern front, along the Killali-Muhamali-Nagarkovil axis, and isolate its units now fighting in the Nachchikudah and Pooneryn region, west of the A9. This possibility seems to have dawned on the LTTE, which has in recent days pulled some of its more hardcore fighting units from the northern defences, to fight the Army south of Kilinochchi. It is now apparent that the LTTE would make its final stand against the Army in the general area between Akkarayankulam and the A9, where the main thrust towards Kilinochchi is expected.

An experienced LTTE leader called Lawrence, has been redeployed from the Jaffna defences, with several hardcore fighting units, to the Akkarayankulam area this week. If these Tigers fail to halt the military advance, it is safe to say that nothing would stand between the Army’s march towards Kilinochchi and beyond.

The coming days will indicate whether the Army will launch its much anticipated assault to take Kilinochchi or, whether it will consolidate its supply routes, by taking the A9, before the final assault on the Tiger capital.

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