Military Matters

Troops patrolling the town after capturing Nachchikuda 

Ground fighting one-sided

                New Division enters battle                                                                  

For what is left of the fight for Kilinochchi, the Tigers have now deployed cadres from their battle hardened units such as Charles Anthony and Imran Pandiyan, along with wounded cadres from previous battles, who have not fully recovered. The severe shortage of cadres they are facing is said to be another reason for the growing problem of desertions

The Tuesday night Tiger air raid on the Thalladi camp in Mannar, the main regional military base of the Army for many years, and the Kelanitissa power station, and the ease with which its primitive aircraft got away was a tremendous psychological victory for the enemy, much more than any physical damage caused. But its euphoria was short-lived, when the Army completed a series of successes on the ground the following day, after several days of intense engagements.

The air raid also proved that no self respecting government can rest without going all out to wipe out such threats, despite whatever pressure exerted by Tiger proxies from across the Palk Strait.

Breathing down on Kilinochchi

The result of the Tiger ground debacles was that not a hum was heard from the LTTE mouthpiece, the Tamilnet, even by Friday, of the capture on Wednesday of Nachchikudah and Jayapuram by the 58 Division, and the fall of the Akkarayankulam Bund to the 57 Division the same day. And not even the fall of their Akkarayankulam- Murukandy defence line a day earlier. Ironically, Tamilnet’s reports on the battlefield were limited on Friday to a story about two artillery shells falling on Kilinochchi Town, which they headlined “Kilinochchi town under artillery barrage” and an alleged air strike on some houses there the same night.

Akkarayankulam Tank bund was the eastern end of the impressive ditch-cum-bund defence line constructed by the LTTE from Nachchikudah, to halt the advance of the security forces. The Army fought bitter battles with the Tigers in the last few months to overrun this defence line. By the previous week, the Army had completely overrun the rest of it, but the LTTE resisted the capture of the tank bund, throwing everything they had, including repeated gas attacks on troops attempting to capture it. With the fall of the Akkarayankulam Tank Bund, the western flank of the Kilinochchi town is now open to the troops. Tigers have lost many cadres in attempting to oust soldiers who overran many of their positions on this line, by sending waves of attackers to dislodge them.

With the fall of Nachchikudah and Jayapuram, some units of the 58 Division is now only about 10 kilometres from Pooneryn, the last major Tiger held position in the northwest, and with its fall, the capture of the A-32 coastal highway would be complete, opening a direct and unopposed link to the peninsula. Incidentally, Jayapuram is said to be the second biggest town in Kilinochchi.

As we said last week Kilinocchchi, the de facto LTTE administrative capital, being a prestige target, the Tigers have obviously marked every tree, rock and any geographical location in this area, for them to rain in artillery, once troops reach any particular spot. So, if the troops persist in taking Kilinochchi town immediately, they will be exposed to taking many casualties. On the other hand, they can bypass this symbolically strategic town for the moment, as they earlier bypassed Nachchikudah and return later, after taking out most of their mortar and artillery positions. It is also the reason for LTTE supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, to boast this week that, the capture of this town should be considered a pipedream by the Army. But, at the same time, this is also what even many a pundit sympathiser of the LTTE predicted of the Army getting anywhere near the Wanni heartland.

Tigers turn tail

With the latest key battlefield successes, the security forces have scored some unforeseen bonuses as well, by way of a sudden spike in desertions from Tiger ranks. It appears that Tiger cadres, who, hitherto fought bravely, have finally begun to see the futility of further sacrifices at the behest of the megalomaniac leading them, and, at least, one group of their deserters have fled to India this week, while engaged in evacuating the wounded from Nachchikudah by sea. According to intelligence, the desertions include a group of about 30 Sea Tigers. There have also been reports of a group of deserters exchanging gunfire with some of the cadres sent to apprehend them.

New Division

Things will only get more difficult for the striped variety in the coming days, with the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka now scheduled to induct a fifth fighting Division into his drive to capture Wanni. Brig. Sathyapriya Liyanage was appointed this week to command the new Task Force 111, which will be the Army’s 63 Division. Out of six new Divisions formed since Gen. Fonseka assumed command, five of them are fighting Divisions and this will also be the fifth to be inducted into battle against the Tigers by him. There are two Brigades coming under the new Division. They are 63-1 and 63-2. Lt. Col. Priyantha Perera is in command of 63-1 Brigade. Till now, he has led the 7th Gemunu Regiment, which is part of the 59 Division advancing towards Mulaithivu from Weli Oya. 63-2 Brigade is commanded by Lt. Col. Subashana Welikala, who, till now, led the 4th Sinha Regiment, that had been facing the brunt of the fighting in the drive to Kilinochchi, with the 57 Division. The new Task Force 111 too, is expected to go into action in the Kilinochchi District, supplementing 58 and 57 Divisions already there.

Tigers can also expect decisive action from the 53 and 55 fighting Divisions placed in Muhamalai and Nagarkovil in the peninsula anytime now. 53 Division, led by Brig. Kamal Gunaratne and 55 Division, led by Brig. Prasantha de Silva, are expected to breakthrough formidable defences placed by the LTTE in these narrow strips of land, to march on the mainland.

Last Saturday, around noon, an Army sniper felled the Tiger leader commanding their FDLs in Muhamalai. ‘Lt. Col’ Thinthilan (Padmarajan Malanraj), killed by the sniper, had been in command of the area for less than six months.

Though, virtually, all the fighting went the forces’ way this week, there were some unexpected casualties suffered by the Army, especially, in the Muhamalai area, due to sporadic artillery and mortar fire, which claimed the lives of three soldiers and caused injuries to few others, but the retaliatory fire would have exacted similar, if not greater toll on the enemy. On Wednesday, a Tiger mine also blasted a tractor carrying military personnel at Nachchikuda, killing two soldiers and injuring four others.

Army advances

It was the 3rd Gajaba Regiment, under the command of Maj. Sanjaya Fernando, that finally captured the Akkarayankulam Tank Bund on Wednesday. Tigers held off attacking troops for months at this point, before finally capitulating that day.

On the previous day, 9th Gajaba Regiment, led by Lt. Col. Sisira Bandara, overran the final defence line of the Tigers covering Kilinochchi town from Akkarayankulam-Murukandy stretch. The final push to overrun this stretch, that began at 5:45 am, was completed within 45 minutes.

The LTTE, in vain, sent four waves of attacks to dislodge 9th Gajaba troops from the area, to no avail. Later, intercepted Tiger communications revealed that, they had lost more than 40 cadres in this single battle. Seven soldiers too, lost their lives.
The following morning, the LTTE made another abortive attempt to regain this ground, at a cost of 26 more cadres,

Meanwhile, troops of 57 Division, massing in locations on the southern periphery of Kilinochchi town, are said to be in sight of roofs and telecom towers of the town. The town it self is within 81 mm mortar range of troops.

For what is left of the fight for Kilinochchi, the Tigers have now deployed cadres from their battle hardened units such as Charles Anthony and Imran Pandiyan, along with wounded cadres from previous battles, who have not fully recovered. The severe shortage of cadres they are facing is said to be another reason for the growing problem of desertions.

The 12th Gajaba and 5th Signal Corps captured Nachichikudah, which the LTTE held onto for months, despite being surrounded at least on three sides. The 10th Gajaba retook Jayapuram.

Hit and run

The 58 Division, this week, while speeding up its advance towards Pooneryn, with the fall of Nachchikuda and Jayapuram, also intensified small team operations behind enemy lines. The 2nd Commando Regiment, under Lt. Col. Jayantha Balasuriya, and the 3rd Commando Regiment, under Maj. Anil Samarasiri, staged at least 20 ambushes on the Pooneryn Road and in Kiranchi and Valappadu regions. Among the targets taken were two double cabs, two armour plated vehicles, a tractor and motorcycles used by Tiger area leaders and those providing escort to Tiger leaders.

Gajaba Regiment’s silver jubilee

Tomorrow marks a very important day for the Gajaba Regiment as it celebrates its silver jubilee. In its short history, it has served the nation with distinction. Founded by late Maj. Gen. Wijaya Wimalaratne, even Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had valiantly led a unit of this regiment during the Vadamarachchi operation in 1987. It has produced a crop of talented officers, who are now leading the battle against the LTTE in several fronts. Commander 58 Division, Brig. Shavendra Silva, Commander 53 Division, Brig. Kamal Gunaratne, Army’s Director Operations Brig. Udaya Perera, Special Forces Commander Nirmal Dharmaratne and the Commander of the newly created Presidential Guard Brig. Jagath Alwis, are among the officers from this Regiment.