cornered at northern Mulaitivu
With yesterday’s lightning capture of Pooneryn, it is now clear why
Presidential troubleshooter Basil Rajapaksa, during his recent visit to
New Delhi, readily agreed to allow Indian fishermen to fish in our
northwest waters, as a big concession to South Indians, knowing very
well that, Tamil Nadu fishermen were using fishing as a guise to smuggle
in military supplies to the LTTE. Now, the LTTE, driven out of the west
coast completely, are in no position to take delivery of smuggled
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, earlier this week, informed the
LTTE, through the Red Cross, to shift the last Tiger checkpoint at
Omantai on (A9) Jaffna-Kandy Road, to Oddusudan, a good 40 km into the
interior, effectively restricting the LTTE to northern portions of the
Mulaitivu district for the first time.
With the security forces dominating the terrain west of A-9 between
Mankulam and Omantai, Tigers are in no position to hold this major road
artery and the Army is poised to take it at any time.
According to military sources, currently, there is only a five-man LTTE
team manning the Omanthai checkpoint with members of the ICRC.
Critics may cast doubts on the Army’s assertion that, it had killed more
than 8,000 LTTE cadres, since the Eelam War 1V broke out in the latter
half of 2006, after repeated LTTE provocations, but, what is clear is
that, the Tiger leadership has been liberally using young conscripts as
As reports from the north indicate, the first to be placed on the
frontlines are those who objected to conscription and since early
September, it has conscripted about 9,000, by demanding as many as two
children from families with three or more children. Earlier, each family
had to hand in one child to the organisation, if there was more than one
Fortunately, three young Tiger women cadres, early this week,
surrendered to troops of Task Force 1, rather than foolishly commit
suicide, as one of their unit leaders had done, when surrounded by
advancing troops of 12th Gemunu Regiment, in the Palavi area.
Any port in a storm
War is a terrible thing for all concerned and especially, for the
infantryman. Their sacrifices, though often glossed over, have been
immense. Last month alone, the Army suffered more than 1,000 casualties.
For the Tigers, even though they are believed to have preserved their
hardcore cadres, the situation is far worse. This is the definite reason
for it suing for peace, and it is increasingly activating sympathisers
in Tamil Nadu, to force the central government in India to intervene
here, to save it. As a further sign of this mounting pressure, the Tamil
Nadu state assembly, though usually deeply divided on political lines,
came together early this week and passed a resolution, unanimously
calling for a halt to fighting in Sri Lanka.
The Tigers, who challenged the Army to come to Wanni, have now become
cry babes. For the Army too, retaking the rest of Wanni is not going to
be a cake walk either, as gauged from recent casualties. And the
fighting can get even bloodier for the forces, as they are the ones who
are on the offensive, amidst increasing restrictions on the use of air
power and artillery, as they get closer to civilian areas. Though the
Tiger hardcore cadres are still intact, may be about 3,000 in a
defensive mode, they are more like a force of 9,000, especially, in
their own familiar terrain
We cannot adopt a frog in the well mentality and must be prepared for
any eventuality, especially, from across the Palk Strait, with the
Indian general election due next May. Indications are that, it might be
held as early as next February. As former head of IPKF intelligence here
Col. R. Hariharan has commented early this week, on the peace moves
emanating from the Tigers: “If this calculus is in the thoughts of Sri
Lanka, we might see a large scale escalation of offensive in most of the
war fronts in the coming two weeks.”
So, what we can expect is for the Army to take much of the areas west of
the A-9 highway as soon as possible, to restore the road link with the
Jaffna peninsula after 20 years. And the Tigers, knowing the game plan
they have set in motion in India, are putting up stiff resistance to
halt the Army from making any further gains, which certainly points to
the spike in casualties.
The uninvited guest
If the Indian central government, with an eye on the forthcoming
elections there, and egged on by Tamil Nadu, does intervene here in some
way once again, as it did in the 80s, it should be borne in mind that
the Tigers are the cat’s paw of outside forces, who lit fires all around
India in the past, to break it up by activating various separatist
forces such as the LTTE of Sri Lanka, by giving them safe havens in
Western capitals and elsewhere. Even the LTTE International Secretariat
was in London well into this decade and long after the assassination of
former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.
But, as poetic justice, the West is yet reaping much of what it had sown
across the world. As a result of the changed scenario in the world, New
Delhi has become the new found darling of the West, and there is not
much we can do, if India does play its hand here once again, as was the
case even last time.
If Indians do intervene here in some way, they must keep in mind that
unlike in the past, as the National Peace Council earlier this week
rightly said, they must put in place enough mechanisms to ensure that,
any ceasefire does not lead to rearming and repositioning of forces for
another bout of violence.
Of sterner stuff
Naturally, the type of fighting that the infantry units now encounter,
to say the least, is terrible, especially, with the recent heavy rains.
Several 8-man teams that had infiltrated behind enemy lines last week,
escaped death by a whisker, not so much at the hands of two legged
Tigers, but in crossing a crocodile infested deep rivulet, swollen by
heavy rains. Though most of them lived to tell the tale, at least three
commandos paid with their lives.
They met this unusual experience operating behind enemy lines, while
crossing Mandakadal Aru, which flows to the sea between 9th and 10th
mileposts on the A-32 Road. On that day, four 8-man teams from the
Second Commando Regiment had infiltrated the northern reaches of this
rivulet. Their objective was to prepare the ground for induction of more
infantry units into the region. Tigers sensing something amiss had
surrounded the area. When their search dogs stumbled on one 8-man team,
a clash erupted. In the firefight, LCpl Ambanwala was killed and another
injured. They had immediately begun withdrawing along the river bank
with the body of the corporal and the wounded colleague. After covering
about a kilometer, they had stopped to treat their injured colleague.
But the four teams had not been able to stop for very long, as they
again heard voices of LTTE cadres encircling the area.
Their only route of escape was across the crocodile infested rivulet,
which, due to recent rains, was now 15 to 20 feet deep. Even attempting
to swim across the river was a problem, as they had to take their
wounded colleague with them. A rope one of them carried too, was not
long enough, to be tied to trees on either side of the river, to
facilitate their crossing. Then, they had removed their trousers and
tied them together to lengthen the rope. Finally, when one of the
commandos tried to swim across the river, to tie the rope to a tree on
the other side, he had been nearly snatched away by a crocodile.
Overcoming all these obstacles, three teams had crossed the river, but,
before the fourth could cross safely, the pursuing Tiger reinforcements
had fired at them, forcing them to swim across. Four members of this
team managed to swim across to safety, but two others were lost,
including its leader. This is just one of many untold stories of many
encounters that the galant fighting men face on a daily basis, in their
endeavour to save the country from the LTTE.